HomeHealth & BehaviorBehavior & Discipline

Tips for handling problematic temperament traits

Does your child have extreme temperament traits that cause her problems? Try these tips to help her manage them.

By Nancy Firchow, M.L.S.

After gathering information and rating your child's temperament, did you find any traits that fell at either end of the continuum? Although the whole scale represents a normal temperament range — high and low do not mean "dysfunctional" — some extreme traits can be problematic for kids at home, at school, and in the community. And remember that for kids with learning or behavior difficulties, certain traits can either help or hinder success.

Tips for managing the extremes

Here are some tips for helping your child modify the traits that might be problematic for her. If you have other ideas that have worked, please share them on our Parent to Parent message board.

Activity level

For the child with very high energy:

  • Heed the signals that indicate it's time for your child to blow off steam and find a way to let her do so.
  • Incorporate some active time during the day. Walk to school instead of driving, or stop at the park on the way to go grocery shopping.
  • Avoid using confinement as a method of discipline.

For the child with very low energy:

  • Allow enough time for tasks and activities.
  • Use a timer to set a goal for when a chore should be finished.
  • Reward your child for sticking with a project and completing it in a timely fashion.


For the child who shows high sensitivity:

  • Acknowledge your child's feelings and provide ways for her to make herself more comfortable.
  • Layer clothes to allow for adjustments on days that are too warm or too cold.
  • Avoid overstimulation, e.g., loud music, strobe lights, noisy groups of people.

For the child who shows low sensitivity:

  • Help her notice external cues by pointing out sounds in the environment, odors, and changes in the colors of stoplights.
  • Explain interpersonal cues, such as facial expressions, body language, personal space.


For the child who demonstrates high predictability:

  • Provide advance warning of changes in routine.
  • Help her learn to handle changes now to develop flexibility as she gets older.

For the child who shows low predictability:

  • Create routines, even if they seem odd. Ask her to sit down with the family for dinner even if she's not hungry or go to bed at a regular time even if she's not sleepy.
  • Reward successes, such as turning in a paper on time.


For the child who approaches new situations easily:

  • Provide firm rules and close supervision. This child is curious!
  • Teach her to use reasonable caution with new people or in new situations.

For the child who withdraws:

  • Allow time to adjust to new situations; let her set the pace.
  • Quietly encourage her, without pushing, to try new activities and make new friends.


For the child who is slow to adapt:

  • Give plenty of warning about transitions.
  • Role play or practice expected behaviors before going into new situations.
  • Acknowledge the stress she feels in new situations and encourage her to talk about it.

For the child who adapts too easily:

  • Teach her to make her own decisions rather than just go along with her peer group.
  • Encourage her to find out all she can about an activity before signing up and committing her time.


For the child who tends to be negative:

  • Try to ignore her general negative mood, but tune in to real distress.
  • Encourage her to recognize and talk about the things that make her happy.
  • Act as a role model for positive social interactions.

For the child who's always positive:

  • Be sensitive to subtle signs of unhappiness that she may be bottling up inside.
  • Teach appropriate ways to express feelings of sadness, anger, fear, and frustration.


For the child who is less responsive:

  • Don't equate a lack of intensity with lack of feelings.
  • Watch and listen carefully to pick up more subtle clues to problems.

For the child who is overly responsive:

  • Teach her to control her emotional responses through anger management, self-talk, or calming strategies.


For the child who shows low persistence:

  • Break tasks into small steps, and acknowledge small successes.
  • Try timed work periods followed by short breaks.
  • Reward her for sustained effort and finished assignments.

For the child who is overly persistent:

  • Provide lots of warning before transitions.
  • Remind him that it's not always possible to be perfect.


For the child who is highly distractible:

  • Reduce external distractions as much as possible.
  • Keep instructions short.
  • Use a special cue - gesture or word - to remind her to get back on task.

For the child who shows low distractibility:

  • Cue her when it's time to move on to something new, e.g., say her name or touch her arm.
  • Set a timer to remind her when to move on to the next task or activity.

Appreciate your whole child

No matter what your child's temperament, show respect and understanding; let her know you accept her the way she is. Her temperament traits combine to make her the very unique and special individual she is.

Remember that some traits seen as challenging in kids are valued later. The extremely open and approaching child becomes an adventurous and exploring adult who makes new discoveries. And the child with high energy and persistence could become the next Olympic gold medal winner!

