Temper, Temper, Temperament!

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It has happened to all of us at one time or another, our child does "one of those things" that absolutely drives us crazy and we wonder WHY? Perhaps it was to stand at the head of the class on that first day of school and blatantly challenge the teacher. Perhaps it hits us when after struggling in the kitchen for two hours preparing his favorite food only to get a reaction of crying at the table. We stand back puzzled and wonder if there is something wrong with our child? When we discuss this with other parents we discover that they too share this dilemma. Is it some kind of children's conspiracy to drive us crazy or as Bill Cosby comically refers to it, is it "brain damage"? Whatever it is, they ALL have it and they are making us catch it in the process!

In seriousness, what we are witnessing is a natural unveiling of both the child's individuality and inherited nature. Beginning to show itself between the ages of five to seven and then even more clearly between the seventh and fourteenth year, it is the building block of your child's behavior for all later years. It is not craziness, conspiracy or brain damage. It is not a defiant act or a show of pure rebellion. It is not happening only to you or your child. It is happening everywhere, to every one. What we are dealing with here is your child's temperament.

The study of temperaments is nothing new. It has been around since the time of the Greeks. Most parents are not familiar with it because in our fast moving times where everyone has a product to sell or a gimmick, it is easier to label your child as a "problem" and to prescribe a treatment or a pill. We are responsible for this as consumers because as a society, we have gotten away from taking responsibility for ourselves and for our children. With our busy schedules and lives, it is easier to entrust our children's behavior to the "experts" as we busily go about our day.

If the child walks around with droopy shoulders and head hung low, we immediately jump to the conclusion that whatever problem we have has taken affect on him or he or she is "over-reacting". If the child is loud, aggressive and forceful, we assume that we must have been slack in the area of manners. If the child is constantly snacking and foraging for food, we instantly foresee a weight problem and try to keep snacks away from the child. If the child has difficulty concentrating on any one thing, we assume some attention deficit and reach for medication. These are not the answers to the problems we all face with our children. These are assumptions and quick fixes and they do not address the real issues.

The answer comes in recognizing and understanding our children and the four temperaments. We must realize first and foremost that there is no good or bad temperament, each has both positive and negative traits. All people have qualities and attributes, which could fall into any of the four temperaments, but one temperament always dominates. The domineering factor is usually influenced by the physical build of the child. Rudolf Steiner wrote "As a rule, melancholic children are tall and slender, the sanguine have the most normal build. Phlegmatic children tend to be round with protruding shoulders and those with a short, stout build so that the head almost sinks into the body are the choleric children."

Once we learn a little about temperaments and how to relate to them, our lives will be much easier. It is even more important to note that our children will blossom in front of our eyes when they feel finally understood. Betty Staley in "Between Form and Freedom: A Guide to the Teenage Years" writes "The way we as adults react to our children's temperament strongly affects the child's self image and way of approaching people and tasks. The basic rule is: Go with the temperament, not against it. The child needs the opportunity to experience the world through the temperament and in that way to achieve balance.

Let's begin with the melancholic child: This slender child walks through life as if each step takes the greatest effort to take. He's often sad with a soft and quiet voice, hardly finishing a sentence. He dwells on the negative and the suffering of everything around him. He appears to have the weight of the world on his shoulders. He seems so involved with himself that you may think he is selfish. When you plan something nice for this child, he doesn't seem happy and you mistake it for a lack of appreciation, but this child is already thinking that soon it will be over and done. If you are in a hurry, he seems to take twice as long to get ready. I am blessed with a melancholic child and before I understood his temperament I swore he was out to deliberately hurt me! He is perhaps the most misunderstood child of all the temperaments.

The best medicine for this child is to let him wallow in his suffering. He needs it as it is the very food for his soul. This must be viewed as a simple indulgence and not carried to the point of ignoring the child. Sharing stories of your own anguish brings you closer to this child. This child craves security and order and a routine or steady rhythm is very important. Prepare him for any changes and express your discomfort with the change in plans as well. Sympathize with his sense of loss. Reading stories about triumph despite all odds are very beneficial to this child. This child is also the one who enjoys slapstick comedy and silly behavior.

