The Relationship Between Families and Schools: Knowing the Child
Children don’t come with a set of instructions when they are born or adopted. While there are endless parenting books on the market, not to mention advice and articles on the internet, it’s up to parents to filter through all of this information and do the best they can to provide the environment and experiences that will best support the child’s growth and development. Once children enter school, their teachers take on this responsibility as well, and the best possible environments are created when parents and teachers communicate with each other, working together to truly know the child.
While research has shown that every child goes through the same stages of development in the same order, children progress in their own unique rate and way.2 What’s more, development is affected by a variety of genetic and environmental factors, and it is extremely important for parents and teachers to maintain a holistic view, taking into account the whole child. While academic skills are certainly an important part of school success, other facets of development will not progress properly without a focus on a child’s physical and emotional well-being, including overall health, social development, and most importantly, a desire to learn.3 In order to understand all of this, we must take into account genetics, temperament, culture, environment, and intelligence – but what do all of these things mean?
Genetics and Temperament
There are some individual factors and traits that simply can not be changed. Children are born with a predetermined genetic code passed on from their biological parents. Genetics determine a child’s sex, height, race, handedness, and multiple other physical characteristics. Research has shown that children are also born with a certain type of temperament, or set of in-born traits that organize a child’s approach to the world. These traits are relatively stable from birth and are enduring characteristics that are neither “good” or “bad.” Temperament is instrumental in the development of a child’s distinct personality and determines how children go about learning in the context of the world around them.4
Most children fall into one of three types of temperament.5 The Feisty/Diffi cult child is quarrelsome and touchy with intense moods. He or she is frequently in a state of excitement and tends to be fi dgety and highly active. The Flexible/Easy child tends to conform and “go with the fl ow.” These children are often the teacher’s “model students” as they easily adapt to change and bend rather than confront. The Fearful/Cautious child is slow to warm up, slow to adapt, alarmed easily, and anxious until comfortable. These children tend to withdraw from situations when upset.
Of course, not all children can be placed into one of these groups. Some children are a mix of temperaments depending on situation, but approximately 65% of children fi t into one of the three types. Behaviors infl uenced by temperament include activity level, being withdrawn versus outgoing, adaptability, responsiveness, mood quality, distractibility, attention span, and persistence. Identifying a child’s general temperament can help parents and teachers understand behavior, assisting in a view of the child as an individual who reacts to people and situations in his or her own way based on those in-born traits and characteristics.6
For example, Feisty/ Diffi cult children do not keep falling out of their chairs at dinnertime or in the classroom because they want to annoy their parents or teachers – they simply have more energy than they can control at times. Understanding temperament and matching demands and expectations with those characteristics can make for a much happier and even-keeled child, home, and classroom.
In identifying and understanding temperament, parents and teachers can have a conversation about avoiding situations that elicit certain unwanted behaviors, which in turn prepares the teacher in planning successful classroom experiences. At the same time, it is important not to stereotype or over-generalize, or else a “self-fulfi lling prophecy” may occur. Temperament is one example of the type of information that is helpful in knowing the child, and understanding how the child behaves both at home and at school. One type of temperament is not better than others, but merely different. All characteristics of temperament are positive and constructive at times.
Genetics and Temperament You Are Here
Reprinted with permission of the Gesell Institute. Copyright © 2010, Gesell Institute of Human Development. All Rights Reserved.
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