Temperament Tools: Working with Your Child's Inborn Traits

Temperament Tools: Working with Your Child's Inborn Traits

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The most recent and respected research on how temperament can affect a child's progress toward developmental milestones and responses to new experiences.
Research shows that many challenging behaviors are connected to a child's inborn temperament, the unique set of characteristics that each child is born with. When adults who work with children understand what makes a child tick, they can adapt their parenting, teaching, or treatment protocols to the individual needs of each child. Coauthor Helen Neville has updated the contents of the original edition of Temperament Tools to reflect the latest understanding about inborn temperament and its effects on behavior. Certain behavior clusters go with certain combinations of temperament traits and some clusters result in a child who can be quite a challenge. This book describes many types of children and offers strategies to help deal with behavior resulting from inborn temperament. Parents fill out a temperament chart to help define and understand their child, then consult the appropriate chapter that refers to that type of child. Temperament Tools avoids the use of psychological jargon while featuring the extensive practical understanding of children and their parents' questions and needs for skills. Adults using the book find the sections on practical ways to handle kids with temperament in mind to be valuable for restoring peace in home or school.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781936903252
Publisher: Chicago Review Press, Incorporated
Publication date: 07/01/2015
Edition description: Revised edition
Pages: 126
Sales rank: 693,108
Product dimensions: 5.80(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.50(d)

About the Author

Helen F. Neville, BS, RN, is a longtime pediatric nurse and a parent educator who directed the Temperament Project at Kaiser Permanente Hospital in Oakland, California. She is the author of Is This a Phase?Mommy! I Have to Go Potty!; and What to Do About Sleep Problems in Young Children, 12 Months to 5 YearsDiane Clark Johnson is the coauthor of the first edition of Temperament Tools.

Read an Excerpt

Temperament Tools

Working with Your Child's Inborn Traits

By Helen Neville, Diane Clark Johnson

Parenting Press, Inc.

Copyright © 2015 Helen F. Neville
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-936903-25-2


Gifts from Birth, Inborn Traits

Most parents now know that children are different from birth. Not so long ago, researchers believed all children were born the same, but turned out differently because of how they were raised. We now know that outcome depends on both nature and nurture — parenting, education, and community. Children differ from birth, and they remain different. The goal of this book is to help you understand and bring out the best of your child's inborn temperament.

Pioneering researchers, Stella Chess, M.D., and Alexander Thomas, M.D., identified inborn traits that affect how babies take in and respond to the world. Temperament has since been studied around the world. Children everywhere are born with the same traits, even though cultures may appreciate and support different ones.

Temperament is responsible for many different behaviors. Some babies are very sensitive to clothing textures, flavors, and temperature. Some toddlers are very persistent. Children may be high or low in energy; they may have intense or mellow emotions.

Understanding temperament makes your job easier. Imagine that your new baby is like a mysterious island. A map would help! Temperament is the map that makes exploring easier and more enjoyable. When you know what to expect, you can travel with more confidence.

James Cameron, Ph.D., continued the work of researchers Chess and Thomas. He studied hundreds of temperament evaluations and found that children with similar traits often have similar behavior issues. He then explored temperament-based management tools. His work is the basis of this book.

Understanding temperament can prevent many behavior problems because parents can work with rather than against inborn traits. When parenting style and environment fit with temperament, children can thrive and grow.

How can you tell if behavior is due to temperament or something else? Ask yourself, "When did this behavior begin?" If it goes way back, it's likely related to temperament. If it just started a few days (weeks or months) ago, it's more likely due to illness, a step in development, or a reaction to personal, family, or social stress.

Understanding temperament helps avoid unnecessary blame and guilt. Though there are no bad traits, some take more work. With practice, parents can learn to appreciate and work with their child's traits. They learn not to blame children for their temperament.

It takes more skill to manage an airplane than a bicycle, and more skill and effort to manage a spirited child than a mellow one. Parents need not feel guilty when they have a harder time. Those who criticize often have easy children, and mistakenly believe their ease is due to their parenting ability.

