By Barbara Keogh, Ph.D.
It is the first week of school for third-graders Timmy, Kevin, and Andrew. All three boys are bright and good learners, yet they are startlingly different in their personal styles or temperaments:
These differences in temperament will contribute to the boys' adjustment and achievement in their new classroom, in some cases making for a happy and successful year, in others adding stress and problems.
Temperament describes individual styles or the "how" of behavior. These personal characteristics can be seen when children are playing with friends, doing their math assignment, or watching television. We all recognize children who are always on the go, as compared to others who move at a slow and deliberate pace. We also know children who are overly intense, who have a short fuse, and who are easily irritated and upset. Still other children are shy, uneasy in new situations and with new people. These individual differences in temperament are:
As discussed in the first article in this series, differences in temperament affect how children get along with their families at home. They also affect how they get along in school. It is especially important to recognize individual differences in temperament when a child has learning or attention problems, because parents and teachers need to figure out the reasons for a child's behavior.
Psychiatrists Alexander Thomas and Stella Chess (1977) identified nine dimensions of temperament that contribute to the interactions between children and their parents. Eight of these dimensions are directly relevant to the interactions between students and teachers and contribute to students' adjustment in school. The eight dimensions are:
Timmy, Kevin, and Andrew are examples of temperament types Thomas and Chess described as "easy," "slow to warm up," and "difficult." In temperament terms:
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