Understanding children’s individual diﬀerences helps adults build relationships with infants and toddlers and interact in ways that meet each child’s needs. One of the individual diﬀerences mentioned earlier is temperament — behavioral “styles” children are born with that describe how they approach and react to the world. (See Introduction to Temperament on the Center for Early Childhood Mental Health Consultation website. To consider how temperament connects with development, see ELOF domains, Approaches to Learning and Social and Emotional Development.)
Temperament not only aﬀects how infants and toddlers interpret and react to the world around them, it also aﬀects how adults respond to children. Adults have their own unique temperaments, too; compatibility between a child’s and an adult’s temperament can aﬀect the quality of interactions. This compatibility, known as “goodness of ﬁt,” refers to how an adult’s expectations and style of interaction match the child’s style and abilities. Goodness of ﬁt does not require children and adults to have matching temperaments. However, it does require adults to adjust their interaction styles to better support each child’s natural way of responding to the world.
Here is an example of how goodness of ﬁt works in a center-based setting:
Twenty-eight-month-old Sierra stands at the door of her Early Head Start classroom, watching. Even though she has attended the center for over a year, she still takes her time coming into the room. Jandro, her teacher, slowly approaches her, kneels down to her level, and quietly says, “Good morning, Sierra, I’m glad to see you.” Sierra smiles and glances at her dad, who stoops down and says in a soft voice, “See you later, Sierra. Can Daddy give you your special goodbye hug?” Sierra nods and turns to her father. He opens his arms, gathers her in, and gently lifts her until they are face to face, and he gives her a kiss on her nose. He then puts her down and waves his hand as he turns to leave and walks down the hall. Sierra waves her hand in response until she can no longer see him.
Once Sierra’s dad is gone, Jandro takes her hand and leads her to the table for a morning snack. No sooner does he get Sierra settled when 30-month-old Alex comes to the door. Alex runs to Jandro, hugs his leg, and says with great excitement, “We saw a ﬁre truck, we saw a ﬁre truck! The siren was really loud—RRRRRR!!” Jandro, matching Alex’s energy and enthusiasm, exclaims, “Wow, a ﬁre truck! That sounds so exciting!”
These two children have very diﬀerent temperaments, and Jandro is keenly aware of this. Through his program’s professional development oﬀerings on responsive care, he has learned over time that how he responds to diﬀerent temperaments really makes a diﬀerence. When he changes his pace and approach to better match each child’s temperament, he forms a stronger relationship with that child and is better able to support his or her development and learning.
U.S Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children, Youth, and Families, Office of Head Start, Center for Early Childhood Mental Health Consultation, Introduction to Temperament (Washington, DC, n.d.).
Resource Type: Article
National Centers: Early Childhood Development, Teaching and Learning
Last Updated: December 22, 2020