Are traits good or bad? No. Just as bicycles, cars, and airplanes each have their own pros and cons, so it is with temperament. Sometimes it's better to be very curious, sometimes very cautious. Sometimes it's helpful to be very flexible and at others very determined. The goal is to discover where and how one's traits are valuable.

How does temperament relate to personality? Personality is like a layer cake. The bottom layer, temperament, is there at the beginning. Other layers get added: growth and development, relationships with family, friends, health, school, community, and all the adventures of life. Temperament affects how each child takes in and reacts to each new layer. Over time, because of inborn temperament, children are attracted to different experiences in life. This book is about the powerful bottom layer, temperament.

Does temperament change over time? Some inborn traits continue. Active babies usually become active adults. Emotional intensity generally remains high or low, as it was in the beginning. Over time, children can learn to manage their traits more effectively: the intense child learns to use words rather than hit and bite. Experience is also important. Many toddlers who are cautious or shy around new people and places are much less so by elementary school. This is simply because much more of the world is already familiar. Caution may reappear when future life changes come along.


What Makes My Child Tick?

Parents generally know their children better than anyone else. Fill in the temperament chart below by thinking carefully about your baby or young child. One baby always cried and arched her back in her infant seat. Her twin sat wide-eyed and still in his seat, causing the pediatrician to remark, "Some babies soak up the world with their eyes." If you have more than one child, you may have seen such differences soon after birth. However, many babies need the first few months to settle in, so their true temperament is more reliably visible at 4 months.

Temperament Chart

For each of the traits, read the descriptions and consider whether your child's temperament falls at one extreme or another or is somewhere in the middle. Many children are middle of the road in most traits, but may be extreme in one or two. More rarely (and more challengingly), some are extreme in several, or most, traits. Notice that there are extremes at each end of each temperament line. Sometimes it helps to ask your partner, the child's grandparents, a child care provider or teacher, or someone else who knows the child well.

1. Activity

Low energy. This infant relaxes in the infant seat and high chair. He sleeps peacefully. As a toddler he snuggles contentedly on your lap or sits with toys in the center of the room. Arms and legs relax as you dress him. As a preschooler, he usually moves slowly and uses hands more than feet. He manipulates small toys, enjoys art work, puzzles, or building.

High energy. This infant kicked vigorously before birth and likely walked early. Even when asleep, she wiggles across the crib. Arms and legs fly during diaper changes. As a toddler, she hates being imprisoned in high chair or car seat. As a preschooler, she talks fast and moves fast. She loves large spaces for play, dances while watching videos, and wiggles while listening to stories.

2. Adaptability

High (Flexible). This infant glides comfortably through daily transitions — waking, being picked up, bathed, put down, and falling asleep. As a toddler, she quickly settles into new situations. She drinks milk from breast, bottle, red cup or blue one. As a preschooler, she gets along easily with playmates and goes with the flow when family plans change.

Low (Natural planner). This infant may cry upon waking and going to sleep. His body stiffens when he's picked up or moved and he doesn't like having his face washed. Even as a toddler, he often has a plan in his head, and needs time to switch from one activity to another. He resists getting dressed; he protests if you don't give him the same blue cup at breakfast. He objects to getting in the car and dawdles while getting out. He may be fussy and short tempered in the late afternoon and may have trouble falling asleep. As a preschooler, he complains when plans change or when you cut his toast the wrong way. He bosses playmates around because he wants them to play the game he sees in his head.

3. Approach to new things (Curious or Cautious)

Curious. This infant tries out new foods and automatically reaches toward new toys and pets. As a toddler, he immediately climbs into a new bed, smiles at the new baby sitter, or joins a new play group. He's attracted to all new things, whether safe or dangerous. This preschooler is always ready to check out a new friend, a new house, a new park, or a new school.

Cautious. This infant wrinkles her nose at the smell of a new food or spits it out. She turns away or cries when a stranger approaches. She watches others play with a new toy before trying it herself. As a toddler and preschooler, she hides silently behind parents as they greet someone new. She's sure that the old bed, house, or school is better than any new one could be.

4. Frustration reaction

Children face many frustrations as they learn new things and bump into limits. Some handle frustration easily. Others get quickly discouraged or angry when things don't go their way.

