How does temperament relate to ADHD or anxiety?

Temperament shows up early. A diagnoses may be attached later on. Some toddlers and preschoolers are very active, distractible, and impulsive. Others are cautious, shy, or anxious with new people or in new places. By first grade, a number of these traits will mellow out. Thus early temperament alone does not predict what is ahead.

Children who continue to be very active, distractible and impulsive may be diagnosed with ADHD in elementary school. Doctors generally wait until at least age 6 to make that diagnosis. Why? Not only because preschoolers may outgrow those issues, but because medications (that are often very helpful with ADHD) have more problematic side effects in younger children.

Managing extreme traits well early-on makes it more likely that they will lessen over time. Our long-term research at Kaiser Permanente found that difficult male toddlers had less anxiety over the next dozen years when their parents understood temperament.

Our goal at the Preventive Ounce is to use temperament to accurately describe each child's current behavioral style, tell parents what issues are likely to occur in the near future, and suggest ways to work with rather than against your child's traits. Whether or not your child outgrows the present traits, your family will benefit now from effective ways to manage temperament-related behavior.

Early management is not the whole story. Researchers are gradually finding more genes that affect temperament. Such genes along with other factors will affect whether certain early traits continue or are outgrown.


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