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Your Child's Temperament: Some Basics

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By Nancy Firchow, M.L.S.

Intensity: amount of energy put into responses.

Less Responsive <-------------------------> More Responsive

A very intense child laughs and cries loudly, loves things or hates them, and puts a great deal of emotion into her reactions, so it's easy to know where things stand. But a child who is overly responsive may drain a parent's or teacher's resources due to the child's intense feeling level. Kids who react mildly still feel all these emotions but do not exhibit such highs and lows in their responses. Low intensity is easier to deal with, but parents and teachers must be alert to more subtle signs of problems.

Persistence: ability to stick with a task in spite of distractions, interruptions, or frustration.

Low Persistence <----------------------------> High Persistence

High persistence is strongly correlated with academic success. The child with excessive persistence, however, may be a perfectionist - unable to judge when a task is finished adequately or reluctant to turn in an assignment because she feels it's not good enough. The child with low persistence may have difficulty in school because of a tendency to become irritated or annoyed when interrupted or when a task becomes difficult. Her inclination to give up easily or to ask for help, rather than try things independently, can lead to incomplete assignments or difficulty staying focused.

Distractibility: tendency to be sidetracked by outside noise or interruptions.

High Distractibility <---------------------------> Low Distractibility

Distractibility is not the opposite of persistence - a child can be easily distracted and yet show high persistence by returning quickly to the task at hand. A distractible child notices everything going on around her and may even be diverted by her own thoughts and daydreams. The opposite behavior in a child means she can concentrate despite any interruption. However, she may also tune out signals when it's time to move on to something different.

* Based on Temperament and Development, by A. Thomas and S. Chess, published in 1977 by Brunner/Mazel, New York.)

How Temperament Affects on Your Child

Extremes on each continuum of traits are not likely to guarantee success or failure in all situations; somewhere in the middle gives your child flexibility to adjust to a variety of conditions and expectations at school, at home, and in the community.

Consider that some combinations of traits can be more troublesome or more beneficial in school than others. High persistence can help the distractible student stay on task, whereas high distractibility combined with high activity and low persistence are strongly correlated to academic problems and bear a striking resemblance to the characteristics of Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (AD/HD).

Understanding the behavior traits of your child with LD or AD/HD helps you predict how she is likely to react in various situations. Are those traits liable to enhance her performance or cause additional problems for her? For example, auditory processing difficulties may be aggravated by low sensitivity; memory problems may be intensified by high distractibility. High persistence and low distractibility, on the other hand, tend to benefit most kids - with or without LD or AD/HD.

Learn about Your Child's Temperament

Now, are you ready to apply these concepts to your own child? If so, print our Temperament Scale and rate your child.

When you have completed the scale, check out Management Strategies for Problematic Traits of Temperament . Here you'll find some tips on how to help your child if he exhibits traits that may cause difficulty for her.

Comments from readers

"Although, this comment may not fit in with your article, as a mom of an 11 year old girl I struggle with her unwillingness to cooperate, slamming doors, opinionated and does not want any affection from me. How do I deal with this and is this normal behavior because she is going thru puberty? Pls help if you can! "