Comments from readers

"I need help dealing with an aggressive 13 yr old step son who has grown almost a foot taller than me. He is always pointing sharp objects in my face & recently actually made contact with my left eye. Fortunately it was a Nurf sword, but I'm tired of it and my tolerance level is peaking. I have asked repeatedly (and now commanding him) to stop. I fear my response for back-lashing is growing. The boys father isn't seeing what I'm seeing, plus the boy tends to act out more when Dad isn't around. Mom thinks her boys are perfect; so I feel alone in this situation. What can I do? (history purposes, I came into this family long after Mom & Dad were divorced; I'm not sure how much the boys know about the divorce, but Mom has taken steps to ensure Dad was the bad guy; Dad is a wonderful man and good father; he's struggling to understand his sons lashing out at me) "
"My daughter is 11, not interested in studying at all, does not talk much, watch tv everyday, not keen on doing homeworks, very quiet girl, and only to those she is close to like family members. I believe she has only few friends in school and even teacher said she is too quiet where compared to his brother who is 8 in the same school. What should I do to change her attitude? nervous parent "
"my 13 yr. old daughter seems very polite and nice talking to others (even her father) but, with me she whines on everything she says like she is singing, and she fusses about everything. HELP ! :) "
"They are all so wonderfully made. Just watch them, and see how unique they are. Beautiful little people, grow up to be adults.......BE VERY CAREFUL WITH THEM. "
"Well written and very informative! "
"I have been having a difficult time with my son, he is 5. At home and at school. I am a single parent and have tried every discipline, approach to correcting his behavior and am at the point where I feel like throwing up my hands and giving up. This article DEF helped give me very good tips AND I could identify and see exactly how my son reacts, sensitivity level towards certain situations- all situations, if he is distractable. It was my Answer! I needed this A LOT!! This was awesome and gave me some new approaches and tips to help me understand and better me understanding and getting thru to my son and helping him as well. Thank you, thank you thank you!!! "
"good ideas any for a 12 yr old who hates everything about school. no respect for mom or teachers. do i seek school couseling. does this go on to school records. help worried mom."
"My five year-old son is active and have lots of energy to burn. He is also very intelligent, but when he can't have his way or don't want to do something, boy can he throw a tantrum. I'm reading and buying all kinds of books to assist him with understanding or at least expressing his feelings. For example, I tell him that it is okay to get and angry and it is okay to tell his teacher or someone that he is angry, but it not okay to take action like hitting, kicking the desk or chair, students and tell people that they are not his friend. He is very loving child and at home he is a normal kid, but at school he know how to get what he wants by throwing tantrums and sliding all over the place. "
"The comment that was posted on 10/01/08 describes by 7year old son to the exact. I have been going through this for since first grade and with the same school. I am so so frustrated and out of ideas, engery,emotions and everything else. Giving up on my son is not an option for me but i dont know what to do..he's been in counseling and now is seeing a play therapist....Since he started second grade it started all over again...but for the past three weeks...i get a call from his school every other day and i either have to pick him, be his shadow or take him home. They have already sent him to an alternative school for three days and i fear the next time he will be put there for 3 to 6 months. The difficult part of this all is that he is an A student but when he has been triggered it is all downhill from there. He literally exlodes. I've shared with the school all the triggers and the interventins that I use at home and that the alternative school put in place last year. ! But it does not seem to be working....its just getting hard for me to juggle a full time job, my 7 year old, my 13year old and all the reast of my responsibilities. Yes, I am a single mother of two but I am doing all that i can and crying out for help with my son....Please somebody help....i need somebody to help me please!"
"My grandson is bright, ACTIVE, and talkative. His kindergarten teacher has given him a special desk to do his work at because he finishes up his work and wants to help others at the work group table and she doesn't want him helping them do their work. Also, she doesn't provide anything else for him to do when he is, being a five year old, he finds something to do and gets into trouble. She wants him to learn to sit quietly and wait???HELP"
"Just wanting some input on my 5 year old son's behavior. The last few months have been very challenging for me and my husband. He just turned 5 last week, and is in half day preschool. He chooses sometimes not to participate in activities at school and I guess pouts etc. I deal with it here at home too. When he doesn't get his way he has a fit. He gets frustrated when he can't make up his mind with certain things cause then he's worried that he might change it again and if that happens he has a tantrum. Now he is my only boy and is that baby and has 2 older sisters. The oldest sister and myself are guilty of spoiling him. Now I don't know if any of this is from him being spoiled or if there is a psychological issue that I may be overlooking. I don't know what to do. I am so frustrated that at times I find myself crying. I've done time out, grounding, taking away video games etc. I just don't know what to do anymore......HELP!!!"
"Very informative, thank you. My daughter is a great kid, very responsible for her age (10), but very pesitent, strong will perfectionist (her dad too). If something doesn't go the way she wants, she gets very angry. Role modeling, talking to her, trying to find calming stratedies... I tried it all. any suggestions where to go from here, I was thinking about some anger managment classes. "
"TO change behaviour 'experts' suggest it takes 4 weeks for every year of age. The worst is a child who doesn't talk except to correct others,is more negative than positive 90% of the time, WILL NOT be corrected by an adult regardless of the consequences and in fact gets worse upon being corrected (and believe me, the embarrasing public battle gets lots of unwanted attention with either stupid raised eyebrows or insipid, common sense suggestions). But you can't blame bystanders, they are not experienced with this by my judgement: This child has had everything taken away including the bedroom door and bedframe with so many chances to earn them back. Some children can seem like a lost cause and you want to give up. Sometimes, the parent situation is constant embarrasement though they do all the corrrect things including consistancy, the organization, earned privileges, parenting schools, doctors consults and counciling, and support of their child... Be glad if your child is 'easy.' People say there is reward for the difficult child--I hope that reward comes soon!! Maybe it will happen in highschool--while other parents are struggling with their kids rebellion--we will have worked that all out:) "
"This was very informative. My daughter is the Intense, easily distracted one, while my son is much more calmer, yet must be motivated to do new things. I will try these suggestions."