Do temperament questionnaires really measure temperament, or parent's perceptions of temperament?

"Subjectivity" is a strongly debated issue in the field of temperament. Researchers concerned with accurate measurement have doubted the value of parental reports, particularly through temperament questionnaires.

Clearly, questionnaire ratings reflect both the child's temperament and characteristics of the rater. The child is seen through the lens of the parent's subjectivity. Whether that fact represents a source of "noise" and therefore a problem depends on your goals.

In research, the goal is to find truth. The more bias-free the measurements, the more accurate the report and the more likely the underlying relationships between elements under study will emerge as "truth".

But in a web site of this kind, the goal is more than giving back to parents an accurate reflection of their child's temperament, or accurate predictions of issues likely to occur in the short-term. We want to change how parents see their child.

In our initial work with health maintenance organizations, parents told us that just completing the temperament questionnaire helped them see their child's temperament more clearly... even before they received back the results! The effort and thought they put into answering the questions changed how they saw their child.

So "subjectivity", rather than just noise that blurs the signal, is here a central focus. A reliable profile is important, but only as a means to a more reliable parent. Our goal is to help you see in more detail your child's temperament and understand how it works.

For this reason, the Image Of Your Child section asks for your General Impressions of your child's temperament, as well as answers to the more specific, temperament questionnaire items. General Impressions are more likely to capture your initial preconceptions.

For example, most parents like to think of their child as "sensitive". Few want to think they produced an insensitive clod. So when differences emerge between these General Impressions and scale score results, parents are prompted to reconsider their preconceptions.

We also recommend parents fill out the temperament questionnaire and General Impressions at 4-5 months, then continue to look for signs of their child's emerging temperament and complete both forms again around 8 months of age. The results will probably be different. The child's temperament may have changed or, given more time to see their child's temperament and think through initial preconceptions, parents' perceptions may have changed.

© 1996-2017, The Preventive Ounce, a Non-profit organization