By Peter J. Favaro, Ph.D on January 11, 2011
In the debate over whether we are more the products of our genetic makeup or the environment around us, the best conclusion science has to offer is that we are certainly strongly influenced by both.
To be an effective parent, it is very important to your success as well as your sanity to understand that your child came into this world with something child development and child behavior experts refer to as temperament.
Temperament is the genetic contribution to behavior and can, at least in part, reflect whether your child is an easy-going, good listening, calm, flexible, attentive and happy child; or whether he or she is difficult, stubborn, oppositional and even a grumpy child.
Parents are almost always aware of what their children's temperaments are, but often do not realize that difficult behavioral traits do not always come from faulty parenting but from a child who has a challenging behavioral predisposition. Before we knew that children had temperamental qualities, it was common for people who were experts in the field of child development to attribute the cause of difficult behavior in children to "parenting mistakes." Now we know that children who are spirited, oppositional, rigid, stubborn, and even aggressive can be born with tendencies to be that way.
Does this mean that behavior that is influenced by temperament is impossible to change? No, not at all, but it might mean that many, many more repetitions or corrections might be needed to create that change, and it might mean that your "workload" as a parent might be higher than a child with a more easy-going temperament.
We don't know why yet but some parents are blessed with children who are easier to raise. It is entirely possible to have several children with very different behavioral styles.
Here are some typical behavioral traits which can be influenced by temperament:
Shyness - doesn't seem to like to meet new people, anxious, doesn't like to be singled out. Does not want to socialize with peers.
Stubbornness - hates being told what to do. Won't do what others are doing in a group. Lashes out at authorities.
Intense - emotionally reactive, grandiose, likes to be the center of attention.
People pleasing - socially aware. Motivated to please. Compliant, sense of gentility. Wants to impress.
This is not a complete list but these are descriptions of some behaviors that are influenced by temperament.
Sometimes temperament is observed as a "tendency" in a child who might be a bit left or right of average and sometimes temperamental behavior shows itself as a moderate to extreme behavior. If your child is an extremely difficult child to raise, consider speaking with your pediatrician about it, or consulting a child behavior expert.
Turning Concept Into Action:
1. If you have a spirited, difficult child - pick and chose your battles. You will exhaust and frustrate yourself if you make correcting every bothersome behavior a battle of wills.
2. Remember that it is important to always try to bring your child's focus and energy to your level. Do not "stress up" to your child's level because chances are he or she will raise the bar and escalate the situation even more.
3. Try not to punish a child for what he cannot control. It is better to help your child improve behavior by rewarding effort.