Temperament: Distractibility

by Nancy and Nanci
Posted April 3 2012 05:15pm
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I think most parents would say, without reflecting too much, that they would like their children to be low in distractibility, one of the nine temperament traits.   We can imagine a child listening attentively to teachers – or listening attentively to us! But like all the traits, there are advantages to being high, low or moderate. The benefit or challenge lies in the fit between the temperament profile and the expectations of the environment.

How distractible is your baby?

HIGH distractibility:

  • Your baby stops nursing when there’s a disturbance in the room, like a bouncy sibling.
  • Your baby is easily distracted if he heads for something dangerous. You rattle your keys or shake a rattle and he starts crawling towards you.

LOW distractibility:

  • When your baby heads for danger, you have to move fast and scoop him up. He won’t be distracted by a toy or set of keys (Safety-proofing your home is important for all babies. Away from home, where you can’t alter the environment, be ready to run and scoop your low-distractibility baby.)
  • If your baby is upset, hurt or lonely, she is not distracted by things you do – bouncing her, playing peek a boo, standing on your head. You can only soothe your baby by acknowledging her hurt or loneliness, and ride the emotion with your child.

How distractible is your toddler?

HIGH distractibility:
While all toddlers are busy and have a short attention span, the toddler with high distractibility constantly moves from one activity to another in response to others’ activity. He runs to the window when he hears a siren, he rushes to play with a toy another child has picked up, he hurries to grab the phone when it rings, and he has trouble listening to a story if there’s music being played.

LOW distractibility:
Your toddler is busy but moves purposefully from one area to another rather than responding to outside activities.). He builds a tower of blocks, and then runs to find a truck to knock it down. He returns to the tower and demolishes it. He may repeat this over and over.

How distractible is your school-age child?

HIGH distractibility:
Your child has trouble staying on task. Your child needs a quiet, calm corner for doing homework or completing a project. . In group activities at school, your child may need gentle support to stay focussed – like sitting close to the teacher or other adult.

LOW distractibility:
She often misses social cues from other people. If she’s involved in an activity, she doesn’t hear you when you call her to dinner. You may need to gently “interrupt” your child’s concentration. (Using innate objects like post’m notes, bells or timers may be less irritating to your child than direct parental intrusion!)


Maybe your baby, toddler or child is moderate in distractibility. The moderate zone is generally the least stressful for child and parent! Being moderate means reacting to external cues but being able to focus, as well. The tendency is to see low distractibility as more desirable but in fact, the advantages or disadvantages depend on the environment and the level of child development. A better approach is to moderate the environment, when possible, and provide strategies your child can follow to be successful even when temperament and environment aren’t a good fit.



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.

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Avoiding competition with other couples

by Maxine
Posted August 19 2010 12:12pm
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Proud parents love to talk about their babies…

"Our little Jake is already holding his head up. He's only a month old!"

"Oh, your daughter's not rolling over yet? Cynthia started when she was only 3 months."

"I never had to worry about looking for the pacifier. My son would suck his fingers and calm himself down—practically from the time he was a newborn."

You’ve probably heard some of those yourself, or maybe even said them. All parents love to talk about their little one, however, when moms and dads brag too much to other parents, they can bore and alienate otherwise good people. Plus this can add stress—for them and their baby.

All babies are unique and each parent’s relationship with their child is unique.

Your Baby vs. Their Baby

While your delight and enthusiasm over your baby may be hard to contain, remember—children each develop at their own pace. Some skills emerge early, others show up later. There is a very wide range of what is considered to be "normal development."

Some babies achieve most of their milestones at the early part of their age group; others—at the end. Unfortunately, many parents whose babies are late bloomers worry about this, wishing their baby could be first at least part of the time. So, when sharing your pride with other parents, keep tabs on whether your enthusiasm is welcomed and shared. If their baby isn't developing as quickly, this might create some distance between you and your friends, making the other parents feel like you're competing with them.

