Temperament - Parenting Strategies for Children Who Are "Difficult"

by Maxine
Posted August 3 2010 03:17pm
Filed under:

Interestingly, the traits that are easy for some parents to accept may not be easy for others to accept.

Parents frequently label their children as “difficult” or “easy.”

This is partly subjective, referring to traits that are easy to accept versus those that are not.  Interestingly, the traits that are easy for some parents to accept may not be easy for others to accept.  And gender gets mixed up in this, too.  A highly active boy is sometimes easier for parents to accept than a highly active girl.

But labeling a child as “difficult” or “easy” is also partly objective.  Intense, highly reactive children are much more difficult to parent.  It is really difficult to listen to a child in distress, and anxious children are going to show a lot more distress than easy-going children.

What should you do if your child is difficult to handle? This can occur with any mis-match of a parent’s and a child’s temperament.  For example, it is often difficult for a very focused parent to handle a child who is stimulated by everything, and vice versa – it can be hard for a multi-tasking parent to manage a very focused child. 

There are also children whose emotions run hot all the time. And this is hard for most parents to manage.

There are specific strategies you can use to parent children with high or low levels of the nine temperament traits, which are often the most challenging to parent.  See the Nine Temperament Traits article to learn more about those.

Nonetheless, if you have a child who is difficult for you to handle, try the overarching Positive Parenting strategies below to keep you on an even keel.

For Yourselves:

  • Ask for help from your partner when you need relief.
  • Offer help to your partner, when you see them struggling.
  • Ensure you get some relief.
  • Take some time away from your child, so you can be glad to see him when you return – such as a part-time job or a class.
  • Find other caregivers who like and understand your child, and will give him quality time – such as grandparents, nannies, child care providers, or neighbours.
  • Use the Reflective Parenting Strategies, to help you find fresh strategies when new challenging situations arise. Learn more about Reflective Parenting.
  • Try reframing the most challenging traits of your child to see the positive aspect of these traits.  For example, a highly active child as an adventurous child or a shy child as a calm and cautious child. 

For Your Child

  • Be as patient, encouraging and understanding as you can, knowing that you may have to do more of this with a difficult child than with a child you find easy to parent.
  • Plan ahead.  You can forecast some stressful situations, and take steps to reduce the predictable tension, before it can take hold. 
  • Make some small accommodations to reduce tensions.   
  • Shape your child's behaviour by having him make baby steps toward the behaviour you desire.  In many cases you cannot totally change your child.  Figure out ways to inch your way toward what will work for you both.
  • Learn when to back off.  It is not helpful to push yourself or your child to the point where either of you loses your temper.  When you feel yourself or your child nearing such a crisis, stop and take a break.  If this is happening frequently, ask your child’s doctor for a referral to a mental health or child management clinic. 

0 comment(s)
Login or register to post comments

Temperament: Mood

by Nancy and Nanci
Posted April 24 2012 12:36pm
Filed under:

Recently a friend joined Netflix. After uploading three movies, she was upset to find that the site had profiled her as someone who likes “grim, gritty movies.” She quickly uploaded a bunch of romantic comedies to lighten her profile. We’re a society that is focused on the pursuit of happiness but not all of us are born with a sunny predisposition.

MOOD is one of the innate temperament traits. Some people are born with a Sunny mood and some with a SERIOUS mood. Sunny babies flash radiant smiles and laugh easily and often. These babies easily engage the adults and children in their world and radiate a sense of well-being. On the other end of the spectrum, serious babies seem to be philosophers studying the world. If parents aren’t confident in their role, they may see their serious baby as a baby whose needs are not being met.

In one of our temperament workshops we invited six-month-old twins to be our “guest professors.” The baby boy had a sunny mood. He smiled and cooed. We adults smiled and cooed to him. He laughed and we laughed. All of us enjoyed the interaction. Meanwhile, the baby girl looked on with furrowed brow. A few adults talked quietly to her but when she didn’t smile, they turned to her brother. We asked everyone to stop and reflect on how we were reacting to the two children. The mother said that even she and her husband found themselves giving more attention to their happy-go-lucky boy than their serious, reflective girl. Once they realized what was happening, , they made a conscious effort to engage their little girl and to make sure family and friends gave her plenty of attention, too.

If you have a happy-go-lucky baby, what are the challenges? If you label a child as “always happy,” your son or daughter may feel uncomfortable about expressing other emotions like sadness or anxiety. Some sunny children, especially girls, may be seen as naïve or less bright than others. If you have a serious baby, you may have to help family, friends, teachers and caregivers to appreciate your child’s nature. Find ways to involve your child in fun activities but also find ways he can address his serious side - saving pennies for the food bank or picking daffodils for an elderly neighbour.

Remember that ALL children experience the full range of emotions. If you’re not sure how your child is feeling – sunny or serious – offer labels for emotions – happy, pleased, angry, anxious, frightened, disappointed, scared… You may want to offer a scale of one to ten to understand the intensity of the emotion. Helping your child to develop their emotional intelligence will help them understand the complexity emotion brings to all relationships. Whether sunny, serious or moderate in mood, we all benefit from being able to recognize and name the emotions we all feel.



This article was written by Parents2Parents experts,
Nanci Burns and Nancy Rubenstein
, co-authors of Take Your Temperament!

We all know that every child is unique. The Take Your Temperament! work-book is designed to help you put that reality into action in an engaging and meaningful way. It invites parents and children to explore how they react to the world—and do so without guilt or shame. Find out more at www.takeyourtemperament.ca.

