Discipline That Works: Understanding Temperament

How would you describe yourself?  

How about your temperament?

Are you an introvert, extrovert, or ambivert?  

What about your partner and your children?  Are they usually high-energy or more mellow?  

Our temperament and preferences play a critical role in how we relate to and parent our children.  

Discipline That Works: Understanding Temperament

Pick a child, any child, and answer the following questions about him or her:

  • Does he/she wiggle or need to move around when doing a sedentary activity (reading, watching T.V, etc)?
  • Does your child seem to get hungry/tired at predictable times throughout the day or are their needs more sporadic?
  • Do they adapt to change in routine or does change throw them for a loop?
  • How do they do when introduced to new people, activities, or toys? Do they withdrawal or approach with enthusiasm?
  • How about changes in noise level, temperature, or touch?  Does your child seem un-phased or thrown off by these slight changes?
  • How easily distracted is your child?

These are all clues into your child’s temperament.

Now, ask yourself and your partner these same questions. Note the differences and similarities. It can be a real eye-opener! Temperament is neither a good or bad thing; it’s just how we’re built. But knowing how we as parents are built as well as our kids helps us tailor our approach to things like discipline and helps us connect better with our kids. Read more about understanding your child’s temperament here

Repeat after me: “I cannot change my child’s temperament.”

Trust me. In my baffled how-did-I-birth-these-two-completely-different-beings state, I tried to make my big kid more willing to try new things while making my little kid not scream in the church nursery every week for 9 months. One is quick to warm up in social situations and one is about as introverted as they come. Big is snuggly and Little is a bruiser. 

I have to parent them differently! It sounds exhausting, I know. But do you know what’s more exhausting? Trying to fit a square peg into a round hole.

Now, let’s talk about our temperament as adults. I do not adapt to change well. In my husband’s words, I like to plan my spontaneity. He is the life of the party…if the party is a party of one and consists of watching a continuous loop of The Office. I am very sensitive to changes in light, smell, temperature, and sound. We are both fidgeters and can’t sit still to save our lives.

Now, throw some kids with their own differing temperaments into the mix. 

How solid of a mother am I if I refuse to take a spontaneous trip to the park with my kids simply because it wasn’t on my color-coded calendar? When I need a hot minute to not be touched, but Big needs her mama? I cannot expect to parent and relate to my family as if they were all exactly like me.  Well, that just sounds terrible.  

I (finally) know now that one kid feels connected when I color with her while another needs to be active. When Big gets sassy, I know how to get to the bottom of what is really going on. I’ve learned that she processes things through play rather than me asking 488 questions. Little’s triggers for meltdowns are big crowds and loud noises. I know I won’t be able to carry on a conversation with another adult in a crowded restaurant on a Friday night if she is with me.

The motivation behind these behaviors are a matter of temperament. Not because I’m a failure as a mom or the kids are “bad” kids. (FYI: there are no bad kids and no bad moms!)  

Now, hear me out. Sometimes, tantrums aren’t something kids do to drive us out of our ever-loving minds. There is a difference between a tantrum because our kids don’t get what they want and are just mad, and a tantrum from being so overtired/overstimulated that they just melt into a chubby-cheeked little puddle. One can be manipulative (to get their parent to give in) while the other is a matter of temperament (being told “no” and have used up all their big kid coping skills).

Knowing how our kids are wired makes the difference between white-knuckled frustration and compassionate discipline.

How we’re built, and how our kids are built have a huge impact on how we relate to each other and interpret the world around us.  How we relate to our kids and discipline them matters.  We’re past the point of beating the snot out of kids for having opinions, but we still have the opportunity to connect with our kids on a deep level by knowing how they’re wired. 

Then, discipline becomes an opportunity to teach versus a task to punish. 

You can do it, mama.  


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