And if you’re the parent of a late bloomer?  “Be sure to show your child your amazement at her strengths. Point out her accomplishments to others. The late bloomer gets enough attention from people who notice that she's developing more slowly. You can boost her confidence by taking notice of what she does achieve,” says Palmina Ioannone, a Child Development expert.

The Pressure of Pleasing You

Maybe your baby is only a late bloomer in some areas of development. Competing with other parents over any type of development puts pressure on your baby—the pressure of either pleasing you or disappointing you. Your baby is finely tuned into you, the parents. Even before he can speak, he can pick up on your disappointment and worry. Bragging to other parents adds pressure to your baby, not only to perform, but to risk disappointing you—even with the most basic things, like sitting or standing alone.

So be proud and amazed at your baby's development! Don't lose sight of just how astounding infant development is. By all means, share your discoveries with your family and friends but stay away from unhealthy competition.

Parents know their own child the best. Remember—developmental milestones are only guidelines. If you have any concerns about your child's development, by all means consult your child's physician.

Too Much Good Advice

Many parents turn to one another for information and advice. Frequently, the person or couple you trust the most has more experience than you, or are just ahead of you on the parenthood track. Most parents are very happy to pass on their hard won tips and tricks. However, sometimes unhealthy competition arises among couples around what each considers to be "proper" parenting. A heated conversation can result from even silly things, like whether you should take your baby to the mall or not or whether it does any good to read to your 1-month-old. And, of course, there's often competition among couples over larger parenting decisions, such as whether your baby sleeps in the same room with you or whether you're breastfeeding or not.

Guard against feeling inadequate around more experienced parents. These days, everything parents learn, they learn on the job—and that's how you're going to learn, too.

There is no one way to parent. We are a multicultural society—with a large number of parenting values and approaches. Appreciate the variety that Canadian parents bring to their role. Every family is unique. We can learn from each other.

Have you ever dealt with any of these issues? How did you handle them? Leave a comment below and share your story with other parents just like you!


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Three Can Be Too Many

by Maxine
Posted August 19 2010 12:37pm
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One Mom to another…
"Martha, you will never guess what Sally just told me about her little Jason…but keep it to yourself, okay?"

Dad says to his friend…
"I want to see my father this weekend, but I know Jane is tired. I know, I'll tell Jane my mom wants to see her grandchild."

One child to another…
"I told Mom that you won't let me play Lego with you and your friend."


Mom to child…
"Honey, you should tell your father how much you enjoyed the dinner he bought us…and after that, maybe I'll gently mention the little fender bender we had on the way home."

These are examples of daily conversations that take place among millions of people. However, they all have something in common: They’re examples of what communications experts call triangulation. Triangulation happens when an issue exists between two people and one of them involves a third person. This is done in an attempt to control the conflict, achieve a desired goal or to prevent someone from getting angry. Triangulation is frequently used to maintain closeness or become closer to someone, to avoid conflict with or transfer conflict to someone else. Typically, one of the parties is not aware of what is happening.

Message Triangles

Usually, triangulation occurs to give a message in an indirect way or to share information that is personal and private. This happens because, for whatever the reason, the person sending the message is not comfortable to do it directly. For example, a husband who wants to have some time alone might triangulate a message to his wife by saying, "Do you know what I heard on the news last night, Mary? Men who spend time on hobbies tend to have stronger marriages," rather than saying, "I need more time for myself."

Are you now wondering if you're guilty of triangulation? Don't worry. We all use triangulation and we all become triangulated: it's commonplace in how we deal with issues. Pay attention to how often triangulation happens around you. Most soap operas and sitcoms are based on it—you know…Mom, Dad and in-laws. As you become more aware of triangulation, you'll be fascinated at just how common it is.

During the Victorian era in European and North American high society, triangulation was the preferred way of communicating. It was almost an art form! Some cultures around the world still value triangulation as the preferred way to communicate about interpersonal problems. In some families today, it's simply unacceptable to speak directly to a person about feelings—especially when it's likely to have an unhappy or angry impact, or when it concerns an intimate topic, such as sex or health issues.

