Listening to Temperament:
How Our Innate Temperaments Derail Us, Save Us and Transform Us
Posted 12/12/19: A Wider and Kinder Lens
So far I've introduced six temperament characteristics. This blog will cover the last three, Regularity, Mood and Distractibility.
Regularity is a measure of biological predictability covering areas such as sleep, toileting and appetite. If you or your child are at least fairly regular in these areas this temperament characteristic is not likely to be of much concern. Predictable toileting combined with at least moderate sensitivity can help with toilet training.
When children are irregular in their appetites a shelf in the cupboard and or refrigerator of foods you're comfortable with them snacking on can make life easier for both parents and children.
When children aren't always tired at bedtime it helps everyone to separate bedtime from sleep time. You can't make anyone go to sleep. You can enforce a bedtime with quiet rest on the way to sleep.
Mood measures frequency of more positive or negative states. This is not a measure of how strong or loud the expressions are (Intensity) but rather where on the continuum you would place you or your child. A more frequent positive mood is denoted by lighter more cheerful expressions. The cup is more often half full. A more frequently negative mood consists of more serious, cranky, cup half full expressions. Moderate or evenly distributed moods are in the middle of the continuum.
If you have a child with a negative mood be sure to acknowledge their feelings in the moment. No one buys into how great things are when they don't feel great. Think about feeling low and telling someone what a tough day you had. If that person goes right for making light of your mood in the interest of cheering you up it's usually too soon. Being heard needs to come first. That helps us to manage our mood which in turn may increase our capacity and willingness to connect. Timing can make a big difference!
The ninth temperament characteristic I'll introduce is Distractibility. High distractibility is indicated by getting veered off course easily by what's going on around you. A highly distractible child who is given a list of things to do may get off track and forget after the first one or two things on the list. High distractibility can make infants and young children easier to soothe and helps adults multitask.
Low distractibility is marked by the ability to focus with distractions and remember multiple directions. There are many positives about low distractibility. It can also make for challenging transitions.
I hope you've been listening to temperament, yours, your child's and noticing all the different temperaments around you. I recently read Malcolm Gladwell's book, Talking to Strangers. While it's not a book about temperament he writes with much supporting evidence about how often we misread strangers with sometimes dire consequences. Research indicates that even people who we expect and who say they are good at reading people such as judges are not very good at it. We often expect people to look and act certain ways in certain situations without accounting for a wide variety of behaviors and expressions that may indicate similar states and feelings. Temperament can play a significant role in the range of normal individual differences in behavior and expression. Taking temperament into account provides a wider and kinder lens.
When we assume we can also misread ourselves and the people we know. Are children who don't always say thank you on cue or even rarely express thanks all ungrateful or are there other possible explanations? It's often assumed that a child who acts indifferent in the face of a wrong or someone else's distress is lacking in empathy and thus possibly troubled, even deeply troubled. Children who are highly sensitive or low in adaptability may feel supremely uncomfortable, overwhelmed, pressured and unable to cope in such situations. Insisting they make eye contact, talk about what's going on or apologize or say thank you in the moment may result in a rote response or escalated seemingly inappropriate behavior such as laughter, running off or hiding. Some of these children are deeply empathic and appreciative even though they may not seem like it at the time. Some are so overwhelmed with their own discomfort they are not yet able to deal with someone else's feelings and needs.
If a child won't make eye contact, won't tell you what's going on, what's bothering them or why they did something does that mean they are immature, guilty or disturbed? They might be. And that same child might be much more responsive to a less direct approach.
There are children who always seem to want more. Could it be that they are starved for attention, insecure, spoiled? Maybe. Parents often feel guilty, worried or put out when their child wants more time or stories or treats no matter how much they've gotten. That's often a sign that a child needs their feelings validated, "You are having such a great time that you don't want it to end!," support and skill building to learn the self regulation needed to manage their emotions.
If you have very strong emotions you could be bipolar. You like the child who always wants more could be high in intensity and have challenges with regulating and managing your emotions.
You're probably picking up on my theme.
The bigger more serious problems get more press. Everyone has a temperament. Everyone. Get good with yours and your child's. Temperament characteristics are descriptive, the softest of labels.
I hope you have been listening to temperament and that your life is a little better for it. I hope that you continue to listen to temperament and to celebrate the opportunity in each of us to be the best versions of ourselves.
Thanks for letting a knowing of temperament into your life through this blog,
See you next year.
To read previous blog posts, follow this Temperament blog link: