I was chatting with a teacher the other day about children’s temperaments and a particular topic came up. Some children are extroverts, energetic, and seek out new and stimulating experiences in their environment. I am sure that you can picture the child who says hello to strangers in the grocery store, loves to be “on the go” and seems to get into everything. Other children are slower to warm up, are happy to stay at home in their pj’s, and find interacting with peers, adults and new experiences somewhat draining. This child appears more reserved, thoughtful, composed, and loves their routines! (Of course, I am speaking in generalities here. Children can exhibit different personas in different situations, so I am addressing commonly observed temperament traits.)
The discussion veered to the parents of these particular children and what happens when a child’s temperament differs from that of their parents. When you have an outgoing child and you tend to be more introverted, it can be a challenge to manage their desire for a stimulating environment. You may have to navigate your child speaking to strangers when you find yourself to be rather shy. Or vice versa. I am the parent of an introverted child and I am the one seeking more activities and interactions. The term that child development experts use is “Goodness of Fit” and it can pertain to temperament matches and clashes with people and environments. A child with an active physical temperament who lives in a city apartment has more challenges than a person who lives on a farm. Or you may have one child who is more compatible with your temperament and a second child who is quite the opposite. The differences between siblings can be striking and challenging for parents. It can also come into play in the teacher-child relationship. As your child ages through FUMP, you can see what teachers “get” your child more quickly and what best suits them. Acknowledging the differing temperaments and their roles in your parenting dynamic makes challenges seem a little easier, and less personal when clashes happen.
Tips for creating a “Goodness of Fit” between a child and his parents and environment:
- Know and understand your children’s temperament and their usual way of reacting in situations.
- Know and understand your own temperament and your typical ways of responding to your children.
- Identify how your temperaments fit and don’t fit together. Do you tend to react mildly to things while your child has intense reactions? Are you both highly sensitive to sounds and tastes? Do you adapt quickly while your child has a tough time adapting to new routines?
- Consider how your reactions to your children affect their behavior. What is your response when your children’s temperament clashes with your expectations? How do your reactions impact the outcome of your interactions?
- Work to respond more sensitively and effectively to your children. Be aware of the language you use and learn to describe and re-frame some of the negative labels with positive labels.
- Look at the situation, including the physical environment and others’ temperaments, and assess how well or not so well it fits with your child’s temperament. Change schedules and physical surroundings to better fit your child’s temperament. For example, if you have a child that is highly active, plan a trip to the playground where the child can run and climb before you head out to the store to go shopping.
- Anticipate your child’s needs and reactions. Work together to plan for successful outcomes. For example, if your child is low on adaptability and slow to approach new situations, prepare him in advance for new situations by being as specific and detailed as you can about what he can expect.
- Help your children learn ways they can help themselves “fit” better in all environments. Teach your children about their temperament and about the goodness of fit. Teach them what they can do to manage both.
- Parents can create a “goodness of fit” between their child and planned activities so that it becomes a win-win for everyone. This involves taking into account the child’s temperament and what he needs in order to feel comfortable in a particular setting.
- If a child typically gets stressed in crowded places, visits to stores can be made during their slowest hours.
- Do not force a child who has difficulty talking to strangers to talk to new people or relatives they haven’t seen in a while. Give them time to feel comfortable – this is being respectful of the child’s temperament and can avoid a meltdown or the child feeling bad about himself.