What are the major areas of temperament?

From our work in health maintenance organizations, we see three major areas of temperament. In our research and clinical work, they reappear from infancy through adolescence and contribute to the majority of temperament-related behavioral issues bothering parents. These areas are the child's energy level (both activity and reactivity), adaptability (to intrusions, transitions, changes, or novelties) and frustration tolerance.

Three secondary (but still important areas) are the child sensitivity, regularity in sleep and eating schedules, and distractibility (or in infancy, soothability).

Other clinicians and researchers with different purposes have developed different concepts. There is no standard set.

To map temperament, university researchers typically have started with large sets of specific questions about temperament. Using sophisticated statistical techniques, they have combined specific questions and concepts into smaller sets of more abstract temperament factors, such as "Energy" or "Emotionality".

Clinicians generally have taken a different path, preferring to stay with a smaller number of specific concepts, particularly those that have proved helpful to parents in explaining how their child's temperament "worked".

In constructing this web site, since our goal was to explain to parents how their child's temperament worked and predict what short-term issues were likely to occur, we tried to combine helpful elements of both approaches.

For example, our infant profile shows a child's standing on seven global dimensions of temperament. However, we found that if we divided major areas of temperament (such as Reactivity or Adaptability) into clinical sub-areas, we could explain more clearly to parents why their child's temperament led to specific problems. We also could improve our capacity to predict problem occurrence.

Our research studies also confirmed what other researchers have reported: the structure of temperament seems to change over time. The concepts that apply or are predictive at one age may not at another. So our toddler temperament profile will have somewhat different scales than our infant profile.

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