Temperament: each child’s unique blueprint

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Every child is unique. We are each born with a special combination of mental, physical, and emotional traits that influences how we approach the world. Temperament is like a one-of-a-kind blueprint for each child.  

We all recognize aspects of temperament in our children, often from very early on: 

  • Kylie gets upset easily, but calms down quickly, while Joaquin rarely shows distress. 
  • Martin explores toys or books for long stretches; Becca can’t sit still. 
  • Zehna gets tired at the same times everyday; Daniel’s sleep is unpredictable. 
  • Mariah loves to play, but warms up slowly to new people. 

Developmental scientists call this set of tendencies temperament. Decades of research confirms that our genes play an important role in determining a child’s temperament, and that temperament is relatively stable across a range of situations and over time. Research also shows us, however, that temperament is not a child’s destiny. Just as a blueprint is the initial design but is subject to change as a home is built and lived in, temperament can change over time. 

Why does it matter to know our child’s temperament? By learning about our child’s temperament tendencies, we are better able to understand and empathize with them. We can learn to adapt our parenting choices to meet the child where they are, and over time, we can help our child learn to adapt to the world. 

It’s also important to recognize our own temperament tendencies! We can grow as parents (and in the rest of our lives!) when we recognize how our own unique temperament affects our experience of the world and our child. 

→ Next: What are the dimensions of temperament?