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Coping With Your Child’s Personality


Ever feel frustrated by your high-energy baby? What can you do about a child who screams himself silly when he doesn’t get his own way? A youngster who gets overexcited when a playmate come over? The experts tell us that there’s probably not a lot you can go about changing the way a child tends to reach if that tendency is inborn but there are ways you can help him manage his impulses better – and spare yourself lots of grief along the way.

Realize that your child’s immature behavioral style is not your “fault” because temperament is biological not something he learned from you. Still it is within your power to help your child cope with his temperament – and eventually to understand himself or herself better instead of feeling sorry for yourself for having a noisy, distractible or shy child. Learn to accept this as his/her nature and then develop a strategy to help him or her adapt in a socially acceptable way. Replace a victimized mind-set with an adult resolve to help your child ameliorate his difficulties. Above all, remember that all temperamental qualities can be shaped to work to a child’s advantage if they are sensibly managed.

To become a “manager of your child’s temperament, make sure that you step back from his objectionable behavior for a minute and remind yourself that his shrill shriek of excitement or his irregular sleeping habits are not deliberate reactions but one he can yet control. The key is to switch on the objective part of your mind rather than to become emotionally embroiled in his temperamental difficulties. Through this emotionally “neutral” stance, you’ll be better able to help him modify his reactions because you’ll be thinking rationally.

Develop specific plans ahead of time to cope with troublesome behavior and then enforce them in a sympathetic but consistently firm ways. If your child tends to get wild on family occasions or when he or she is with friends, be sensitive to this tendency and take steps to quiet it before it escalates. (Decide ahead if this activity is one he or she can handle. With younger children avoiding potential problem situations may be the best solution). With a baby you may want to tell your host that you will want to leave the party early. You can also take your child into a quiet room and sit with him until he falls asleep. Follow similar procedure with an older child, either by removing him or her from the activity, distracting him or her with something quieter such as a story hour or a snack or calling a “time out” period. See Successful Parenting for practical suggestions to handle a wide variety of behavior problems.

An infant with irregular biological rhythms will need special structuring from you so that he or she eventually learns to sleep through the night, to eat at the usual meal times and to control his or her bladder and bowel function. In this case, a doctor or child-behavior expert may be able to help to develop a schedule for your baby. See Sleep Issues for Kids and Teens or Bedwetting Information for some additional help.

For an older child who resists going to sleep, you may have to make special distinctions between bedtime and “sleep-time.” To help him settle down, you can insist that the youngster get into bed at a certain time but permit him to read or play quietly until he feels sleepy. In this way, you are regulating his schedule but still allowing him to relax at his own pace.

Learn to distinguish between behavior that is temperamentally induced and that which is learned. If a child knocks over your best vase by mistake because he is a high-energy child and was running gleefully through the living room, your response should be different than if he broke your vase deliberately.

In some instances you will probably be upset and may express your displeasure. But the action you pursue should be different. In the first case you may have to give some thought on how to prevent your child from running through the living room and remembering other ways he/she can work off his/her energy while in the house. In the second scenario, you will probably want to punish the child for his or her deliberate destruction of your personal property to impress upon him/her that this behavior is socially unacceptable. With temperament, the goal is always to manage rather than to systematically punish.

By the same token learn to distinguish between a tantrum that is temperamentally determined and one that is deliberately manipulative. Both may look the same because in both instances the child is crying or screaming loudly but the reasons for them are different. A strong-willed and intense child may react to a disappointment with a tantrum but the parent should understand that in a sense the child really can’t help it – that this is his innate behavioral reaction. This is in marked contrast to the less intense child who screams and cries in the same way when you say no because he has learned that such behavior will weaken your resolve and make your give into him. Becoming an expert on your child’s temperament will help you distinguish between the two types of tantrums – and then you can react to the tantrum appropriately.

Finally remember that one of the most important jobs a parent can do is help his child develop self-esteem. That doesn’t mean over-inflating his ego but rather helping him develop a positive sense of himself with a fair sense of his strengths and weaknesses. Understanding a child temperament is the first step toward enhancing his self-esteem because you will be able to deliver praise sensitively in accordance with his innate tendencies and help him build upon those traits in a positive way. Please see Helping Your Child Develop Self-esteem for some useful suggestions.

Parenting Strategies For Very Intense Children:

  • Provide activities that are soothing such as warm bath, massage, water play, stories.
  • Recognize cues that signal that intensity is rising.
  • Help child learn to recognize cues that signal that intensity is rising.
  • Use humor to diffuse intensity.
  • Teach child to use time-out as a time to calm self-down.
  • Avoid escalating intensity of child be reacting intensely to his/her behavior. Give calm, clear, brief feedback.

Parenting Strategies for Slow-to-Adapt Children:

  • Establish clear routines.
  • Prepare child by discussing plans for the day when routine changes.
  • Prepare child for transitions.
  • Give warnings a few minutes before transition from one activity to next occurs.
  • Allow time for closure of one activity before going on to next.
  • Stay aware of number of transitions required, and keep transitions to minimum if possible.