Thursday, January 21, 2010
A Child's Temperament
In our journey into parenthood, we have often thought about the temperament of our two children. The question we keep coming back to is, "How do we treat our two very unique children in a way that fosters growth, acceptance, a feeling of being loved, and behavior that allows our family to keep functioning?"
I had a huge "aha" moment a few months ago when I stumbled upon the Waldorf temperament classifications. The four types, melancholic, sanguine, phlegmatic and choleric are so helpful in understanding children. And, while each person contains elements of each personality type, often one or two are dominant, which is certainly the case in our own family.
Each temperament has gifts and challenges. And knowing the temperament of your child (or spouse/roommate, whatever) is a tool in building understanding.
For example, our eldest child is a very dominant melancholic. This means that she has an extremely strong ability to empathize with others, is very exact in what she does, and can be quite silly (as a side, melancholics are the most likely to enter into service professions or become artists). It also means that she can wallow in self-pity for what appears, to other temperaments, to be no good reason. She loves drama and seems to love to dwell on minor bumps in the road. There have been so many times that Ben and I have looked at one another and done everything in our power to suppress laughter at this tiny little person who experiences emotions so intensely. But of course, to her, it is no laughing matter.
And in reading about temperament, I have learned that the best thing for a melancholic child is to acknowledge their emotions and allow them to wallow for a bit-- that's just what their personality needs. Recounting stories of your own suffering is a wonderful teaching tool, as are stories and tales that involve a character overcoming extreme adversity to obtain a goal (we had a good laugh last night when Zosia asked me again and again to recount a story about how I once broke my tooth. She loved it). And if we can allow her to grow into a empathetic and mature melancholic it will be a gift not only to her, but to the world.
Our baby, on the other hand, seems to be phlegmatic (she is only 9 months so we can't really say for sure, but it's amazing how quickly a child's temperament becomes evident). She is as easy going as they come. She is happy and adaptable and slow (phlegmatics are the easiest temperament as babies... happy and mellow). But this temperament has its challenges, too. Phlegmatics are slow to act, can be stubborn, and prone to lethargy. So as she blossoms into toddlerhood, knowing and understanding her personality will be key to being centered and loving in parenting her. She will need extra time, extra encouragement, concrete expectations. It might be tricky to propel her into action, because she is generally content in inaction. But at her best she is sweet and loyal, not at all unlike that daddy of hers that I love so much.
So here we are with these two beautiful children-- two individuals with their own preferences, personalities, and gifts to give to the world. I am humbled by the challenge before me: to celebrate, love and encourage each of these two individuals in a way that makes each of them their best person.