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Child Temperament

Girl holding sunflower


What is temperament?

Everyone is born with their own ways of behaving that affect how they react to and cope with daily life. This is called your temperament. The characteristics begin to appear soon after birth and tend to continue into adulthood.

Temperament affects how children react to situations and how they show their feelings. It affects how your child learns, plays and makes friends.

Different types, ranges and degrees of behaviour make up temperament.

What behaviours make up temperament?

Click on the behaviours and then drag the sliders to reveal the range.

Activity Level:

boy sitting listening to musicboy playing in bouncy castle

Regularity of Routines:

boy sleepingchild awake in crib

Attention Span (how well they can focus on and stick with a task or activity):

girl building with blockschild daydreaming

Reaction to Change:

boy putting thumbs upupset child with mum

Response to New Situations and People:

lounging in the poolgirl feeling shy

Emotional Reactions:

happy kidscreaming boy

Sensitivity to sounds, textures, tastes and light:

girl eating yogurtgirl covering ears

General Mood:

happygirlboy crying


The characteristics that make up temperament are neither good nor bad.

  • Some are easier to handle than others.
  • Traits that are at the very low end or the very high end of the scale are the most challenging.
  • These same characteristics are seen in children all over the world, but different traits may be more valued by different cultures.
  • Children in the same family may have very different temperaments.

Types of Temperament

There are three main types of temperament: Many children do not fit into only one category and may act differently depending on the situation. For example, your child might have strong reactions to new situations but have very regular sleeping and eating routines.

Girl looking in mirror boy hiding boy lying on large pumpkin
Easy-going Slow to warm up (sensitive, cautious, shy) Active (spirited, challenging, difficult)

Your Child and their Environment

Whatever a child’s temperament, they must learn to fit into the world around them.  Parents have the most influence in helping their children “fit”.

Here are some tips:

  • It is important for parents to consider their child’s age and temperament when choosing child care, sports and other activities for their child.
  • Some children are cautious about trying new things; others jump right in. Choose activities that work with, not against, your child’s temperament.
  • Understanding your child's temperament and seeing patterns in their behaviour can help you to predict your child’s reactions to certain situations. You can then work with your child and others, such as their teacher, to make a situation go more smoothly.

Sometimes a parent may have a very different temperament from their child.

  • A quiet, low-energy parent may find it harder to deal with a child who is very active and intense.
  • A very outgoing, active parent may be frustrated by a shy, withdrawn child.

Appreciate your whole child

No matter what your child's temperament, it is important to use a parenting style that is accepting, flexible and patient. A child’s temperament traits combine to make him/her unique and special.

Your job as a parent is to learn to understand your child’s individual personality, strengths and needs. You can then give them the support and guidance that is right for them.

 For children who tend to be "slow to warm up", it is important to encourage them to try new things but to allow them to move at their own pace. For children with more challenging temperaments, a consistent, patient parenting approach is especially important.

Some traits seen as challenging in kids are valued later in life.

The very active, stubborn child could become a great athlete!

The quiet, shy child could become a successful artist!

When parents understand their own and their child’s temperament and how they are alike and different, everyone can benefit.



For more information on positive parenting, visit the Positive Discipline, Connecting with your Child and Parenting Styles sections. If you have questions or concerns about your child call Durham Health Connection Line to speak to a public health nurse.