When I was working towards my degree in Child & Family Development I had visions of teaching parenting courses.

I’m sure anyone that I told my plan to was slightly skeptic. Who was I to teach a parenting class? I was a 19-year-old baby lovin’ birth doula that had never had a child of her own. Nevertheless I was determined to bring a change to the way that we as a society were raising our babies.

I’ve been fortunate enough spend time in all facets of “the field”. I’ve worked everywhere from day care to social services.

Throughout it all I saw a pattern. We spend so much time talking about what to do with children {teach them this, feed them that, put them to bed like this, tell them to act like that} but never ever talk about why.

I was on a mission to change it all. I thought that if I could help people understand kids on a deeper level I could change…well, everything.

and I wanted to start by talking about temperament.

By definition, temperament is the combination of innate characteristics that determines an individuals sensitivity to various experiences & responsiveness to patterns of social interaction.

I suppose you could call this the nature piece of personality. They are the inborn traits that are stable over time.

This is why you can have two children under the same roof that react completely differently to a situation or upbringing.

My brother & I, for example, have a completely different memory of our childhood. We weren’t raised or treated differently, but we have very different temperaments.

there are nine main temperamental characteristics1:

  1. activity: time spent active v.s. inactive
  2. adaptability: how easily the child adapts to a new environment
  3. approach/withdrawal: the child’s response to a new person
  4. attention span/persistence: how long the child spends with an activity, & how distraction effects that
  5. distractibility: the ease or difficulty of distraction by external stimuli
  6. intensity of reaction: the energy behind the response regardless of the situation
  7. mood: the amount of friendly, pleasant, joyful behavior, as opposed to unpleasant, unfriendly behavior
  8. rhythmicity: regularity of hunger, excretion, sleep, & wakefulness
  9. responsiveness: the intensity of stimulation required to evoke a response

based off these parameters, there are three categories of temperament:

  • easy: generally positive, adaptable, low intensity, regular rhythmicity
  • slow to warm: cautious, adapts slowly, sometimes negative, varying rhythmicity, mild intensity
  • difficult: generally negative {glass half empty}, tends to withdraw, change is difficult, irregular rythmicity, high intensity

About 35% of children are considered “undefined”, meaning they don’t fall perfectly into one of the three categories. As for the rest, 40% are considered “easy”, 15% are “slow-to-warm” & only 10% are “difficult”. Lucky me. I’m difficult ;]

understanding your child’s temperament is hugely important.

We know that our children are all unique, but getting to know their inborn personality qualities can open up a world of change.

Take a moment to assess yourself. What temperament do you have? Is your child the same? Different? How might they see the world?

In my experience this was a game changer.

I didn’t have kids yet, but I was one. I finally understood how my dad & I could be exactly the same yet nothing alike. I learned why it was so hard for my mom to understand my inability to go with the flow.

I took this new information & ran with it. I began to adapt myself to my family’s unique temperament qualities & our relationships grew abundantly more rich.

without knowing it, I was kinda’ playing into “goodness of fit”

Goodness of fit is defined as the accommodation of parenting styles to your child’s temperament. Of course I was reversing the roles, but the information applied just the same.

It’s not about letting your child get away with things because of their nature, but rather adapting to their uniqueness.

Throughout the years of research in the field, patterns have been drawn for each temperament:

  • “easy” children are flexible by nature & adapt fairly well to most styles of child rearing
  • children that are “slow to warm” thrive when parents are patient, moderately encouraging, & allow time for adjustment in new situations
  • “difficult” children need consistency, patience, & understanding for their fleeting instability

Researchers have found that the children of parents that adapt to their child’s temperaments are more likely to feel secure & joyous.

It’s even thought that if a parent adapts quickly enough to a “difficult” child in infancy, they will be able to express the qualities of a slow to warm or easy child later in life. It’s not that their temperament changes, but that they are given the tools to adjust.

With a little bit of understanding & a few changes we have the ability to bring more peace & joy to the lives lives of our children & families. & THAT is pretty amazing.

To making sense of WHY our kids {& parents} personalities are unique,


  1. Chess, S. & Thomas A. (1987). Temperamental individuality from childhood to adolescence. Journal of Child Psychiatry, 16, 218-26.

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