How Temperament Plays a Part in Your Child’s Emotions


By Abby Bordner

Many parents come to me asking about their child’s unreasonable, dramatic emotions. They lose their temper and don’t know what to do to help their children. Sometimes it can be embarrassing and frustrating when your children’s emotions get out of control. Your child can begin with these emotions in infancy and continue to have strong, intense emotions throughout his lifetime.

Part of what is responsible for this is your child’s temperament. Your child is born with his temperament and will have it his whole life. Temperament is the way your child experiences emotions, his reactions in new situations, how he regulates himself and responds to his biologic rhythm. You can have more than one child in the same household and they all behave differently based on their temperament. Even adults have their own unique temperament that sometimes clashes with your child’s.

Parents learn their children’s temperaments early on. Part of building your relationship in infancy is to learn, interpret and understand your baby’s cues. Babies have specific ways they communicate through cries, movements, eye contact and body processes to get you to pay attention. This early interaction is how you build your understanding of your baby. This is a non-verbal communication that begins to form early in your relationship. This continues even after your child can speak and verbalize his needs.

For some parents, the temperament of their baby makes them very uncomfortable. Some parents complain that their child constantly needs reassurance, attention and comfort. Other parents complain that their child is reckless, aggressive and runs away from them. Parents have to be detectives to learn what their children need and how you can meet those needs.

Basically, children have a need for connection, reassurance and affection. This is a biologic and emotional need for children to build a sense of security and co-regulation. When in the company of a trusted adult, children feel safe and regulated.

Their other primary need is to explore. Children are hard wired to follow their curiosity. And, in fact, curiosity is the early seed of exploration and learning. Children need a safe place to move away from the safety of their relationship with parents and begin their exploration. They like to climb, run, jump, dump out contents of boxes and containers and play.

When parents can recognize these needs in their children, you’re more able to meet those needs. Notice your own comfort with certain aspects of relating to your children. This has to do with your own temperament. Tuning into these needs of your children and yourself can make you more able to manage the difficult emotions that come up.

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