Parents' ability to adapt to their child's temperament is critical to the social and emotional adjustment of the child with learning disabilities. Often these children have unique and challenging temperaments.
We now know that children come into the world with a distinct temperament, which tends to persist to a greater or lesser degree throughout life. Research has classified infants into three temperament styles: the easy child who sleeps and eats on a regular schedule, has a reliably sunny personality, and who adapts easily to change (e.g., loves his or her first bath and can fall asleep in unfamiliar places); the difficult child who is unpredictable in his or her sleeping and eating, who reacts negatively to change, and is frequently irritable and unhappy; and the slow-to-warm-up child whose reactions, whether positive or negative, are tentative and mild in intensity.
The difficult young child is at greater risk for future behavior problems, though this is by no means certain. Traits can and do modify over time given the interaction between the child's temperament, a child's abilities and desires, and environmental influences. When difficult temperament traits persist, however, they frequently are associated with learning, emotional, and social difficulties. As babies, difficult children are not easy to comfort, less likely to cuddle, and less friendly to strangers. As preschoolers, they wrestle, hit, jump, push, beat, fuss, cling, and disobey more often than others. They are much more likely to be chastened by their parents and preschool teachers. Not surprisingly, they are not popular among their classmates and feel lonely. Sadly, although these preschoolers do attempt to form friendships, their approaches are frequently rebuffed. The beginning of lowered self-confidence and loss of feelings of control are evident.
Parents of many students with learning disabilities describe their children as having been difficult infants and preschoolers. Hyperactive children in particular are trying from day one. Parents are exhausted from rocking their colicky baby who sleeps little, cries constantly, and resists most efforts to be calmed. Parents react by feeling helpless and incompetent when nothing can make their infant happy. They worry when they're gone about what catastrophe has happened with the babysitter. They can't go to a restaurant for fear that their child will race pelllmell among the diners. A trip to the supermarket or the shopping mall can turn into havoc because of full-tilt temper tantrums and other disasters (getting lost, running ahead to an escalator). Reading a book or watching a video together is filled with interruption. Plans shift constantly to accommodate the child. Unfortunately, it's not easy for parents to feel as attached to these children as to their siblings. Parents feel worn down and out of control much of the time. Siblings complain because their lives are disrupted. And grandparents are quick to blame the parents. It takes a very special parent to remain accepting, peaceful, and encouraging while setting firm limits and a structure that promotes greater personal comfort and more acceptable behavior.
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