Parenting Children with
Children are born with an inborn temperament, a preferred style of relating to people and events. Temperament is indicated by behavior that clusters into three categories: easy, slow-to-warm up, and difficult. No category makes a child good or bad. They merely describe a child’s response patterns.
Some children (approximately 10-20%) are born with “difficult temperament.” Traits include: high, often impulsive activity level; extra sensitive to sensory stimulation; overwhelmed by change in routines and new experiences; intense, inflexible reactions; easily distracted or incredibly focused; adapt slowly to change, not able to calm themselves well; irregular biological rhythms, such as hunger/sleep schedules; rapid, intense, mood swings resulting in acting out or withdrawing completely. Your discipline interactions can clue you into your child’s temperament. Parents struggling with difficult temperament say they continually remind and nag; name-call, yell, bribe, plead, make empty threats; give into power-struggles; feel as if their child “calls all the shots” or “rules the roost”; over-react; argue with co-parent over discipline; or give up trying to discipline at all.
None of those characteristics make life easy, for kids or parents. But children with difficult temperament can learn to cope with their sensitivities. If they don’t learn, they can become confused, frustrated, and hopeless. In addition, they will most likely have to endure constant negative feedback which creates a vicious cycle of discouragement.
Children with difficult temperament do require extra time, guidance, and patience. But all children can be raised to be well-adjusted people with positive self esteem. It takes parenting finesse.
Effective parents develop attitudes, guidance strategies, and communication skills that work with, rather than against, a child’s temperament. Difficult children can learn to be self-controlled, cooperative, and adaptable. Family, neighbors, child care professionals, and school teachers are first to show children the way. Here are some tips:
Dealing with Difficult Temperaments
• Provide the fundamentals. Children well nourished with enough sleep and the right foods cope best. Daily, give children personalized time, attention, and affection.
• Focus on strengths; look for the positive.Voice your appreciation whenever a child is flexible, positive, or adaptable.
• Avoid name-calling and labeling kids as “hyper,”“problem child” or “trouble maker.” Labels chip away at self-esteem.
March 2004 Issue #17
by Karen Stephens
Parenting Exchange • March 2004 • 1
Parenting Exchange • March 2004 • 2
• Encourage self-awareness and coping strategies. Example: “Starting a new child care is hard. I know you aren’t happy about it. We’ll visit several times before you stay all day. What can you do to get to know the children there?”
• Use reflection to help children recognize options. “It looks like that sweater feels too scratchy. Can you find something in your closet that feels better?”
• Be patient, empathize, and interpret temperament traits. Try: “It’s hard for you to sit still a long time. Hold on,we’ll be at the park soon. See how many stop signs you can find.” Or “It’s frustrating adjusting to home after visiting with grandpa. Remember, first you brush your teeth, take a bath, and then we read a story before bed.” • Maintain a predictable schedule. Warn children of changes in routine so they aren’t caught off guard. “Today we’re taking care of Tony because his parents are out of town.”
• Try to make smooth transitions. For instance, before it’s time to leave the library, let children know when they have time for one more book and then stick to your decision.
• Distractible children hear one thing at a time. Give children simple, step by step directions so they can succeed. • If...
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