Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Temperament: Do You and Your Child(ren) "Fit"?

Back in 2009, I attended a parenting session at Chinese Heritage Camp that dealt with the challenges of building emotional connections in adoptive families.  I described it as "a mish-mosh of attachment issues, post-institutionalized behaviors, brain chemistry, and temperament."  The speaker shared the chart above, and asked us to mark ourselves and our children.  Guess what?  My children and I do not fit!

I thought about that session when I saw this AP story today:
It's a concept that parents may not be familiar with, but experts say it can explain a lot about family conflicts: Is your child's temperament a good "fit" with yours?

For example, a stubborn child who's a chip off the old block might have a lot of showdowns with an equally stubborn mom or dad. But contrasting temperaments don't necessarily assure good results: A determined child might overwhelm an overly flexible parent.

Many personality traits like these are inborn, but "temperaments can also be colored by the environment in which children are raised," said child psychologist Brian Daly, who teaches at Drexel University in Philadelphia.

That means parents who take a step back to consider their child's personality traits may be able to tailor their childrearing style to deal more effectively with problems.

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One finding from their research was that a good "fit" between children and parents results when adult expectations, values and demands are in accord with a child's natural capacities and behaviors. Their last book, published in 1999, was called "Goodness of Fit." (Thomas died in 2003, Chess died in 2007.)

But their theory was not just a way of letting parents off the hook by blaming kids for personality traits they could not control. The takeaway for parents was that conflicts resulting from a poor fit between parent and child might be ameliorated if childrearing practices could be changed. The theory has withstood the test of time, with psychologists and other experts who work with children and parents still using some of these concepts today.

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Another thing to keep in mind when a child's personality presents challenges, Fogel said: "This is the temperament she was born with; this is how she acts, this is how you act. You try to find a way to make things better but there's no magic answer, there's no formula."

That, she added, is "the hard part."

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