The Impact

Although triangulation is common, it can have a negative impact on your family.
Triangulation doesn't allow couples to resolve the issue between them. If you're only talking secretly to your parents or your best friends about an issue with your partner, there's no chance for your partner to give you the real facts. Unless you speak to your partner, there's no way for the two of you to deal with the issue in a constructive way. The problem can become a thorn in your relationship—especially if it's a recurring issue.

Triangulation interferes with building trust in a relationship. In intimate relationships, it's difficult to keep issues a secret for long. When one partner—Mom, for example—discovers that Dad has been discussing aspects of their relationship with his friends, it can move his partner relationship to disappointment and even distrust. This is especially likely if as a result of those conversations, Dad tries to manipulate Mom indirectly.

Triangulation can make it easy to misrepresent a person's actions or motives, or to exaggerate them—even if it's unintentional.
In the example above, when the triangulation comes to light, not only will Mom be hurt because her husband didn't trust her, but now she feels like she looks bad to the friends her partner confided in.

Children will attempt to triangulate very early in life. One of the most common ways is to maneuver between Moms and Dads to get what they want.
Here's a simple example: Bradley toddles over to his Dad to see if he can have a piece of candy. Dad permits it. However, after Bradley has the candy in his mouth, Dad finds out that his son asked Mom first and she said "no". While Brad is enjoying his candy, Mom and Dad are in a heated argument.

In these situations, parents need to quickly learn to band together for their own sake, as well for their children's sake.

Another way children learn to triangulate is when parents say something like, "Don't tell Mommy." or "Don't tell Daddy…it's our secret." Fortunately, there's a natural stop for this type of triangulation—children can't keep secrets until they are 3 to 4 years old. They can't knowingly lie either. So, don't encourage your child to hide anything. Your child needs to be able to speak freely to each of you.

Stopping Triangulation

As parents, you will be triangulated—by your child and by each other—not to mention family, friends and coworkers. Here are the three key strategies to stop triangulation:

Make sure everyone knows what is being said.
For example, if Granddad tells Dad that he believes Mom shouldn't be working, Dad should encourage Granddad to speak directly to Mom. Dad could say something like, "I think the two of you need to talk about this together. Why don't you tell her what you think, but do it in a way that makes it easy for her to say why working is important to her?"

Discuss touchy subjects.
For instance, in the example above, Dad may have to work hard to find the right time and place to get Granddad to talk honestly about his views with his daughter-in-law. If emotions are running high, it won't be an easy conversation. But having everyone's views out in the open—especially when they are deeply felt views—is more constructive for long-term relationships than triangulating or keeping issues a secret.

Keep a united parenting front.

This can make a huge difference! It doesn't mean that you have to agree with each other on everything, but it does mean that you have to make sure you respect each other's decisions and deal with issues when all those involved are present. Statements like, "Wait until your Dad gets home," or "I don't agree with your Mom, but you know how she is," give the wrong messages to your child.

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Temperament Trait Strategies: Adaptability

by Maxine
Posted July 30 2010 04:26pm
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Adaptability: On The Temperament Wheel, is your child high or low? 

Low Adaptability – this child finds it hard to move from one part of their day to the next.


  • Acknowledge his successes in adapting to change, such as going from supper to the bath.  This helps your child feel good about his day.


  • Use play to take small steps toward big changes that are on the horizon.  For example, if your baby is very attached to eating from a blue plate—and you know that this can't last—make a game out of eating from different coloured plates. This helps your child learn to adapt to changes that cannot be avoided. This will make her social and emotional life much easier.


  • Use the "small steps" approach to help your child adapt to unavoidable changes. When you break down big changes into small steps, it makes them less traumatic.  This also helps your child learn to trust you to guide him through life's big challenges.


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.


  • Show your baby that you are thrilled when she makes a choice for herself.


  • Provide your baby with play opportunities where he is the leader. For example, let him decide what to play and where to play.  This helps your child learn to be a leader—even though he more naturally accommodates to others wishes.


  • Teach her who to trust and who not to trust.  This helps her learn to evaluate people, and not just go along with whoever is around.


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