The compatibility of a person’s temperament with their surrounding environment is referred to as “goodness of fit.” Some temperaments and environments seem to naturally fit together while others do not. One of the key components to helping children feel good about themselves and be successful throughout life is by creating environments that accommodate their temperaments.
There are two types of “Goodness of Fit:” how that trait interacts with the environment and how it interacts with the people in that environment. Any trait in and of itself is not a problem; rather, it is the interaction that determines the ‘acceptability’ of that trait.
The behavioral fit describes how well the behavior fits with the environment. When there is a match between the demands and expectations of the environment and the child’s temperament and abilities, that is a good fit. This makes success and high self-esteem more likely. When there is not a good fit, there is a greater risk for difficulties for the child.
For example, if a child who is highly irregular when it comes to eating is in a school setting where lunches are served promptly at noon everyday, the parent may become frustrated when the child brings his lunch home uneaten or if the teacher calls because the child is crying because she is famished by 10 am. Or if a very active child lives in a small apartment vs. living on a farm, there may be a clash between the child’s temperament and his environment, making things difficult for the parent and the child. Similarly, a very active child in a very traditional and more restrictive school setting might run into trouble abiding by the rules of conduct.
The emotional fit describes how well the child’s temperament fits with the people in his environment and how likable the people in the environment consider the child to be. Remember that all adults have their own unique temperaments that can sometimes be very different from the child’s. This is true of parents, teachers, caregivers, etc. Sometimes this clash in temperaments can be the reason why a parent or another adult may be struggling with a child. It may be harder to understand a child with a very different temperament from us and we may have less patience to deal with a temperament we don’t understand.
For example, if a very active parent has a child who does not enjoy physical activity, this can create potential conflict in the home if it feels to the parent that he is begging his child just to go for a bike ride. Or, if a parent who is very social and enjoys parties and gatherings has a child who has a really tough time entering a group of people and is very shy or slow to warm, this parent may become frustrated and angry with the child for not being more friendly and outgoing.
Understanding the concept of goodness of fit can indicate whether some changes may be needed so that there is a better match between the child and his environment.
It helps to approach a situation with more empathy so that we can help ourselves and our children understand and manage their reactions to certain things.
It can help us to have more realistic expectations about our children. Sometimes just knowing we have a child who is more challenging temperamentally can help us to understand that it is not our fault, that we did not make this child the way he is and that it is not the result of “bad” parenting.
We can help our children to recognize and put themselves in situations or activities that “fit” for them so that they can feel more successful. For example, we can provide opportunities for very active children to join sports teams and for less active ones to find clubs that require less activity and movement, like a chess club or a computer club. When it comes to assigning chores, we can try to match chores with what fits for our children. Active children can mow the lawn, take out the trash, vacuum the living room. Less active children can fold the laundry or empty the dishwasher.
Benefits of creating a “Goodness of Fit” for our children:
- You can avoid some of the recurring battles that take place within your home.
- You build a more trusting, respectful relationship with your children.
- Your children’s self-esteem is raised.
Tips for creating a “Goodness of Fit” between a child and his parents and environment:
- Know and understand your children’s temperament and their usual way of reacting in situations.
- Know and understand your own temperament and your typical ways of responding to your children.
- Identify how your temperaments fit and don’t fit together. Do you tend to react mildly to things while your child has intense reactions? Are you both highly sensitive to sounds and tastes? Do you adapt quickly while your child has a tough time adapting to new routines?
- Consider how your reactions to your children affect their behavior. What is your response when your children’s temperament clashes with your expectations? How do your reactions impact the outcome of your interactions?
- Work to respond more sensitively and effectively to your children. Be aware of the language you use and learn to describe and re-frame some of the negative labels with positive labels.
- Look at the situation, including the physical environment and others’ temperaments, and assess how well or not so well it fits with your child’s temperament. Change schedules and physical surroundings to better fit your child’s temperament. For example, if you have a child that is highly active, plan a trip to the playground where the child can run and climb before you head out to the store to go shopping.
- Anticipate your child’s needs and reactions. Work together to plan for successful outcomes. For example, if your child is low on adaptability and slow to approach new situations, prepare him in advance for new situations by being as specific and detailed as you can about what he can expect.
- Help your children learn ways they can help themselves “fit” better in all environments. Teach your children about their temperament and about goodness of fit. Teach them what they can do to manage both.
- Parents can create a “goodness of fit” between their child and planned activities so that it becomes a win-win for everyone. This involves taking into account the child’s temperament and what he needs in order to feel comfortable in a particular setting.
- If a child typically gets stressed in crowded places, visits to stores can be made during their slowest hours.
- Do not force a child who has difficulty talking to strangers to talk to new people or relatives they haven’t seen in a while. Give them time to feel comfortable – this is being respectful of the child’s temperament and can avoid a meltdown or the child feeling badly about himself.
For more information about Goodness of Fit, check out the following books. Purchasing from Amazon.com through our website supports the work we do to help parents do the best job they can to raise their children.
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