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New Beginnings: A Strength-Based Approach to Your Child’s Temperament

A Strength-Based Approach to Your Child’s Temperament

The word ‘temperament’ can sometimes gener- ate less than positive feelings in parents. Often misinterpreted as ‘temper’, or associated with unwelcome behaviours, temperament has an unde- served reputation. Defined as “early-appearing pat- terns of observable behavior that are presumed to be biologically based and that distinguish one child from another.” (Poole, 2012) temperament can be best understood by reflecting on the traits of bio- logical rhythm, activity level, adaptability, physical sensitivity, mood, distractibility, persistence, and intensity of reaction. In the past, literature explor- ing temperament has classified this facet of human development into the three styles of Flexible, Fearful or Fiesty (Lieberman, 1993). A flexible style typically means an easy going child, a fearful style is commonly associated with a more reserved child, and a highly active and expressive child who is unsettled with transitions often possesses a feisty style. As with any other facet of development, children do not neatly fit into one style but possess a mixture of traits from two or all three styles.

It is important to recognize that each of the three temperament styles bring with them both chal- lenges and triumphs. Framing your child’s temper- ament using strength-based language can help you to better relate to your child, and can support your child to see themselves as capable and competent. Although the term ‘flexible’ does not typically conjure images of negativity, the terms ‘fearful’ and ‘feisty’ can foster a negative image and therefore require reframing. If your child has a predominantly fearful style, using alternate terms such as ‘cau- tious’, ‘observer’ or ‘reflective’ is likely to positively

shape this temperament style. Terms such as ‘spir- ited’, ‘passionate’ and ‘energetic’ can re-image the child with feisty traits as capable and competent.

Strategies to specifically support each style also merit consideration. A flexible temperament
lends itself well to unexpected adaptations in the environment, and changes in routine. Ensuring that adequate and timely attention is given to a child with a flexible temperament is essential as sometimes children with this style can get ‘lost in the shuffle’. A child with a cautious temperament is often reflective and a keen observer. Offering time and space for the child to observe prior to entering play or a new experience, is often helpful. For the child with a spirited temperament, warnings prior to transitions and leadership roles (such as help- ing set the table, or help with meal preparation) often brings outs the child’s temperament assets. Strength-based temperament language and strate- gies can ultimately empower your child to perceive themselves as capable and competent with much to offer to the world.


Lieberman, A. F. (1993). The emotional life of the toddler. New York, USA: The Free Press.

Poole, J. (2012, July 2). Temperament: The key to under- standing behaviour. [PowerPoint presentation]. Retrieved from https://slideplayer.com/slide/8271067/

Tina Bonnett is a professor in an Honours Bachelor Early Childhood Leadership degree at a community college. She is passionate about exploring temperament with future leaders in the early years sector.


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