How does temperament differ from diagnoses like hyperactivity, ADHD or ADD?

Hyperactivity, ADD or the companion diagnosis, ADHD, are labels applied in the medical, diagnostic procedure. They are a way of looking at children's behavior, primarily so that a doctor can determine whether certain medicines may be of help. Presumably, if the child's behavior fits a diagnostic pattern, certain drugs should be prescribed that have helped other children fitting that same pattern.

Although temperament concepts are gradually being used more in the medical field, they are not strictly part of this "medical model". They do not lead to a diagnosis or a prescription, either behavioral or pharmacological. Their aim is to describe accurately the child's behavioral style (see Question 1), tell parents when and how often certain issues are likely to occur, suggests useful ways of managing these issues, and generally provide parents with a greater understanding of how their child's temperament "works". This understanding can then generalize to other behavioral issues.

In practice, these two methods of mapping children's behavior can be applied to the child. Either one or both can be useful. However, the temperament approach can be applied at a much earlier age. Most efforts to diagnosis ADD, ADHD, or "hyperactivity" occur after the child enters and has difficulty with school.

    Other advantages to the use of temperament concepts:
  • The temperament approach leaves parents with more tools that they can apply, more sense of effectiveness.
  • Since no diagnosis is made, the temperament approach creates less risk of the stigma often associated with diagnoses. The child is less likely to feel there is something "wrong with how his head operates."
  • Parents who can understand and manage their child's temperament can also model that management for their child. Eventually, the child can copy parents and then learn to manage his or her own temperament. "Know thyself" becomes "manage thyself."
  • Medications are helpful to many children with extreme temperaments, but early understanding of the role of temperament can cut down on their need.

© 1996-2018, The Preventive Ounce, a Non-profit organization