Your Preschooler’s Social-Emotional Development - Part 2 - Individual Temperament

22 March 2018

 Preschool Social Emotional Development Individual Temperaments

Temperament at any age, be it 5 or 55, involves five distinct characteristics. Each characteristic is expressed in a completely unique combination for every adult and child. For example, your preschooler may have a stronger emphasis on one trait than another. Another child may have a greater challenge with another characteristic. The key is to understand these individual characteristics and how they shape your child’s individual temperament so you can support your little one’s social-emotional development.

Here are the 5 characteristics that make up your child's individual temperament:

  1. Emotional Intensity. This involves how quickly and strongly a child reacts to things. For example, when I taught Head Start, it was evident which children were more intense emotionally than others. They would often show their emotions more readily and at a greater intensity or volume than their peers. The term “intense reactor” would often appear in Head Start preschool teacher’s anecdotal records for these little ones. In contrast, there were more laid-back or quiet children whose emotions weren’t as easy to read. The important thing here is not to judge how your little one reacts emotionally, be it quickly or slowly, but to acknowledge their emotions. Let your preschooler know that you understand these feelings. Part 1 of this series, Your Child’s Social-Emotional Development explains the four basic areas of your preschooler's emotional growth and tips for supporting them.
  2. Activity Level. The inner drive to be busy is a natural, inborn trait in very young children. Most parents can easily describe their preschooler’s activity level. Just consider how driven a toddler is to learn to walk. They fall, get up, tumble again, and on and on. That said, it’s the level of activity that differs with each child. Some preschoolers hardly ever stop, while some move at a slower pace. And, of course, it differs with their interest in activities as well. If your little one loves playing with blocks, her activity level will rise with this favorite pastime. In turn, you can use the favorite block activity as a way to focus your child’s activity level in one area. Again, what’s important here is to acknowledge, accept and work with your child’s individual activity level. Our Moving activities are a great way to channel your preschooler’s unique activity level, too. And if you're looking to understand why your toddler is so darn energetic, check out my blog, 5 Reasons Why Preschoolers Have So Much Energy.
  3. Frustration tolerance. The ability to deal with things when they aren’t working out the way a child’s wants is frustration tolerance. Human beings continue to learn how to deal with frustration throughout their lives. As we know, it’s not always easy to manage our frustrations. So, as your little one grows, he will learn how to handle himself when things don’t go his way. Your approach to your childs’s frustration is key to your child’s learning this essential skill. They will see how you react and learn from you. When your child is frustrated, talking about what’s happening, accepting it and giving the name frustration to the feeling is an important start. Suggesting creative ways to deal with frustration is another approach. For example say, “I know you are frustrated that the paste isn’t sticking well. Can we figure out another material to use?” Another thing to keep in mind is that your little one will be able to tolerate frustration better when he’s not hungry and tired. Our Materials Guide has helpful tips for using preschool age-appropriate materials that can lessen frustration during your art activities.
  4. Reaction to new people and situation. In my preschool tours at the NC Museum of Art, I see the many ways young children react to new situations. Some little ones jump right in and easily participate in activities. Some are cautious and need more time to feel comfortable in new situations. Your understanding of your little one’s reaction to new people and situations can make you a better parent. By understanding and recognizing how your preschooler will behave in new situations, you can help your child be comfortable in them. For example, with a more introverted child, you can talk about what they can expect to see or experience in new situations. “There will be about four other children at the party. You already know three of them. They are all really nice, too.” You can learn more about how to support more introverted children in my blog, Introverted Children: Quiet Treasures.
  5. Reaction to Change. Response to change is another temperament characteristic that is inborn and unique to every individual. As adults, we know people who can “go with the flow” and have no problem with changes. Then there are those who like to know what’s coming and how to prepare for it. This spectrum of reaction to change is also very apparent in preschool children. As adults, we know that it’s not always possible to anticipate change in our lives. So, we develop coping strategies. This is what we must help our preschoolers learn, too. For those little ones who don’t react easily to change, the best approach is to prepare them as much as possible for what’s to come. For example, give your child the heads up, “Your cousin is coming to stay for the weekend and will be sharing your room. So, we’ll need to fix him a place to sleep.” And even for those preschoolers that deal with change easily, it’s always a good practice to alert them to changes that will affect them personally. It shows respect for your child and their right to know about things that will happen to her. And finally, asking your child to talk about their feelings about change and is another approach that will help your young one learn how to deal with life’s inevitable ups and downs.

While all of the above characteristics are at work in your child’s individual temperament, your child’s behavior and approach to the world are primarily shaped by their experiences and interactions with you, parents and their caring adults. Because of this, it’s very important for children to be accepted for who they are.

It’s true that some temperaments can be easier to handle than others. Depending on their own individual temperament, a parent with an intense, reactive child or a child who is very reserved will tell you that parenting these children can be a challenge at times. It is totally normal that you will like and feel more comfortable with some aspects of your child’s temperament more than with others.

The bottom line in supporting your child’s individual temperament is that you must be your child’s champion. You can help your child accept and understand healthy ways to be themselves and express their emotions. You can also help others see your child’s behavior from your personal perspective. For example, children who are temperamentally introverted can become more outgoing and comfortable when adults are sensitive and help them and slowly adapt to new experiences. And more extroverted, driven children can learn to express themselves freely, fully and safely when given space and the creative ways to do so.

I hope this blog will help you understand and value the temperament that is unique to your one-and-only preschooler. In case you missed it, you can find Part 1 of this blog series Growing Emotions - Your Preschooler’s Social-Emotional Development - Part 1 - Four Basics here. If your looking for more ways to support your child’s emotions through appreciation, our blog Six Ways to Foster Gratitude in Young Children has easy, creative ideas.

Let us know what you think! We’re always happy to get your feedback right here.

+ Inspiration/thanks goes to the distinct expressions of Clara Bow and company in the 1929 film, “The Wild Party.” The film is known for being Ms. Bow's talkie debut and the direction of Dorothy Arzner, who was the only female director working in the United States during the 1930s.