Aren't concepts like temperament sometimes damaging?

Occasionally, parents voice fears that seeing their child's temperament will open a Pandora's box. Out will fly a variety of ills, including:

  • Demeaning labels. Parents ask: "Won't labels like "difficult", "slow to warm up", or "hyperactive" stick to my child, create prejudices, lower self-esteem?

    These side effects can occur occasionally when children are lumped into temperament types. Partly for this reason, we do not group children into typologies in this web site.

  • Self-fulfilling prophesies. "If I'm told my child will act a certain way, won't my expectations force my child to act just that way?"

    This fear might be justified if temperament concepts led to negative judgments of the child ("if my parents see me as bad, I might as well act that way"). But parents tell us this program does just the opposite. By expanding their definition of what is normal, the programs makes them feel less anxious or guilty, less likely to feel their child is damaged or "bad".

  • Catering to the child. "If I acknowledge temperamental differences, won't I have to submit to them in my child?"

    Understanding a child's temperament doesn't necessarily mean excusing it or adopting an accommodating parenting style. In many instances, parents who gain more understanding of their child's temperament also understand why they need to take a firmer stance in a particular area.

  • Inequality. "If I treat my children differently, won't I treat them unequally?"
    Different paths can lead to the same destination.

    With respect to each child's temperament, the goal is to balance respect for the child's behavioral style with respect for parent, family, and community needs, including the need for the child to mature and grow. How that balance is maintained may vary from child to child, but when parents maintain that balance with each of their children, they are treating them all fairly.

  • More work for me. "If I have to do things differently for different children, doesn't that just add more work?

    Initially, sometimes. But down the road, life can be much easier, particularly for parents of children with very different temperaments.


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