Happy international Children’s Day!
“Oh he’s a shy child.” “She’s an exuberant girl.” What about intense, or laid-back?
Do you know what kind of child do you have, and where these traits come from? By figuring out your child’s temperament, you can better understand what (s) he’s all about.
Children might show a mix of traits – sometimes being very adventurous and bold and other times careful and shy. Understanding your child’s personality traits starts with knowing what characterises your child more often. Would you say he is mostly adventurous or mostly cautious?
An overly energetic and adventurous child might keep his parents on their toes more often but a child who is too timid and shy might also cause a parent some concern at their ability to cope with others and get on with the challenges of life.
How a child uses his inborn traits whether those will be strengthened or subdued will be influenced throughout his childhood by some factors.
These personality traits start to emerge in entry level school. Here’s how you can tell when your child’s personality is emerging, and what that personality traits may mean.
Gauging Intensity of Reaction:
As you read about these characteristics, picture each one as a continuum. Although we describe each end of the range, many children fall somewhere in the middle of the spectrum.
1. Intensity of Reaction:
Some kids like to tell the world loud and clear how they feel. They’re what we would call big reactors. Intense kids like these might scream at the top of their lungs when they’re happy, and shout, throw things, or hit when they’re mad. Kids on the low range of intensity tend to be quiet and rarely fuss, sleep more than average, and show their emotions with only slight changes in facial expression or tone of voice.
Characteristics: From “I just want to chill” to “I want everyone to know how I feel” kids.
What you can do for a low-key child:
- Turn things up to attract her attention: Choose music with a dynamic beat. Use a dramatic voice while reading.
- Devise activities that involve taking turns so your child remains engaged.
- Get his/her body moving: Low-intensity children are often more responsive if they’re mobile.
What you can do for the big reactor:
- Turn things down: Music and lighting should be soft.
- Anticipate blowups: Gently remove your child from potentially explosive situations. Try redirectin, getting him engaged in a different activity or just give him/her a big hug.
- Make sure your child gets the sleep (s) he needs.
Gauging Activity Level:
2. Activity Level:
If your child is action oriented, you’ll probably know by the time (s)he’s walking. (S)he’ll always want to be on the go, exploring the world around her/him by crawling, running, and climbing. These movers and shakers love spaces that offer lots of opportunity for movement.
At the other end of the spectrum are kids who are content to sit and play quietly, and may prefer exploring with their hands instead of their legs. They tend to take in the world by looking or listening. Their interest in the things around them can be every bit as strong as an active baby’s, but they don’t feel the same need to be up and about.
Characteristics: From “I’m happy to sit and play” to “I need to be on the move”
For the less-active child:
- Entice your child to move by placing an interesting toy a little beyond where (s)he can easily get to it.
- Follow your child’s lead, and take it slowly. Let him watch kids on the jungle gym, then suggest going down the slide on your lap.
- Listen to music together. It’s easy to shift from listening to dancing if the music moves you.
For the child who’s on the move:
- Offer lots of opportunities for safe, active exploration. Play hide-and-seek, freeze tag, and other active games.
- Don’t expect your child to sit still for long. Let her/him stand for a diaper change and leave the high chair as soon as (s)he is done eating.
- Start limiting active play at least an hour before bedtime and perhaps 30 minutes before naptime to help slow her/him down.
Gauging Tolerance for Frustration:
3. Tolerance for Frustration:
You may have clues about how well your child copes with frustration in the first year, but this will become more evident in toddlerhood. Children who are persistent usually keep trying when faced with a challenge and have the patience to wait for their needs to be met.
A baby with a high tolerance for frustration will keep trying until (s)he gets the cracker into her mouth. While one child may try over and over, a less persistent baby may give up and cry or attempt another activity instead.
Characteristics: From “I-give-up” kids to “Let’s try again” kids.
How to help the child who gives up easily:
- When your child falls apart, validate her/his frustration by saying, “Puzzles are hard! It makes you so mad when the piece won’t fit in the space.”
- Help your child think through solutions without doing the work for her/him.
- Try again later. An activity that seems impossible when a child is hungry for lunch or needs a nap may be very manageable later.
How you might respond to a persistent child:
- Join your child in his play. He may not need your presence, but he needs and benefits from your interaction, and you can help him build new skills.
- Check to see whether your child is spinning his wheels by trying the same strategy over and over. Suggest new ways to approach the challenge.
- Be firm. A persistent child may have a hard time accepting no for an answer. Instead of giving in, redirect her to something that she is allowed to do.
Gauging Response to Change:
4. Response to Change:
While young children are generally well known for being inflexible about their routines, some kids seem to be even more dependent on them.
These children tend to react to the smallest of shifts; a new food on their plate or a slight change in the bedtime routine. They have more tantrums, which can be triggered by anything from the suggestion of a new babysitter to a change of furniture in their house to the idea that they have to stop doing something they are immersed in; and they need lots of time and support to get comfortable in new surroundings, generating lots of “No, No, No!” outbursts before they adjust.
Other children take change in their stride. They tend to find new jackets, new friends, and new foods interesting; and they respond comfortably anywhere you take them because they nap in noisy restaurants, nurse wherever you happen to be, and enjoy looking around, drawing on the paper you tucked in your bag, or joining in the conversation.
Characteristics: From “I like the way things are” to “Show me what’s new”.
For the child who prefers things the way they are:
- Use familiar objects, such as a favorite blanket or stuffed animal, to ease anxiety during transitions.
- Ease into new activities. Talk about new activities first, and set aside enough time to allow your child to get comfortable.
- Offer advance notice when an activity is about to end. For example, you might say, “When the timer rings, it’s time for your bath.”
For the child who loves to try something new:
- Be sensitive to your child’s signals. When a child is extremely easygoing, we sometimes assume that any change is okay.
- Be sure to find some one-on-one quiet time to enjoy together. No matter how easily a child can handle being out in the world, there’s nothing like taking time to snuggle on the living room couch and look at a favorite book together.
Gauging Reaction to New People:
5. Reaction to New People:
A trait that is often apparent to parents early on is how your child reacts to new people. Does he engage newcomers by smiling or cooing (if (s)he’s nonverbal), or is (s)he shy and hesitant around people (s)he doesn’t know?
Kids who are slow to warm up tend to need time and support from trusted caregivers before they feel comfortable enough to interact.
Characteristics: From “Let’s take it slow” to “Glad to meet you”.
For the “Let’s take it slow” child:
- Introduce your child to new people from the safety of your arms. Give them your child’s favorite toy or book, and let them use it as a bridge to connect with him.
- Whenever possible, prepare your child to meet new people ahead of time, and give her/him lots of time to get used to places.
- Don’t label your child as “shy.” Labels can stick and become self-fulfilling prophecies. You can just explain to your child and others that (s)he likes to take things slow.
How you might respond to a “Glad to meet you” child:
- Provide lots of opportunities for social interaction.
- Be ready to step in when needed. Even the most sociable child can find himself in situations where (s)he’s had enough.
- Give your child time to play on his own. Giving your child the chance to use his/her own resources and imagination helps him/her learn that (s)he can be content not only with friends, but also alone.
The combination of all these individual traits is what makes your child who (s) he is. There is no right or wrong, no better or worse temperament (although some are, no doubt, more challenging to handle than others). Also, remember that humans can change especially as they grow and get exposed. It’s very important for children to be accepted for who they are.
May your child’s future be bright.