Temperament Overview

What is Temperament?


Temperament, a part of the Unique Child, refers to the individualized blueprint that each child is born with and that determines how he reacts to the world around him.

Based on a thirty-year study begun in 1956, temperament explains why some children are very easy-going while others tend to be more challenging for parents. Sometimes you hear these challenging children being called “difficult” or spirited; this is often because they have temperamental traits that make them more demanding to parent.

Ten Temperament Traits

Child development research has identified 10 temperament traits that everyone exhibits to some extent. They are:

1. Intensity

Does your child show happiness or frustration strongly and dramatically? Or does your child express those feelings mildly?

2. Activity Level

Is it hard to read a book with your child because he is always on the go? Or, does your child prefer sedentary quiet activities?

3. Regularity

Does your child eat and sleep at predictable times? Or, is your child unpredictable in terms of eating and sleeping schedules?

4. Quality of Mood

Is your child generally in a happy mood? Or, does your child seem more serious?

5. Emotional Sensitivity

Does your child react strongly to his own or other’s feelings and emotions? Or does your child seem unaware of how he or others are feeling?

6. Sensory Sensitivity

Does your child react positively or negatively to sounds, tastes, and textures?

7. Adaptability

Does your child have difficulty with changes in routines, or with transitions from one activity to another? Or does your child handle them smoothly?

8. Approach/Withdrawal

Does your child easily approach new situations or people? Or does your child seem to hold back when faced with new situations, people or things?

9. Distractibility

Is your child easily sidetracked when trying to do chores or homework? Or, does your child stay on task?

10. Persistence

Does your child react strongly when told “no” to something? Does your child have a hard time letting ideas go? Or does your child seem to give up without trying their hardest?

Why is Knowing this Important?

You can tailor your parenting strategies to better meet your children’s needs.
Knowing how your children respond will help you and your children to more successfully handle difficult situations.


You can teach your children to manage their reactions.
Then both of you will be able to appreciate the positive aspects of that trait.

For example, children who are considered “stubborn” could be viewed as persistent. Similarly, children who are labeled “negative” may be thought of as serious.


Often the same characteristics that make raising children difficult are the same qualities that serve them well as adults.

For example, a highly dramatic and intense child can be very entertaining even as a child, and might become a successful actor, litigator, or teacher. A very picky (discerning) eater may become a premier chef.

You can foster self-esteem and a more positive relationship.
By learning to work with your unique child, rather than against him, you will be able to have a powerful influence on his development.

To identify your children’s (and your own) temperament, use the Temperament Rating Scales. Answer the questions provided for each trait to guide you in determining where your children fall on each scale.

You can then read more about each temperament trait in articles that are also in our Parenting Information Library. You can also learn about the Broad Categories of Temperament as well as the concept of Goodness of Fit.


For more information about temperament, 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.

Raising Your Spirited Child by Kurcinka The Difficult Child Understanding Temperament by Schick The Challenging Child by Greenspan

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