Home > Kids > Behavior and Discipline > Behavioral Problems > Anger and Aggression > Why Your Child Loses It: Understanding Your Child's Temperament
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Why Your Child Loses It: Understanding Your Child's Temperament

7. First Reaction: What is your child's reaction to new things, places, ideas, or people?

jumps right into new activities

joins in right away

enjoys new foods, clothing, etc.

      initially says no to any new activity, even if it was his choice to sign up

prefers to watch before joining a new activity

is reluctant to try any new food, clothing, school, teacher, etc.

1 2 3 4 5
jumps in       cautious first reaction

Cautious First Reaction
Kids who are cautious in new situations are very aware of potential danger. They're the kids whose adolescence is a dream to their parents While other teens are trying out their independence by plunging into activities without thinking/cautious kids are reflecting before leaping They don't do dumb things. It's important to know that kids with a cautious first reaction are not lacking in confidence. They simply approach new things thoughtfully. They are triggered when pushed, rushed, o not supported. In order to stay out of the power struggles with this child, slow down, help him understand that new situations make him feel uncomfortable or anxious, and ask him, "What will make it better?' Together make a plan. Would he like to watch first, or take a friend with him? Let him know that you understand his discomfort and are there to support him. A reminder of past successes is helpful, too.

If your cautious child is also very sensitive, his first reaction may not be fear but rather overstimulation. In a new situation too many new messages may be hitting him all at once. If that's true for your child teach him that just as you can walk into a room and adjust the temperature if it's too hot or cold, stimulation can be managed as well. He can take the deep breath and choose to sit or stand where it is quieter or where the lights are less glaring. By doing so, he can reduce some of the stimulation and make it easier for him to cope.

Kids who are cautious in new situations need words and phrases like:

  • This isn't fear, it's overstimulation.
  • I am here. I will help you.
  • It's okay to watch first.
  • Let's read about it before we go.
  • You can take a friend.
  • You may feel uncomfortable, but you're not sick. Take ten deep breaths.
  • This is just like ...
  • This isn't about lack of confidence. It's just new. Give yourself time.
Quick to Adapt
Kids who jump right into things have a zest for life! They can literally leap into situations, which means you may frequently find yourself at the local emergency room. They're triggered when they're forced to wait extended periods of time for their turn or want to try things the adults consider unsafe. When these kids are little, you can never leave them unattended because they'll literally try anything. If these kids are active and persistent as well as quick to adapt, the odds are you'll find them on top of the refrigerator or attempting to "fly" from the roof. As they grow older you'll want to teach them to pause to think before acting and to be good problem solvers. You'll also want to make sure that they learn to swim and develop the other skills they need to be safe. Finally, you'll want to provide them with opportunities to take reasonable risks, because one way or another, they're going to take them! Just remember, someone needs to be raising the next test pilot.

Kids who are quick to adapt need words and phrases like:

  • You enjoy adventure.
  • Stop, think, then act.
  • What's your plan?
  • It's very important that you learn to swim, take a first-aid class, etc.
Now you have it, a profile of your child's temperament. Add up your child's score.

Total Score

7-14 15-25 26-35
low-key child spunky child spirited child

Understanding temperament truly allows you to go below the surface to the fuel source, the real feelings and needs that fuel your child's behavior. If your child is intense, you know you have to soothe him and calm him before you can work with him. If your child is sensitive, you can predict that rough clothing, crowds, or family gatherings are likely to trigger him. If he's not persistent, a one-hundred-problem worksheet is going to send him under the table. And because you understand the real emotions, you can select strategies that help him to reduce the stimulation, break the tasks down, and be successful. Understanding temperament allows you to step right into your child's shoe, see the world from his point of view, and stay out of power struggles!

Coaching Tips

  • Your child is born with a preferred style of reacting to his world around him.
  • When you understand your child's temperament you can work with him more easily and stay out of power struggles.
  • Persistent kids need you to ask them their plans.
  • Sensitive kids need you to believe them when sensations are bothering them.
  • High-energy kids need help channeling their energy
  • Intense kids need help learning how to soothe and calm themselves.
  • Regular kids need predictable routines.
  • Irregular kids need flexibility and to learn about good nutrition.
  • Slow-to-adapt kids need to know what's going to happen and time to shift from one thing to another.
  • Kids with a cautious first reaction are not being stubborn, they need your support.
  • Kids who jump into things quickly need to be taught to think and then act.


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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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