Nurturing a child according to his temperament is immensely important. It aids in shaping their unique potential while preventing unnecessary damage and conflict. Yet, no two kids are exactly the same and neither are any two sets of parents. Therefore, there is no rigid “personality pattern” to follow – only better and worse practices. Think of temperament-focussed parenting as cooking a specific dish – the recipe requires certain ingredients and methods, yet, there is always leeway for variation. Have you ever known two people whose spaghetti bolognaise tasted exactly the same?
The topic of child-rearing according to temperament is one deserving of a dense manual – and indeed numerous books are available on it. What follows here is, consequently, a very condensed introduction to the four traditional temperaments and brief suggestions on complementing parenting practices.
The Commanding Choleric
Choleric children are “typical leaders” – those confident, determined children who often have a crowd following them. They are fast-paced, task-oriented, performance-driven extroverts who enjoy challenges and decision-making. These are your strong-willed children who are unfazed by conflict and are not naturally sensitive to others’ emotions. Combine these attributes with ambitious drive, a desire for control and winning as well as strong opinions (which they can competently communicate) and you have a little munchkin that could be quite difficult to navigate.
Parenting a choleric child may feel like a daunting task – from handling next-level toddler tantrums to fiery arguments with teenagers. Avoid both fighting their fire with more fire (which will render your home a war zone) and giving in to their strength (which will make them lose respect for you and will ultimately increase their unyieldingness). Give them plenty of choices, challenges and charge (which could be reduced as consequence for disobedience) and remember to explain to them why and how rules are enforced – dictatorship is not advisable. However, set unmovable boundaries and remain completely firm, yet, calm when they try to push these – which they will do repetitively until they realise that you are worthy enough to submit to your leadership. Applaud their successes but teach them to respect others’ feelings and to lose with dignity. Set an example of humility, apologising, compassion and teamwork. Keep them active to shed aggressive energy. Remember that these powerful individuals will become wonderfully influential people if shaped correctly.
The Spirited Sanguine
The other extroverted temperament is that of the sanguine. However, as opposed to the task-oriented choleric, the sanguine child lives for people and pleasure! These happy individuals are easy-going, flexible and fun-loving! They are beautifully sociable with their signature enthusiasm and charm. You will often hear them before you see them! Sanguine children are creative, entertaining and out-of-the-box. However, they might struggle with consistency, commitment and task completion, while being impulsive and somewhat ego-centric. Their biggest fear is to be unpopular, therefore, they easily experience rejection. Boring tasks and routines get them down.
This “big personality” requires ample space and freedom. Do not thwart their originality by pushing them to conform or sending the message that they are “too much”. Although they need help with planning, allow a measure of flexibility as rigid routine and structure highly frustrate them. A sanguine child requires an audience (so be a cheering one!), plenty of cuddles and generous opportunity to have fun, socialise, be stimulated and unleash their creativity. Be warned: a bored little sanguine will most likely end up in trouble. However, “forced boredom” (like being secluded from people or stimulation) is a great way to discipline them. Give them tools to withstand temptations and peer pressure (and not leading others astray themselves!). Teach them impulse-control, responsibility, listening skills, task completion and to grant others a chance in the spotlight. Most importantly: Enjoy them!
The Peaceful Phlegmatic
The phlegmatic is a slow-paced introvert who prefers to blend into the background. Yet, they are people-oriented with a kind and docile nature. These individuals are relaxed and patient – to the point that they could seem passive. Children with this temperament will seldom try new things on their own and do not show much emotion. Their go-with-the-flow attitude makes them great team players but vulnerable to peer pressure. They are peaceful people who need peaceful, tranquil environments and, therefore, conflict and pressure upset them.
Phlegmatics are “easy children” in the sense that they are eager to please and not prone to defiance. However, their passivity makes them difficult to mobilise and their closed-book demeanour tricky to understand. Ensure that they feel appreciated and loved and give them ample quality and quiet time. Do not criticise their slowness – rather provide them space to process and react in their own time while motivating them to get important things done (or even just started for that matter!) and to be punctual. Protect them from too much stimulation and pressure while teaching them to cope in a busy world, to stand their ground, handle conflict and not be pushed over or seduced by others. Encourage them to verbalise their feelings. If there are more vigorous personalities in the home, ensure that they feel safe after conflict and attempt to maintain the peace.
The Meticulous Melancholic
Melancholics are those introverted, task-oriented children who are quiet, serious perfectionists. They set really high standards for themselves and often perform well, although they seldom operate on the forefront. They are great at planning, observing and problem-solving but very cautious, slow-paced and resistant to change. Because facts, rules and doing things right matter a great deal to them, they are mostly well-behaved and faithful with a deep sense of righteousness and a fear of criticism and mistakes. However, since life is not perfect or fair, melancholic kids are susceptible to depressive moods.
These vulnerable souls need continuous, loving encouragement, understanding for their intense emotions and loads of positive feedback. Avoid harsh criticism but help them to embrace positive correction. They need more time to do things (perfectly, of course!) – so, allow space for this. Clearly communicate plans, details and rules to their analytical minds and do not get irritated with their countless questions. Permit them the quiet time they need to recharge. Teach them coping strategies when they feel overwhelmed, especially during uncertain times of changes or when they have to perform multiple tasks. Help them to control their emotions, to set more lenient standards for themselves and others and to just have fun sometimes. Effectively discipline them by rewarding right behaviour, which they desperately pursue (e.g. with an incentive chart) and creating consequences which will allow them to right their wrongs. Treat them with fairness and consistency.
Not surprisingly, parents also possess temperaments. This makes the parent-child interaction even more flavourful – and challenging! Understanding your own temperament is the first step towards sensitive nurturing.
Lastly, remember that people seldom fall neatly into one of the above categories but are mostly a combination of two or more types. Therefore, do not become too fixated on a certain cluster of your child’s attributes that you might miss a whole other dimension in need of special care.
Enjoy your one-of-a-kind little Munchkin!