Why is temperament important?

Parents, teachers, doctors, employers, researchers can all profit from understanding temperament. So too, of course, can children.

Parents who understand their child's temperament can avoid blaming themselves for issues that are normal for their child's temperament. They can anticipate issues before they occur and avoid getting stuck in parenting approaches that work for other children, but not this one.

For preschool teachers, understanding children's temperament is almost a survival skill (know the biters!). Like parents, they can identify issues likely to arise: separation problems at the preschool door, the length of time a new child needs to "warm up" on entry. In the primary grades, teachers can better manage the class clown, the insistent talker, the reluctant participant.

For doctors, understanding a child's temperament helps gauge how compliant a child will be in taking prescribed medicine. Knowledge of a child's energy level can suggest how long a cast will last on a broken leg .. or whether the child is likely to show up again soon in the emergency room!

For employers, temperament concepts have been used to see how well an applicant fits the characteristics of a particular job. For years during the cold war, Russia employed a renowned Polish researcher in adult temperament to help choose the cosmonauts whose temperament "fit" cramped quarters and long periods of monotonous isolation. No one will ever see a hyperactive Russian astronaut!

For researchers, temperament was initially seen as a source of "noise" in their experiments. Pure strains of laboratory animals were bred to minimize genetically-linked individual differences, like temperament. Gradually, as researchers began to see the importance of temperament as a causal factor in their area of study, temperament became more a focus of their attention. Example: the type "A" temperament in heart attack risk.

Finally, for children directly:

Some child developmentalists claim that for children, being seen and understood is a form of validation that is just as important as being loved. The child not seen can feel "looked through", like a pane of glass. In contrast, parents who can understand and manage their child's temperament act as role models for their child. By word and deed, they mirror back to their child an acceptance and understanding of their child's temperament... the preconditions for a child to learn to manage his or her own temperament.


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