How a Child's Behavior Temperament Affects Parents
One of the most important factors in the workload a parent faces parenting
is their child's temperament. Discover which traits might make a child
more difficult to raise.
By Cary Chugh, author of Don't
Swear with Your Mouth Full
All parents enjoy basking in the glow of their child's accomplishments
and patting themselves on the back when their child exhibits exemplary
behavior. People often chuckle at this kind of self-congratulating, specially
when it's clear that the parents had nothing to do with their child's
achievements or behavior when a child begins showing difficult behaviors,
however, people are often very quick to judge the parent's' shortcomings
as being a driving force behind the child's actions. Unfortunately, parents
of difficult children are often the first ones to point the finger at
themselves or to blame their child for making their lives miserable. It
turns out that the answer to the dilemma posed by the difficult child
is more complex than a simple blame game.
One of the most important factors in determining the workload a parent
will have in raising her child is set in place at conception. Your child's
temperament is largely a genetic issue, and at present, you have no say
over what kind of child comes into the world.
Temperament can be thought of as the collection of biological underpinnings
that your child is born with that determine his behavior, emotional, and
physiological predispositions. Even though it is only partly accurate
to describe it the following way, it might be easiest to think about eh
temperamental traits as being precursors to your child's adult personality.
Drs. Alexander Thomas and Stella Chess were pioneers in the study of
temperament in children, and are best known for their work on the New
York Longitudinal Study that began in 1956 and helped created the foundation
upon which all present-day temperamental research is based. Drs. Thomas
and Chess evaluated infants across nine different temperamental categories,
and these are listed and defined below. See if you can figure out what
traits might make a child more difficult to raise.
- Activity Level
- Refers to the proportion of the day during which your child is actively
engaged in physical movement, as opposed to resting. A high activity
level will likely mean parents will need to provide more monitoring
and supervision, behavioral correction, and childproofing of the house.
- Refers to how predictable your child's bodily functions are, such
as his sleep-wake cycle, feeding times, and bowel movements. Parents
experience more stress when their child shows irregularity in any of
- Refers to how your child handles new things, such as new children,
adults, foods, places, and toys. Approach behaviors are positive reactions
to these introductions (e.g., smiling or crawling closer to the person
or object). Withdrawal behaviors are negative reaction to these introductions
(e.g., crying, hiding behind the parent's legs, spitting the food out.)
Withdrawal behaviors increase the parents' workload.
- Refers to how your child responds to new situations, as opposed to
new things. Children's general ability to adapt would predict the amount
of time they would need to adjust to sleeping at a strange house or
playing in a new day care, for example. Parents are more likely to experience
stress with children who are low in adaptability.
Threshold of Responsiveness
- Refers to the intensity of stimulation needed in order to provoke
a response from your child. Kids with a high threshold might require
persistent attempts from an adult to get them to react to her, whereas
kids with a low threshold require minimal prompting. This is relevant
across all senses and can include your child's sensitivity to touch,
sight, sound, smell, and taste. Parents can become frustrated if their
child does not respond to their attempts to get his attention. They
can also be frustrated by a child who is hypersensitive to particular
kinds of stimulation (e.g., loud noises or tags on his shirts).
Intensity of Reaction
- Refers to the amount of energy your child puts forth when reacting
to various situations, such as how loud he cries or laughs, how vigorous
his motor activity is, and how much he verbalizes. Kids with a high
intensity of reaction may tend to feel first and think later. They may
be prone to becoming overhwlemed emotionally and may be less responsive
to their parents' attempts to calm them. I often joke that these kids
are the first to say "I love you" and the first to say
"I hate you!"
Quality of Mood
- Refer to the proportion of your child's day during which he appears
joyful and happy, as opposed to appearing unhappy and unfriendly. When
parents have a baby who is frequently unhappy, they may find it hard
to crate positive, affectionate, and loving interactions with him on
a regular basis. In other words, it is easier to change a diaper, wipe
a face, pick up toys, schedule appointments, and buy groceries when
the face opposite yours is smiling.
- Refers to how easily your child's behavior is sidetracked by things
going on around him. High distractibility can lead to poor follow-through
with parent requests and can lead to conflicts.
Attention Span and Persistence
- Refers to the length of time during which your child engages in a
particular activity and how long he will keep at it despite any obstacles
he may encounter. The longer the child can attend to a task, the fewer
demands he places on his parents. On the other hand, highly persistent
children may not accept the limits their parents set for them. This
is one of the reasons why so many difficult children struggle with transitions,
like getting reader for school in the morning, coming to the table for
dinner, taking a bath or shower, and going to bed.
Cary Chugh, Ph. D. is a child psychologist
in private practice in New York State. His book, Don't
Swear with Your Mouth Full provides modifications to traditional parenting
techniques to make them more effective for children with difficult behavior.