Understanding Your Child's Temperament

by Elizabeth Pantley
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This typical Saturday finds my nine-year-old son, David, in full football gear, tackling our 13-year-old neighbor Zack in the yard. We can hear David's whoops and cheers throughout the house. He'll show up in the kitchen sooner or later, dirty and hungry (make that very dirty and ravenously hungry), most likely with Zack in tow. He'll whirl through the house, leaving a trail of noise and clutter in his wake. No one with ears ever has to ask where David is.

Eleven-year-old Vanessa, on the other hand, sits at the kitchen table poring over her art kit, carefully choosing a color scheme for a drawing. She'll be at this quite a while since, as in nearly everything in her life, Vanessa doesn't rush. She ponders.

Two children. Same parents. Same home. Yet so very different in temperament. Even before birth, babies show their unique temperaments. Some are extremely active in utero — kicking, prodding, and shifting at all hours. They are active newborns, breastfeeding every hour day and night, announcing their presence in no uncertain terms — like my David. Others seem to sway in the womb, with gentle butterfly movements and slow-motion rolls. As newborns, they cry little, sleep regularly, and shower everyone with peaceful, intense smiles. You guessed it — like my Vanessa.

Numerous studies have shown that temperament is apparent in infancy and remains consistent throughout life. Parents who ignore a child's inborn nature are doomed to struggle against it, while parents who identify and work with it find the parenting journey more pleasant.

Perhaps the best parenting move you can make right now is to form a picture of your child's temperament. This will help you devise the unique approach that's best suited to your unique child. But where to start?

Following are specific areas psychologists use to evaluate a person's one-of-a-kind makeup, along with hints on parenting each type of child:

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