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Dear Debi,
My 4-year-old son has a lot of energy, sometimes too much. Is it OK to slow him down or should I just let him set the pace?
Veronica, El Sereno, CA
Debi's Tips
Debi Gutierrez
Debi Gutierrez
  • Temperament is inborn
  • Anticipate how a child will respond
  • Tailor care-giving strategies to each child
Expert Advice
Susan Baxter
Susan Baxter
Early Childhood Education Instructor
Temperaments are inborn personality characteristics or inborn traits that a child has. We generally classify temperaments into three categories -- flexible, fearful, and feisty. Each one of those temperaments describes certain personality characteristics.

A feisty child is a child that has a lot of energy, high activity level, and is fairly sensitive to stimulation. An easy child is a flexible child. They're laid-back. They kind of take things as they come. A fearful child is a child who would be slow to warm up to their environment – someone who is a little bit resistant to the experiences initially, but once they get comfortable, become very engaged and participate very actively in their environment.

Temperaments are inborn personality traits. It's the same thing as the color of your hair, the color of your eyes, and the color of your skin. It's who you are – you can't change it or modify it. It's how a child interacts with their world. So, how they respond then needs to be supported by the care provider or the parent, as opposed to disciplining them or trying to change them for how they approach things.

Not every child fits neatly into one of these three categories. There are actually nine different characteristics which help you determine which temperament a child has. It’s really important to respect the different temperaments of children so when you take them to a situation, as a care provider or parent, you're prepared to support their development.

For example, if you were taking your children to a pet store to see an animal, the feisty child's probably going to race in there and want to pick up a rabbit or a cat. The slow-to-warm-up child is probably going to stand at the door and kind of watch and look, but not want to hold an animal right away.

None of these actions are inappropriate. It's just the child's way of interacting with their environment. As a provider, you want to make sure the feisty child is within arm's reach so that you can help teach them how to handle the pet. You also need to be there supporting the slow-to-warm-up child, and the easy child who's always forgotten about because they just kind of hang and go with the flow. Make sure that they all have an opportunity to be included.

Remember, it doesn't matter if you care for several babies or just one infant; the idea is to create a safe environment where the child doesn't feel ashamed for being who they are. Parents shouldn’t feel embarrassed that they've done something wrong if they have a shy child. Support the child and give him or her opportunity to play in a way that supports his or her healthy development.
Child Care provider Comments
Karolina Ramirez
Karolina Ramirez
Child care provider for 6 years
It's really important to understand a child’s temperament because you'll be able to respond once you get to know that child. I had a 2-year-old in my care that was slow to adjust. Whenever his grandmother would leave town, it would trigger a drastic change in the child.

We asked his mother to let us know when his grandmother was planning to be away. That way, we were able to talk to him in advance and prepare him when his grandmother wasn’t there. It takes just a little bit of knowing a child’s background to adjust to his needs.
Clarissa August
Clarissa August
Family child care provider for 21 years
One of the children in my care was very shy and introverted. He didn't want to step out and venture into new things. I would take him along with me until he became comfortable enough to get into the new situation. If you know that a child is shy or fearful, you need to kind of guide them and be there to help them.
Sonnia Corzo
Sonnia Corzo
Child care provider for 6 years, mother of four
I think temperament is pretty much the child’s innate behavior – something that is not learned, but just comes naturally. For example, a shy child will first observe his or her environment and then step in, versus the child who walks in and is ready to go.

I have seen different types of children – shy, extrovert, aggressive and even cautious. I think a chronic-tantrum thrower has either learned this behavior or it’s something they will grow out of.

Musical Drawing Featured Activity:
Musical Drawing
How Temperament Influences Featured Video:
How Temperament Influences
Topic: Social & Emotional Development
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