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April 16, 2005

How Temperament Affects Emotional Learning

by Shari Steelsmith

Tip—If your child is having extra difficulty learning to cope with her feelings, it’s worth exploring her temperament for answers.

Link to book description

Parent educator Elizabeth Crary asserts that children need to understand their own feelings, respect the feelings of others, be able to solve the problems that precede or give rise to their strong emotions and seek alternatives where everyone’s needs are met. These are big, important skills and much of childhood is devoted to learning and then practicing them. Some children pick up such skills readily. Others have more trouble identifying their own feelings, noticing others’ feelings, or solving problems. What makes the difference? Crary notes that a child’s temperament, age, experiences, and parental modeling all contribute to the ease and speed with which a child learns to deal with feelings.

Tools—Temperament is an area that directly affects the expression of emotions. If your child is having trouble coping with feelings, it is a logical place to look for answers. Crary offers the following thoughts, drawn from her book Dealing with Disappointment: Helping Kids Cope When Things Don’t Go Their Way, on how specific, in-born temperament traits can affect a child’s learning about feelings.

  • Mood. We’re all born somewhere on the “mood scale.” We may have a tendency to see the glass half full, or half empty. Children who are, by nature, more negative, will need to learn that they have a choice in how they view the world. These children will likely need more tools to cope with their feelings than the children on the other end of the scale.

  • Intensity. A child who is intense (cries louder, is more dramatically happy) often needs extra help with learning about coping with feelings. Her intensity causes her to experience normal problems with greater energy or vehemence. It will take her longer to learn these skills than her counterparts down on the mild end of the scale.

  • Emotional sensitivity. This can mean one to three things: a child may be super-aware of his own feelings, super-aware of others’ feelings, or completely oblivious to all feelings. A child who is not tuned in to his feelings may get angry, but have no idea why. A child who is high or low on this scale will likely need extra time and work on feelings.

Note: For more information on typing your child’s temperament, see our books on the subject and the Tip Archive.

You’ll find more practical tips you can use right now in Dealing with Disappointment: Helping Kids Cope When Things Don’t Go Their Way by Elizabeth Crary, M.S.

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