Why is temperament important?

Parents, teachers, doctors, employers, researchers can all benefit from understanding temperament. So too, of course, can children.

Parents who understand their child's temperament can avoid blaming themselves for issues that are normal for their child's temperament. They can plan ahead to avoid getting stuck in parenting approaches that work for other children, but not this one.

For childcare providers and preschool teachers, understanding children's temperament is almost a survival skill. (For example, it's normal for certain youngsters to bite until they learn better ways to manage their feelings.) Like parents, teachers can learn to identify issues that are likely to arise: separation problems at the door, variations in how long it takes children to "warm up" to a new classroom. In the primary grades, teachers can better manage the class clown, the one inclined to talk all the time, and the one who holds back.

For doctors, temperament suggests how likely a child is to keep taking a prescribed medicine. Knowledge of a child's energy level can suggest how long a cast will last on a broken leg or whether the child is likely to show up again soon in the emergency room!

For employers, temperament concepts can indicate how well an applicant fits a particular job. In is space program, Russia employed a renowned Polish researcher to help choose cosmonauts whose temperament would fit cramped quarters and long periods of monotonous isolation. There are no hyperactive Russian astronauts!

For researchers, temperament was first seen as "noise" in their experiments. To avoid this problem, they bread pure strains of laboratory animals to minimize individual differences in behavior. Gradually, they began to appreciate the effects of temperament on behavior so temperament became a focus of attention. For example, they looked at heart attack risk and type "A" temperament factors.

Finally for children, just as it is important to feel loved, it is important to be seen and understood. Without such validation, a child can feel "looked through," like a pane of glass. In contrast, parents who see, understand, and manage their child's temperament act as role models. By word and deed they can mirror back understanding and acceptance. When parents do understand and accept children's temperament, it is much easier for children themselves to gradually understand, accept, and manage their own temperament.

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