Temperament in Action
Almost every parent with more than one child knows that no two children
are alike. Despite the same parental genes and the same home
environment, children vary in looks, in interests, in temperament, and so
much more. Sometimes the differences are subtle, and sometimes they are
quite obvious. Consider the Smith family.
Sasha made her presence felt from the moment she was born. This third-
born baby squirmed when held, and was a restless sleeper. She learned to
run almost as soon as she could walk, and despite baby-proofing the house
as much as possible, the family had to watch Sasha carefully. She seemed
to get into everything! Mealtimes were challenging, because Sasha only
tolerated her high chair for a few minutes before demanding release. Car
rides, which had always put the older children to sleep, became a
nightmare. Sasha fought the confinement of her carseat and screamed
lustily the entire time. When in a group of other children, such as at church
or in large family gatherings, Sasha frequently got overexcited, revved up,
and wild. Despite their experience with two other children, Mr. and Mrs.
Smith found themselves surprised and somewhat bewildered by Sasha’s
energy level. She never seemed to stop moving!
Sasha’s paediatrician gave her a clean bill of health, and reassured her
parents that this level of activity was not uncommon. It was, in fact, a key
part of her temperament—the inborn way Sasha was naturally responding
to the physical environment and the people around her. Researchers have
described at least nine major temperament traits, one of which is “activity
level”. Neither Sasha nor her parents can fundamentally change her high
activity level. Raising Sasha would be a challenge, however; her parents
would need to become experts.
Being an expert parent doesn’t mean being a perfect parent. It means
learning all you can about your child’s temperament; accommodating their
needs; advocating for them when necessary; treating them with kindness,
love, and understanding; and enjoying who they are. It doesn’t mean
catering to a child’s every demand; it does mean making thoughtful child-
rearing decisions that enable the child, and the family as a whole, to
navigate their life.
So, the Smiths searched for information, online and in print, to learn all they
could about their daughter’s temperament. They also connected with a
Facebook group of parents with highly-active children. It was such a
comfort to communicate with people who had similar experiences! These
parents shared advice and coping strategies, as well as the occasional
shoulder to cry on.
Based on what they discovered, the Smiths decided that their whole family,
and especially Sasha, could benefit if they all incorporated more activity in
their daily lives. Walks through their own neighbourhood, frequent visits to
the playground, and family bike rides to explore further afield were simple
and enjoyable ways for everyone to be active and to bond as a family. All
three children were enrolled in swimming lessons, and each child was
encouraged to choose another one or two weekly activities that suited their
own interests. Sasha developed a love of Taekwondo and dance; practising
her moves at home provided a useful additional outlet for her energy.
Sasha’s parents recognized that staying seated for a full family meal was
intensely uncomfortable for their daughter, so they began to use a digital
timer. When the timer “dinged", Sasha could get up and and play for a few
minutes, and then return to the table if she wasn’t finished eating. At first,
they set it for just five minutes; this was well within Sasha’s ability to be
successful. Then they began to gradually extend the time so that she could
learn some control.
Staying in her carseat, although absolutely necessary, was also intensely
uncomfortable. Sasha’s parents began experimenting with ways to make it
less stressful for her, as well as for themselves. Having one parent sit
beside her in the backseat helped. So did singing and doing the actions to
children’s music; keeping a “surprise package” of new toys or games in the
car to bring out when needed; and splitting up long trips into shorter hops
punctuated by “body breaks” to allow Sasha to run.
The Facebook parents’ group had alerted the Smiths that daycare and
elementary school could pose challenges for Sasha. Her brothers had
thrived in a carefully-chosen centre with an excellent reputation; her
parents naturally enrolled Sasha in the same one. Sadly, despite
everyone’s best efforts, it took less than a month to realize that things were
not working out. The centre’s director suggested that a home-based
childcare arrangement might suit Sasha better. However, at 3:00 pm of her
first day at a neighbour’s home, the caregiver called Mr. Smith to say she
was quitting—Sasha was too hard to handle. Thankfully, the family
eventually found an in-home daycare with woman who had a well-equipped
playroom, a large backyard, and plenty of experience with her own highly-
Sasha’s parents have already begun to talk to her about her temperament,
using simple language she can understand. She needs to know that she is
not “bad” or “weird”, she is merely someone who needs to move more
frequently than some other children. This is who she IS, and they love her
like that! Eventually, she will learn to recognize her own restlessness, or
her need for movement, and how to ask for necessary breaks.
Although raising Sasha is often still exhausting, home life is not as chaotic
as it used to be, and her parents are more comfortable in their role. Rather
than wondering if there was something “wrong” with their child, or whether
they themselves were poor parents, they understand the reason behind the
behaviour. They, along with Sasha herself, will go on learning about her
temperament and how it interacts with the family, the environment around
them, and with others in the community. They are becoming experts.