Monday, May 24, 2010

Temperament in Pictures

In our second podcast, Kelly and I discussed temperament and its role in parenting. Everyone has a temperament, even kids, and taking particular temperament traits into consideration when interacting and problem-solving with kids (and adults, too!) is extremely useful when it comes to deciding on your approach.

A quick example: the One Word Positive Discipline Tool Card works wonders with Morgan, who is hyper-focused on her own matters and has little stamina for long explanations about what needs to be done and why. So a quick "Door!" as a way to remind her to close a door is perfect for her. Ryan, who has a different temperament, HATES One Word. To him, it feels bossy and rudely terse (not his words exactly). He relishes in a long drawn-out discussion about the whys and wherefores of, well, pretty nearly everything. So my saying "Hey Ryan! Will you make sure to please close that door on your way out?" sounds much friendlier to him. And that's about fourteen more words than M needs to hear. :o)

We discussed in the podcast that we accept temperament as a given, meaning that whatever the child's temperament traits happen to be--sensitive or not sensitive, persistent or not, etc.--we try to understand what it is and try to work with it rather than against it. So many times I've seen parents try to push slow-to-warm-up children into games at playgrounds, or apologize profusely for their child's intensity or "shyness" and try to manage their kids out of the trait. Our focus is accepting the trait, recognizing the goods and bads, strengths and weaknesses that come with it, and helping the child understand it, accept it, and develop ways to work with it.

Children, though, are still developing, and this can lead to some interesting developments in temperament traits. While we accept the trait as a given, we have noticed that sometimes kids change, and so when that happens, we accept the new trait as the new given. Essentially, there is new context to work with.

The best example of this is Ryan and Livy. We talked about this in the podcast, too. As very young children, Ryan was extremely slow-to-warm-up, needed lots and lots of personal space, seemed hesitant to interact with other kids until he'd had time to observe them. Kids who tended to be loud and friendly and "in your face" worried him and he often wanted nothing to do with those children. Miss Livy, was an "in your face" friendly kind of kid, the sort who wasn't happy unless she was involved with other kids and close to them physically. As you might imagine, the two of them didn't understand each other, and often had trouble getting along. And here's the picture that perfectly illustrates this:

See how his arms are close to his body, how he's leaning slightly away from Livy and looking down, not meeting her eyes? See how she's just smiling at him, trying to engage him, get his attention?

What's interesting is that Ryan and Livy have (seemingly) flip-flopped in the last five years. I really think it's too early to pin them down into specific temperament traits that are guaranteed to last until they're grownups, but Kelly and I have interesting conversations about it, trying to understand more how they are today, and guess how they might develop in the future.

These days, it's Ryan who is "in your face," prone to over-involving himself in the affairs of others (although he places nicely and often by himself, too), who tries and tries to engage others in his games (sometimes inappropriately), and is open and friendly and, sigh, talkative to anyone and everyone, even strangers at the grocery store. Livy is quieter, often doesn't have too much to say to grownups, asks her mom to have "just stay at home" days, and while she plays and interacts just fine with other kids as far as I've seen, only seems to play for a little while and then will go be by herself or perhaps just one friend for a while.

These days, Ryan gets annoyed when Livy doesn't want to play (although sometimes she doesn't want to play simply because he bosses everyone to within an inch of their lives!) as often as he does. These days, Livy wants space from Ryan.

They are friends, and get along just fine, and genuinely seem to enjoy each other. But this recent picture (taken by Miranda) illustrates the differences in their personalities from five years ago:

Here, they are playfully goofing off for the camera, but look at Livy's pose. It's the same as Ryan's five years ago! This time, Ryan is invading her space, and she how she's leaning away from him slightly?

So. Interesting. Of course, two pictures don't prove anything definitively about their personalities or the ways in which they'll develop over the coming years. But they do illustrate some of the aspects and changes Kelly and I have observed in each child in a neat way, I think.

As Kelly said about parenting, "It's such a mystery who's unfolding in there." She's right, and it's a joy to be able to observe the process!

And by the way, in case you're wondering where Podcast #5 is, it's coming, hopefully this week. Things got so crazy last week and we just never got around to the final edit. This week brings fewer activities and craziness (I hope), so look for #5 very soon!

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