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How Temperament Affects Parents, Children, and Family Life

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By Barbara Keogh, Ph.D.

Temperament Dimensions (Kristal, 2005)

Sensory Threshold describes the level of stimulation necessary to evoke a response.

Activity Level is a child's general level of motor activity when awake and asleep.

Intensity is the reactive energy of response, whether happy, sad, or angry; it describes how expressive a child is.

Rhythmicity determines the predictability of bodily functions such as appetite, sleep/wake cycle, and elimination patterns.

Adaptability describes how easily a child adjusts to changes and transitions.

Mood is the basic quality of disposition. It may be more positive (a happy or cheerful child) or more negative (a cranky or serious child).

Approach/Withdrawal is the child's initial response to novelty: new places, situations, or things.

Persistence describes the ability to continue an activity when it is difficult or when  faced with obstacles; it describes "stick-to-itiveness."

Distractibility is the ease with which the child can be distracted by extraneous stimulation, or, conversely, his level of concentration or focus.

Thomas and Chess also described three patterns or constellations of temperament characteristics that influence parent-child relationships and family life.

  • "Easy" children are typically adaptable, mild or moderate in activity and intensity, positive in mood, and interested in new experiences.
  • "Difficult" children tend to be intense, low in adaptability, and negative in mood.
  • "Slow-to-warm-up" children are upset by change, are characteristically reluctant and withdrawing in new situations, and shy with new people, although given time they adapt slowly and well.

These temperament types are consistent with the results of our research at UCLA (Keogh, 2003). We found that Thomas and Chess's nine dimensions described similar clusters of individual children's behavior, especially in regard to activity level, adaptability, approach/withdrawal, intensity, and mood.

Comments from readers

"Very interesting article. I wish my parents had read this when I was a still a kid."