Persistent with learning and patient with limits. Some children persist as they play or practice new things, and they patiently accept limits. This infant patiently waits for milk and later she practices standing or walking despite the tumbles. As a toddler, she entertains herself by trying out a new toy again and again. Her inborn motto is, "If at first you don't succeed, try, try again." If she can't have the TV remote or eat from the dog's dish, she may fuss but quickly accepts another activity. As a preschooler, she happily plays and practices over and over. In the process, she acquires many new skills. The frustration of limits (time at the park is over or bedtime stories are finished) generally slips by easily.

Frustrated by learning and limits. When hungry, this infant yells for milk right now! As a toddler, he goes back again and again to climb on the forbidden coffee table. Discouraged by things that are hard, he browses from one toy to another looking for what's easy. As a preschooler, even necessary limits make him instantly angry. He pushes again and again for a new toy at the store and more time on your smart phone. He throws the blocks that topple over and won't try the scissors today because they didn't work yesterday. He pleads for help getting dressed because it's too hard to do by himself. He loves videos because success is guaranteed.

At first, it seems confusing that these children persist at what parents don't want and walk away from what parents do want. Their goal is to avoid frustration. They escape the frustration of accepting limits by pushing past them whenever they can. With play and learning, they avoid discouragement and fear of failure by walking away.

5. Intensity of emotions

Mellow. This infant silently smiles his joy or frowns his distress. As a toddler, his body remains relaxed even as emotions parade across his face. As a preschooler, he can stand quietly and tell his playmate that his feelings were hurt. Strong feelings are rare and quickly fade back into calmness.

Dramatic. This infant squeals with pleasure or screams with distress. As a toddler, she may bite when she's happy or angry. She loves or hates bright lights, dressing, bath time, each toy and person. She expresses feelings with her whole body. When she's upset, everyone knows it! As a preschooler, she reacts strongly to excitement, praise, criticism, or disappointment. She may smack a playmate before calming down enough to use her words. There are no small feelings. Everything is fabulous or horrible.

6. Mood

Sunny/Easy to soothe. This baby wakes with a smile and settles to sleep with a contented sigh. She smiles on the changing table, in your arms, and at strangers. When distress comes along, she quickly settles back to her sunny self. Throughout childhood, she is generally easy to soothe or distract out of distress and disappointments.

Somber/Hard to soothe. This infant gets upset more often and takes longer to calm down. He fusses when things aren't "just so." Other temperament traits feed into this one. For example, the toddler who is highly sensitive or easily frustrated feels many more upsets each day. If he's also intense, those are all big upsets rather than little ones. And if he is slow to adapt, it's hard to pull out of an emotional pit once he's in one. As a preschooler, his world view may incline toward "My glass is half empty."

7. Regularity

Predictable. This infant has an internal alarm clock — he wakes and gets hungry and tired at the same times each day. As a toddler, he's automatically on schedule. You can predict when he'll be most active each day and when tomorrow's poop will come. Because he's sleepy at the same time each night, it's easy to establish a bedtime routine that works like a charm.

Irregular. One day this infant wakes early, the next day she sleeps late. She takes long naps or short naps. There's no predicting her schedule. As a toddler, she eats three small meals some days and five big ones on others. As a preschooler, she may get grouchy because no one expected her to need food or rest at that time. She's not sleepy at the same hour each night.

8. Sensitivity

Low. This infant sleeps through parties and plane rides. One brand of food tastes the same as another, and a polyester shirt feels the same as pure cotton. This toddler may ignore the scratch on her knee, the dull ache in her ear, or the load in her diaper. As a preschooler, she may not particularly notice the emotions of other people.

High. This infant wakes with small noises or sudden light. He notices gentle touch, temperature, textures, and smells. This toddler notices your new glasses or haircut. A dry diaper feels different from a wet one. His ear may be uncomfortable before the doctor can see any sign of an ear infection. He gets overwhelmed with too much noise, light, or excitement. As a preschooler, he notices tiny sounds and faint smells. He reads others' emotions easily and may react to even mild approval and disapproval.