The sanguine child is well proportioned and sunny. He is very outgoing and bubbly. He talks non-stop about almost anything to anyone who will listen. He makes friend easily and can play any game, even many at a time. He rarely finishes a task as a new spark of inspiration comes and off he goes. He seems the opposite of the melancholic, as when something bad happens this child seems untouched by it at all. He prefers to smile and continue with the game. If he runs through the house and knocks over your favorite vase, you'll be lucky if you hear "Oops, sorry!" as he runs by. If someone is sick, his response is "Oh well, I'll have to go and play with someone else then." He is often impatient, irresponsible and forgetful.

Patience is the key to dealing with this child. Remember that the sanguine child lives in the moment and to best reach this child you must capture the child's interest in that moment. Long explanations bore this child. Keep things short and to the point. In decorating the child's room, keep it simple. When asking for help from this child, suggest things like setting the table or checking the mailbox. Emphasize doing the job well. Keep punishments and discipline to a minimum, as this child easily forgets why he's even being punished. Most importantly, understand that the sanguine temperament is the one, which most captures the true essence of childhood, a time of endless experimentation, energy and activity.

The phlegmatic child moves slowly and lacks vitality. Most things are a bother to the phlegmatic child. He is sluggish and monotone and often mistaken for being boring. He has a solid base and a strong will, but must be given ample time to complete a task. He doesn't enjoy change much and his attitude is basically that if he is fed well, has gotten sufficient sleep and is cared for, he will be happy. The difficulty with this child is that he is too slow. Once his interests are roused, however, he usually comes around. The child with this temperament is usually the easiest child to raise. In the classroom, most children fall into this category.

If a problem does arise with the phlegmatic child, it is usually because he just does not want to do what has been asked. He'll sit and ignore you and hope that you just go away. When you finally make direct eye contact and physically help this child to move, he will oblige. He takes everything literally, so be careful about your choice of words. He will usually do exactly what you ask but nothing more. He is usually very bright, but appears slow because he lacks the sufficient time to finish whatever he has started. He tends to day dream a lot and has difficulty focusing. If you just remember to allow enough time for your phlegmatic child, you will discover a very pleasant and happy child to be with.

Finally, there is the choleric. These children remind me of the expression "all hell breaking loose". They know their own mind and plow straight ahead. They don't walk, but instead choose to stomp to make their presence known. They shout commands at the playground, at school, at their siblings and at parents! They are pushy, demanding and self-centered. They are usually the leaders of the group. They are bossy and impatient with others and slow to accept blame. It's always the other person's fault. These children have no middle ground, it is either right or wrong, black or white. They are the children you see having the full on temper tantrum at the playground or at the mall.

The best way to deal with a child of this temperament is to wait until the storm has blown over to try to deal with it rationally. The child can not see his behavior at that moment. He wants to be good and to do the right thing, but needs time to calm down before he can see objectively. Because almost every situation has the opportunity to become a battle ground with this child, it is very important for parents to choose their battles wisely. Create the opportunity to serve others and he'll do a terrific job if led to this in a positive way. Mostly he needs a parent who will not be afraid to stand up to his will. One who will later offer the opportunity to go over the event with patient explanation. Only then will the child let you lead as parent and calmly trust your judgment.

Each and every child is a wonderful human being with the opportunity to unfold into a well-rounded and balanced adult. What seem like desperate power struggles and intentional games played by the child are really normal personality traits that have not yet been refined or developed. All children want to be good, to be loved and to be accepted. All children deserve to be loved and to be themselves. We as parents, need to accept our children for who they are and not try to change them or their nature. We are the adults, and as such we must educate ourselves to better understand what is going on inside of our children.

There is a lot to learn about the characteristics of each temperament and this article is just a brief introduction. Therefore, I strongly suggest further reading on the subject for a deeper understanding of how each temperament works. Once you give your child the understanding that he deserves, you will realize that your child is not acting in a conspiracy against you or that he suffers from any brain damage. What you may find is how smart, wonderful, loveable and capable your child really is.
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