Why Time-Out Doesn't Work for All Kids and Other Secrets From Temperament-Based Parenting (page 2)
Time-out for misbehavior is a time-honored child management strategy. But as some parents have learned, time-out and various other management strategies do not work for every child. The reason that some children do not respond to various tactics is frequently related to the child’s temperament. By understanding principles from temperament-based parenting, however, effective management strategies that are specific to a child’s temperament can be implemented.
Soon after birth a child begins to exhibit a distinctive temperament. Researchers in child development have confirmed what parents of multiple children have come to know through experience. Each child is unique. One may be friendly and flexible. Another cautious and shy, and a third, perhaps, is feisty. Temperament is defined as the consistent reaction style that a child demonstrates across a variety of settings and situations, particularly those that involve stress and change. Temperament is also a lens through which individuals view their world.1 In the framework of temperament-based parenting, four dimensions of temperament contribute to a child’s general behavioral style:2
- Activity refers to a child’s motor activity or tendency to move around and be active.
- Approach/Withdrawal is the child’s first reaction to new people or situations.
- Task Persistence is the child’s tendency to stick with a task until it’s done, even if he or she is interrupted.
- Negative Reactivity is the child’s tendency to have negative reactions to life situations.
The first step in temperament-based parenting is to recognize your child’s temperament. You can generate a temperament profile of your child at http://www.nyu.edu/education/nursing/insights/survey.html
Principles of child temperament theory
- Underlying the selection of temperament-based child management strategies are several principles:
- Children are born with a unique temperament. Temperament involves the intrinsic and stylistic parts of an individual’s behavioral style that are usually consistent from an early age. For example, some babies enjoy novelty while others get distressed when they see new people or objects. Likewise, some babies are easily soothed while others cry for long periods of time.
- Temperament influences behavior and emotional reactions. Many temperament reactions are evident because they are manifested by a child’s behavior. Others are more subtle because they involve internal reactions and perceptions to situations.
- Temperament is easy to see in situations that involve change or stress. Challenging situations are likely to elicit an honest temperament reaction.
- Temperament does not change easily. Consequently, efforts to change a child’s temperament are usually unsuccessful and can also be punitive. For example, a child who is low in approach cannot be changed into someone who is eager to meet new people. Likewise, a child who is high in motor activity is likely to be so in almost any environment.
- Goodness of fit is the answer. Goodness of fit is the match of the child’s temperament to the demands, expectations, and opportunities of the environment.3 To promote positive development, effective parents and other caregivers adjust the environment to match a child’s temperament.
A child’s reaction to a situation, particularly one that is stressful is likely to be consistent with the child’s temperament. In turn, the way that a parent responds to the child’s reaction can be more or less effective.
- Counterproductive parental responses only make the situation worse. They are delivered in an angry tone of voice and include nagging, teasing, and retorting in an irritated fashion.
- Adequate parental responses are clear directives that are delivered in a neutral tone of voice. They include such strategies as using clear simple language to explain a behavioral expectation to a child or using humor to lighten a tense situation.
- Optimal parental responses are intended not only to resolve a situation, but also to foster the child’s maturation. They are said in a warm manner and often include statements which relay the parent’s recognition of the child’s temperament.
Temperament-based parenting strategies
No one temperament is ideal in every situation. Instead, each type of temperament endows a child with particular strengths. Responsive parents will praise or verbally acknowledge the positive temperament-related attributes that a child exhibits. The very same temperament characteristics, however, are likely to cause parents concern in other situations. For example, a child who is low in negative reactivity is likely to be cheerful and to get along easily with other children. The same child, however, may be of concern to his or her parents because in an effort to be friendly, the child may lack assertiveness skills. Another child might be delightfully high in approach and eager to try new activities. His or her parent, however, might worry about the child’s judgment when asked to participate in something that might be dangerous.
Once a parent recognizes a child’s temperament, child management strategies can be used that match the various dimensions of the child’s temperament. The following are samples of temperament-based parenting strategies. Children who are:
- high in negative reactivity cannot be remade into a sunny person. Learn, however, to appreciate his/her honesty.
- low in negative reactivity are likely to be consistently pleasant. They may, however, need encouragement to express their opinions and needs.
- low in task persistence are helped when complicated responsibilities are divided into smaller, more manageable components. Also, develop an appreciation for the child’s creativity and divergent thinking.
- high in task persistence may be self-directed. They are, however, likely to need your support before they can put closure on an activity that does not satisfy their own high expectations.
- low in activity can sit quietly for long periods of time. He or she, however, may need encouragement to engage in athletic activities.
- high in activity require adequate opportunities to expend their energy in a positive way. Such needs, however, should not be allowed to dominate a family’s schedule to the detriment of other family members.
- high in approach need careful and constant monitoring. Such children, however, are likely to delight in opportunities to make new friends.
- low in approach have a tendency to withdraw from new experiences. Providing goodness of fit often involves easing the child into situations until he or she feels comfortable.
Reprinted with the permission of the NYU Child Study Center. © NYU Child Study Center.