The Broad Categories of Temperament

Temperament Matters

pie chart showing percentagesResearch has shown that there are three distinct categories into which the ten temperament traits fall. These clusters, reflecting different ways that people react to their environment, are called:

  • easy,
  • difficult,
  • slow to warm.

About 65% of all children fall within one of these broad categories, while the other 35% of the population has various combinations of these traits.


The Easy Child

Children who are considered easy are:

  • highly regular,

  • have a positive approach to new situations,

  • are highly adaptable to change,

  • have a mild to moderate intensity of reaction,

  • have a predominantly positive mood.

About 40% of children are considered to have an “easy” temperament.

Introducing easy children to new experiences does not create tension in them or in the household. They are often considered a delight to be with, and parents of easy children usually find the job of parenting to be rewarding and they generally feel that they are successful as parents.


The Difficult Child

Children who are considered “difficult” or “spirited” comprise about 10% of the population. They typically:

  • have irregular biological functions, making them unpredictable and challenging for parents who like to plan ahead.

  • tend to have a negative reaction to new situations.

  • don’t handle change well and take a long time to adapt.

  • get “locked-in” once they finally get used to something.

  • have an intense reaction to positive and negative events; whatever they feel, they feel it 100% and they let everyone around them know about it.

  • are in a negative mood, typically seeing what is wrong with a situation before they can see what might be good about it.

Children who have this specific combination of traits can be quite challenging. Actually, having a child who falls at an extreme on any of the ten temperament continuums may be challenging for a parent to manage, even if the traits are not exactly the ones mentioned above. Raising them requires more effort and thought, many times leaving parents feeling frustrated and doubtful about the effectiveness of their skills as parents.

Your Temperament and Your Child’s

“Goodness of fit” between your temperament and your child’s can also make a child seem easier or harder to raise. What may be difficult for one parent to manage might be quite enjoyable and comfortable for another parent.

    For example:

    A parent who likes structure and routines may struggle more with children who are irregular in sleeping and eating habits, but a parent who thrives on spontaneity and flexibility could probably accommodate these traits easily.

    Or, a parent with a calm and even temperament may find a highly intense child difficult to manage and understand while a parent who is high on the intensity scale may enjoy having a child who is emotionally expressive.


To cope with challenging children, parents can:

  • see the positive in these challenging temperamental traits.

  • learn about and accept your child’s temperament.

  • understand how your temperament fits with your children’s.

  • keep your expectations in line with your child’s temperament.

  • don’t take their temperament-related behavior personally.

  • set up the environment to accommodate a challenging temperament so that your child is not always in conflict with his surroundings and your expectations.

  • learn ways to manage these temperament traits.

  • over time teach your children to understand and manage their own temperament.

Remember that often the traits that are most difficult to cope with when children are young are the very traits that will help them to cope well as adolescents and adults.


The Slow-to-Warm Child

Slow-to-warm children are a moderate version of the 2nd group. About 15% of children fall into this category. They:

  • have a mild negative response to new situations./

  • are slow to adapt, but after repeated contact, they adjust. For example, it may take slow-to-warm children until November to feel comfortable in the “new” school year.

  • are often considered to be shy.

In general, their intensity of reaction, whether positive or negative, is milder than the “difficult” child but not as mild as the “easy” child.

To manage this constellation of traits, parents can:

  • learn about and be respectful of children’s temperament traits.

  • have reasonable expectations when it comes to introducing children to new situations.

  • give children the time they need to adjust.

  • plan ahead by preparing children in advance about what to expect.

  • remember that slow-to-warm children will eventually get where they need to be; it will just take them a little more time than children who adjust more easily.

With these skills, parents of slow-to-warm children can feel successful and can maintain their children’s self-esteem and a healthy relationship with them.



For more information about the broad categories of temperament, check out the following books. Purchasing from through our website supports the work we do to help parents do the best job they can to raise their children.

The Challenging Child by Greenspan Raising Your Spirited Child by Kurcinka

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