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Temperament and Parenting

Resilience, Parenting Techniques & Discipline

Why are children so different? Because each has his or her own temperament! This accounts for why infants and children need to be raised in different ways. Parenting methods and techniques must be compatible with their personalities.

Researchers have long wondered why some children with very supportive and nuturing homes still have done poorly, while some from cold and barren home environments have excelled. Part of the answer is that infants are born with differing levels of resilience in their personalities. Another part of the answer is the 'goodness of fit' between the child's individual behavior and the way they are reared. Generally the better the "fit," the better the results.

Temperament is important in parenting in 1) knowing the proper parenting techniques and how to discipline, and, 2) how it affects the parent's view of the child and themselves as parents. Both of these dimensions are critical in determining how the parent-child relationship evolves over time.

First, since parents can't change or determine the child's temperamental style, parenting needs to be molded around the child's temperament. Parents who try to make the child fit their concept of the 'perfect child' usually end up feeling very frustrated. A better approach is to observe and learn about the infant's behavioral style and then change the way the parent reacts to the situation.

Temperamental characteristics can be very positive in some situations and challenging in others. Only by sensitizing themselves to the infant's personality can parents learn how to respond to in a helpful way. Most parents learn this through a period of trial and error but when conflict continues to increase rather than resolve itself, or when it appears unexpectedly, assistance may be welcome.

Key points:

1) Do not punish the child for temperamental style. If a child is shy, she should not be reprimanded for being hesitant toward a stanger. If the child adapts gradually, she shouldn't be punished for not obeying completely if her response is better than last time (moving in the right direction). If the child is intense she shouldn't be criticized for being loud when she feels upset, just as she isn't punished for being loud when she is happy. If a child is irregular, she shouldn't be punished for not being hungry at every meal or not ready to sleep at every bed time.

2) Notice the times when things are going well. How are you reacting at the times when you and she are feeling good about each other? There are clues there about what the infant or child needs.

3) Recognize and accept the way the infant really is. If parenting is stressful and your infant doesn't act like the one next door, she may be 'spirited' and need specialized parenting techniques. You may need to learn more about how to parent a spirited child than the parent next door.

4) Recognize your feelings toward the child. It can be isolating to feel that you are frustrated rather than fulfilled as a parent, that you are stressed by parenting rather than energized by it and that you sometimes wish that your child were different. Lots of other parents have these feelings. Find a way to discuss these feelings honestly. It will probably benefit your child also, if you do.

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