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Understanding your child's temperament

Tiernan McKay is a freelance writer based in Denver, Colorado. Her writing has appeared in magazines such as Alive!, Occupational Health and Safety, Restaurants and Institutions, Tampa Bay and Arizona Woman. Right now, she is either ridi...

Temperament and parenting styles

Families are made of a variety of personalities and temperaments, which can sometimes make relationships a little tricky. This is especially true of the parent-child relationship. But paying attention to your child's temperament and adjusting your parenting style accordingly may help make life a little easier.

Mom and son disagree

Eva Ritvo, M.D., a Miami Beach psychiatrist and coauthor of The Beauty Prescription explains the importance of a child's temperament, which is genetically hard-wired, unlike personality.

Don't fight it

It may sound easy to adopt a parenting style and stick with it even when you have more than one child, but you may be doing yourself a disservice. More so, you can't expect your children to adjust to your temperament. "Research shows that temperament is with you at birth and is fairly stable over your lifetime," says Ritvo. "It's a lot easier if you're able to work with the temperament of your child rather than trying to change it."

Adjust if needed

There are instances when a parent and child share a similar temperament, making parenting a natural process. But, it is just as common to have a child with a polar opposite temperament, which requires a bit of a creative parenting approach. "When there's a mismatch, sometimes it can be helpful to have a third person help out with that child," suggests Ritvo. "For instance, if your spouse has a better temperamental match or a grandparent, sitter or friend, encourage them to spend time together rather than the child being with you all of the time, doing what you like to do." If you are a natural "talker" and your child is more of an introvert, you can easily overwhelm him with excessive chatter.

Your child's temperament

The temperament spectrum ranges widely from, shy and quiet to active and outgoing. Children that fall into the former category generally feel more comfortable in a family environment and often resist change. Children in the latter category often need social interaction and like to take risks. How do you know where your child falls? Trust your intuition. "Watch your child to learn what he is comfortable with," advises Ritvo. "If you do something that makes him irritable and cranky, that gives you a clue you haven't matched his environment to his temperament, and then you can make corrections."

Seeking balance

If you are concerned that your child is too far at either end of the temperament spectrum, his behavior can be modified over time. "The goal is to have an adult with a balanced disposition who can be flexible depending on the needs of their environment," says Ritvo. An excessively shy child can learn to be more comfortable in social situations. "Make them feel safe and secure and yet expand what they're able to do and feel comfortable with," says Ritvo. On the other hand, an excessively impulsive child can dial it down a bit with practice. Ritvo suggests "helping her learn ways to calm and entertain herself. Children are works in progress."

Read more about parenting styles

What is your parenting style?
Two people, two parenting styles
How to marry two parenting styles in one household

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