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Anger Management: Understanding Your Temperament

Understanding Yourself Helps You Understand Your Child
In order to understand the feelings that your child's temperament generates, you need to understand your own temperament. When you can identify your feelings, it's much easier to work with your child's.

Take a look at the following temperament chart. Each trait is placed on a continuum – from a mild reaction to a strong reaction, or from high to low. Read through the statements listed for each side of the continuum. Think about your first and most natural reactions. Which responses fit you best?

Remember there are no right or wrong answers. Our goal is to gain an understanding of ourselves so we can maximize our abilities as emotion coaches.

1. Persistence
If you are involved in a task and your child interrupts or asks for your help, do you find it frustrating and difficult to stop? If your child tells you "No," do you want to push harder for compliance?

easily stop or let go – don't mind interruptions       difficult to stop or let go – want to finish
1 2 3 4 5
low persistence.       high persistence

If you're a highly persistent adult, it's likely you are committed to your goals! You not only like to concentrate on a task, you need an opportunity to finish something. When you're focused on your kids, they have your full attention. Nothing can deter you, and when it comes to holding the line and setting a limit, you're confident and willing to do battle.

But there are challenges to this trait, as well. When you're focused on a task, those numerous interruptions from children can drive you wild. As your intensity rises, your ability to be a nurturing emotion coach declines. And because you are focused, you might miss cues that the kids' tempers are escalating, or you might try to hold them off with "just a minute" until they're at an explosive level. Sometimes when you're highly persistent, it's tough to be as flexible as the job of taking care of children requires, especially when your child is as persistent as you are and has plans that conflict with yours. It can also be difficult for you to tell yourself you've done a good job when it feels like you haven't gotten a thing done all day.

In order to stay out of power struggles, it's essential that you clearly look at the expectations you've established. Can you truly accomplish all the tasks you've set out for yourself and still nurture your children? Or do you need to cross a few items off the list, remembering that spending time with your kids is essential to your relationship?

My husband realized early in our marriage that he had wed a very persistent woman. So every Saturday he'd ask me to make a list of all I wanted to accomplish. Inevitably he'd glance at the list and ask, "Where's the fun?" I'd have to add an interesting activity so that later I could enjoy crossing it off the list! Then he'd read my list out loud, not mocking me, just reading it, and as I listened to him, I always realized I would need a month to accomplish my "to do" list, not a single day. Persistent adults need to remember that spending time with children counts! It is an accomplishment. We just have to wait a long time for the final product to evolve.

Recognize, too, that interruptions trigger you. The next time your child asks for help or interrupts you, stop yourself from automatically saying "No" or "Not now," which will set both of you off. Instead, stop, pause, breathe deeply, and decide: Can you work together? Could you set a timer? Is there a creative solution you can both accept, or is it time to stop and refocus your attention?

If you really do need to accomplish a task and you have young children, find another adult who can care for your children and let you concentrate. Everyone will benefit.

When you understand your persistence and the emotions that are generated by it, it's much easier to stay out of those power struggles!

If you're an adult on the low persistence end of the continuum, it's probably easier for you to let go of a task and shift attention to your kids. The frequent demands of young children really don't bother you, and as a result, you can usually stay calm as you deal with the interruptions. If need be, you can stop and start a task ten times. And while you do sometimes feel guilty about the things that don't get finished, you usually do complete the important things. Give yourself credit for your ability to let go.

Your biggest challenge is holding the line. It isn't that you're a pushover. You're not. You just don't like dealing with the drawn-out battles.

Think carefully about your standards, so that when the time comes to hold the line, you're ready and you can do so without feeling guilty. And don't forget to get your backup – that other adult who will support you when you truly need to hold the line.

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From the book KIDS, PARENTS, AND POWER STRUGGLES: Winning for a Lifetime by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka, published by HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. Copyright © 2000 by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka. All rights reserved.

Buy the book at www.harpercollins.com.


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