Why does my child react that way?

Learn how temperament affects your child’s stress reactions — and how to help

Three active boys jumping on a couch.

Does your child throw a fit when you need to leave the house to run an errand or hide their head when meeting new people? These are common stress reactions of children with certain temperaments.

What is temperament?

Temperament is a blend of nine inherited traits that interact and affect how your child responds to situations and experiences they encounter in the day. These traits influence how your child expresses thoughts and feelings. The nine temperament traits include:

  • Activity
  • Regularity
  • Approachability
  • Adaptability
  • Sensitivity
  • Emotional Intensity
  • Distractibility
  • Persistence
  • Quality of Mood

Temperament and children’s stress

There is no good or bad temperament. However, children with certain temperament traits tend to feel stressed in certain settings and situations. Children with:

  • Low adaptability become stressed when plans change or when they have to stop playing and go somewhere with no notice.
  • Low approachability experience stress when meeting new people or being in large crowds.
  • High activity have difficulty sitting in car seats, waiting to eat at restaurants, or sitting in quiet settings.
  • High sensitivity feel stressed in noisy environments, when clothing is too tight or lights are too bright.

Minimize children’s stress by temperament traits

With a little planning, flexibility, and patience you can help minimize your child’s stress due to his or her temperament traits. Consider these tips for children with:

  • Low adaptability: Give your child a heads up that a change is coming. For example, let your child know they will need to stop playing in five minutes to go to the store with you versus suddenly saying, “Pick up. Let’s go.”
  • Low approachability: Give your child time to warm up to new people; don’t force them to interact when initially meeting people.
  • High activity: Plan for ways for your child to move when sitting in a car seat. Put on some fun music and encourage your child to move their arms and legs to the beat. If you are planning to eat out as a family, consider selecting a restaurant that doesn’t require your child to wait very long to eat.
  • High sensitivity: If tight clothing, clothing tags, or socks with seams are uncomfortable for your child, keep this in mind when selecting clothing; cut off the tags if needed. If noisy environments are too stimulating for your child, let your child hold onto you to feel safe and secure in these settings.

To learn more about your child’s temperament traits, call (605) 312-8390 or email parentingesource@sanfordhealth.org.

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Posted In Children's, Parenting

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