0 comment(s)
Login or register to post comments

Nine Temperament Traits

by Maxine
Posted July 30 2010 02:55pm
Filed under:

There are nine Temperament Traits and each trait has a high and low version.  While there is lots of variation, it’s the high and low versions that are the most challenging to parent.  Read through the descriptions below and see if your child fits any of them. When you're done, you can use a variety of Comfort, Play & Teach stratagies that are tailored to the nine temperament traits.  


  • Low Activity – this child is laid back and content to watch others be active, these children may prefer more sedentary activities.
  • High Activity – these children are the squirmers.  Even as babies they wave their arms, kick their legs and wriggle their bodies non-stop.  These children are always on the go.


  • Low Adaptability – this child finds it hard to move from one part of their day to the next.
  • High Adaptability – these children transition from one activity to the next with no problem.  They accept your leadership and easily go from sleep to wake, from house to car or from playtime to bathtime.


  • Low Approach – this child is shy – very tentative or cautious in new situations.
  • High Approach – these children are very enthusiastic about new people and new situations.  They seem bold!


  • Low Distractibility – this child doesn’t notice much.  These children don't easily stop what they're doing—no matter how enticing the distraction might be!
  • High Distractibility – these children are easily sidetracked from one thing to another. 


  • Low Intensity – this child is mellow and calm.
  • High Intensity – these children are the big responders.  They squeal delightedly with happiness and shriek with despair.


  • Low Persistence – this child gives up easily in face of failure.
  • High Persistence – these children continue to do what they want—even when they're faced with obstacles.


  • Low Positivity – this child is serious and more difficult to please.  These children find it hard to have a positive attitude when they experience a setback. These children may not smile or laugh very easily.
  • High Positivity – these children are just generally sunny, cheerful and resilient in the face of setbacks. These are the children that may smile and laugh more frequently.


  • Low Regularity – this child is hard to predict.  It's difficult to tell when they're hungry or tired.
  • High Regularity – these children seem to have internal clocks that keep them on a predictable schedule, and they don't like to deviate!


  • Low Sensitivity – this child is blissfully unaware of things in their environment that bother others such as light, temperature, noise, textures and tastes.  These children don't easily pick up on interpersonal signals.
  • High Sensitivity – these children react strongly to even mild lights, sounds, textures, tastes and pain.  They are super sensitive to even mild stimuli, and are profoundly distressed by thunderstorms or wet diapers.


0 comment(s)
Login or register to post comments

Avoiding Competition over Parenting

by Maxine
Posted August 19 2010 12:06pm
Filed under:

Here are some more tips from our experts to help you and your partner avoid competing over your differing parenting strategies.

Society’s influence

Be aware of how society's expectations may be influencing how each of you approaches parenting. If you’re like the majority of new parents, neither of you is an expert. Research shows that in this day and age, moms are no more knowledgeable, skillful or confident at handling babies than dads are—although society expects moms to be more expert. In large blocks of Canadian society, dads are not expected to know anything at all about babies, and there are pressures to give moms the lead in parenting.

Think this over—and talk it over. In your situation, is Mom really more knowledgeable about parenting than Dad? If she is the "expert" parent, is that the way you want it to be? There is no one correct way to answer these questions, but it may help to discuss your views about this with one another.

Your baby’s favourite

Don't let your baby's natural preference for one of you at a particular time trigger guilt or insecurity. It's normal for children to have some preference for the person with whom they spend the most time. For tiny babies, that person is usually Mom, and in some cases, it's Dad. However, most babies are also interested in any person who comes into their lives, especially a playful, smiling person.

In Canada, moms frequently take on most of the routine care of infants and spend the most time with them. Dads, while providing less routine care, are no less important in their babies' lives. Much of their time spent with baby is playful and activity-driven. Babies frequently prefer receiving care from one parent and play from another. It's important not to let this slip into a competition. Your baby needs both of you.

Equal tasks

Make sure that each of you shares fun tasks as well as difficult ones. Taking care of your baby is demanding and relentless. It’s essential that each of you has fun with your baby.

Criticism hurts

Each of you is probably sensitive to criticism from the other. Research shows that over 90% of new parents say that parenting is the most important thing they do and yet, they know little about parenting and child development. So there they are, with a tiny precious bundle and little idea about what to do.

In many cases, both parents fear failure at this most important responsibility. This makes them very sensitive to criticism, especially from each other. It is even worse for dads because they already have society telling them they are inferior to moms at parenting. The bottom line? Avoid criticizing each other.


Remember to compliment and encourage each other's parenting style. Parents who support each other generally have children who are better adjusted than the children of parents in conflict. Offer each other help and support. You made this baby and now, you're in this together! Genuine compliments and encouragement about each other's parenting style go a long way towards making a happy family.

Keep your couple relationship healthy and strong. The relationship you have as a couple will have a direct impact on your relationship as parents, a parenting team and a family.  With the added responsibilities of parenthood and care of a new baby, it is important to spend time as a couple.  (LINK to Quality couple time articles.)

How do you avoid competing as parents? Share your tips by leaving a comment below.


0 comment(s)
Login or register to post comments
Take Your Temperament
view counter


One of our temperament traits, our innate reaction to the world, is First Reaction. Some people love novelty and change while others react with caution to new situations.
Read More »
You can use a variety of Comfort, Play & Teach strategies that are tailored to different temperament traits.
Read More »
What comes to mind when you hear the phrase Positive Parenting? Positive Parenting is the approach to parenting that we believe best supports all aspects of healthy child development.
Read More »

syndicated content powered by FeedBurner


FeedBurner makes it easy to receive content updates in My Yahoo!, Newsgator, Bloglines, and other news readers.
Learn more about syndication and Feedburner »