Mental Health

Introduction to Temperament

Temperament is an important feature of social and emotional health. It describes the way we approach and react to the world. It is our own personal "style" that is present from birth. There are three general types of temperaments, often referred to as easy-going, slow-to-warm, and active.

Easy-going children are generally happy, active children from birth who adjust easily to new situations and environments. Slow-to-warm children are generally observant, calm, and may need extra time in adjusting to new situations. Children with active temperaments often have varied routines (e.g., eating, sleeping), and approach life with zest. Children may fall into one of the three types of temperament but still display varying behavior across the common temperament traits.

Common Temperament Traits

There are nine common traits that can help to describe a child’s temperament and the way they react to and experience the world. They are:

  • Activity level
  • Distractibility
  • Intensity
  • Regularity
  • Sensitivity
  • Approachability
  • Adaptability
  • Persistence
  • Mood

child playing with xylophone

The Temperament Chart explains these traits in more detail.

Each caregiver and parent is also unique in his or her own temperament. The compatibility between adult-child temperaments can affect the quality of relationships. This compatibility is often referred to as "goodness of fit." A goodness of fit happens when an adult's expectations and methods of caregiving match the child's personal style and abilities.

What is most beneficial about the goodness of fit concept is that it does not require that adults and children have matching temperaments. The parent or caregiver does not have to change who they are naturally. They can simply alter or adjust their caregiving methods to be a positive support to their child's natural way of responding to the world. For example, if a child is highly active, a caregiver may pack extra activities in the diaper bag for waiting times at visits to the doctor, grocery store lines, etc. For a child who needs some extra time in approaching new activities, a caregiver might stay close by, giving the child time to adjust and feel safe.