You may want to copy the scores above onto the temperament poster on page 16 so you can get an overview of your child's temperament. In general (not always), the more the marks fall toward the middle or the left, the easier the parent's job. In general, the more the marks fall to the far right, the more challenging the parent's job.

Without intending to, parents can increase their child's distress by pushing against his temperament rather than working with it. A goal of this book is to help you work toward creating "good fit" between your child and his environment. Then his life will be easier and so will yours.

In considering your child's temperament, it's important to take the long view. The persistence that wears you down may later be used to make the world a better place. The drama that seems unnecessary to you may be the charismatic attraction of a future leader. The energy that tires you will be an asset in athletics. There are positive sides to every position on the temperament scales.

Your child may be different from what you expected and unique in ways you didn't anticipate. If you hoped for a dramatic artist and got instead an introspective scholar (or vice versa), you'll be wise to substitute a dream more appropriate to your child's temperament.

Behavior that Goes with Temperament Clusters

As mentioned earlier, Dr. Cameron mapped out behavior issues that commonly occur with different clusters of temperament traits. One way to discover what makes your child tick is to read the behavior lists below. Which list best matches the issues you face with your child?

There is a page number after each cluster. You can go directly to that chapter, or you may prefer to read chapter 3 first (page 17).

The baby or child of moderate temperament generally eats, sleeps, and accepts limits fairly easily. In many ways, this is an "easy" child, though there will be ups and downs with stages of development. If your child doesn't fit any of the following clusters, come back to this one. See page 25.

The flexible, low energy child calmly looks for something else if a playmate snatches his toy. When friends announce, "Let's go build with the blocks!" this child climbs out of the sandbox to comply. Not being assertive, others may take advantage of his agreeable nature. See page 32.

The low energy, easily discouraged child dawdles, depends on parents, and resists separation. Such children seem so clingy and fragile that parents wonder if they will ever leave home. See page 35.

The sensitive, intense, cautious child refuses to eat new foods or join new activities. May bite or hit when stressed. Has difficulty leaving parents. Parents worry that he'll never make friends, have a life of his own, or eat a well-balanced diet. May be high or low in energy. See page 42.

The child who is a strong-willed perfectionist wants everything "just so." Is often too excited to get to sleep and may wake repeatedly. Has trouble leaving parents. Feelings get hurt easily. Has long, loud, or frequent temper tantrums: argues, bites, hits. May hold breath, vomit, or bang head when upset. Visits to the doctor are difficult. May be high or low in energy, Se page 49.

The active, slow to adapt child doesn't like to cuddle and demands to feed herself. Moving full-steam on her own course, she talks constantly and bosses her friends around. Adapting to life can wear her out and lead to meltdowns late in the day. Trips can be terribly difficult. See page 59.

The fast-moving, easily frustrated child won't sit still to eat, dashes away from parents, often demands help and then refuses it. Has temper tantrums and a short attention span. Quickly becomes bored so has an eye for trouble; may be the class clown or blame others unfairly. Can have trouble getting along with friends. See page 68.


Excerpted from Temperament Tools by Helen Neville, Diane Clark Johnson. Copyright © 2015 Helen F. Neville. Excerpted by permission of Parenting Press, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Foreword 5

1 Gifts from Birth, Inborn Traits 6

2 What Makes My Child Tick? 8

Temperament Poster 16

3 Temperament Tango, Parent & Child Together 17

4 Pawly Puppy 25

The Child of Moderate Temperament Children with One Temperament Extreme 26

5 Cam Chameleon 32

The Low Energy, Highly Adaptable Child

6 Tarita Turtle 35

The Low Energy, Easily Discouraged Child

7 Fenson Fawn 42

The Sensitive, Intense, Cautious Child

8 Tegan Tiger 49

The Intense, Slow to Adapt Child

9 Walla Whale 59

The Active, Slow to Adapt Child

10 BayLee Bluebird 68

The Active, Easily Frustrated Child

11 The Bear Cubs 86

Temperament or Temperament Plus?

12 Shared Behavior Issues of Many Temperament Types 90

How to Manage Strong Feelings, Discipline, Sleep, Potty Training, and Sibling Rivalry

Recommended Reading 116

More Helpful Books from Parenting Press 117

Index 123

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