How to Tailor Discipline to Your Child's Temperament

Increase discipline effectiveness based on your child's needs

Match your discipline strategies to your child's unique needs.
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Have you ever noticed how two children from the same family can be drastically different? One child might be a happy, easy-going child who is eager to please while the other one might be cranky, defiant, and attention-seeking.

Clearly, behavior differences don't always stem from the environment. Each child is born with a unique temperament. And it's important to tailor your discipline strategies to your child's individual needs.

Traits That Make Up Temperament

Temperament differs slightly from personality. A child’s personality includes things such as intelligence and abilities. Temperament refers to in-born traits only. Researchers have found a child’s temperament is made up of nine different traits:

  • Activity Level – Does your child tend to be very active, moderately active or inactive compared to other children his age?
  • Regularity - Does your child seem to have a natural tendency to have a routine? Does your child want to eat and sleep at the same times each day?
  • Approach or Withdrawal - Does your child enjoy trying new things and meeting new people? Or does he prefer to observe others and hang back when presented with new situations?
  • Adaptability - How quickly does your child adjust to changes? Does he adapt quickly or become upset if his schedule is changed?
  • Intensity of Reaction - How much of an emotional reaction does he show when he experiences positive and negative situations?
  • Threshold of Responsiveness - How does your child react to sensory stimulation such as tastes, textures, smells, and sounds?
  • Distractibility - Can your child stay focused on a task or is he easily distracted by noises or activity going on around him?
  • Attention Span and Persistence - Is your child able to work on a task until it is completed or does he tend to give up or lose interest before it’s finished? How does he handle transitioning from one activity to the next?
  • Quality of Mood - On average, does your child seem to be in a fairly good mood or does his mood shift often and seem dependent on whatever is going on around him?

Temperament Categories

Based on these traits, researchers developed three main categories of kids. However, they also noted that about 35% of kids don’t fit into any one category but instead, seem to be a combination.

  • Easy or Flexible (40%) - Kids who are considered to be “easy going” have the most stable moods and a positive outlook on life. They are fairly flexible with changes to their routine and are not disturbed by new experiences. Their routines are fairly predictable.
  • Active or Difficult (10%) - Active or difficult kids are often considered to be “moody.” Their routines are less predictable. They dislike changes to their routine and may be fearful of meeting new people. They tend to be very sensitive to stimulation, such as loud noises or certain textures. They also exhibit dramatic reactions to things they dislike.
  • Slow to Warm (15%) - Slow to warm kids are less active, can be 'fussy' and are more fearful of new people and situations. They warm up with gradual exposure to new things after being given ample time to observe and learn before participating.

Finding a Good Fit With Discipline

It's important to match your child’s temperament to your discipline strategy. For example, praise may be very effective with a child who is slow to warm as it may motivate him to try new activities. A child who is slow to warm may also respond well to a reward system that provides further motivation and encouragement.

An active or difficult child may respond best to ignoring, time out, or loss of a privilege. A token economy system may also be a good discipline tool to encourage good behaviors while maintaining a difficult child's attention.

Easy or flexible kids may do well with a variety of discipline strategies. A combination of positive and negative consequences may be effective behavior management tools.

So before you consider how to discipline your child, consider his unique needs. Then, strive to match your interventions with his individual temperament.

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Article Sources

Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial policy to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  • Mathewson K, Tang A, Fortier P, Miskovic V, Schmidt L. Individual Differences in Temperament: Definition, Measurement, and Outcomes. Reference Module in Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Psychology. September 2016.
  • Prokasky A, Rudasill K, Molfese VJ, Putnam S, Gartstein M, Rothbart M. Identifying Child Temperament Types Using Cluster Analysis in Three SamplesJournal of Research in Personality. October 2016.