Principles for Dealing with Temperament Issues (Part 3)

To date, we have looked at two principles in how we can best help our infants and young children through stages and development with respect to each child’s temperament. Today, we review the third principle on behavioral style.

Principle three: how a child’s physical characteristics contribute to behavioral style

gentle touch
Underlying the temperament traits and behaviors that children display are a number of physical characteristics that may contribute to their behavior.

As we know, underlying the temperament traits and behaviors that children display are a number of physical characteristics that may contribute to their behavior. It is both significant and important for caregivers to be aware of these traits as behavior may indicate a reason for monitoring or concern. While some problems are obvious to a caregiver, some may be more subtle and may require testing and special diagnostic procedures. A caregiver who is aware, consistently observing and interacting with the children can provide valuable insights. 

Understanding the significance of hyperarousal

Some children have the trait of hyperarousal, one which causes them to startle and stress more easily.  Thus, these children may be more sensitive to various sensations: touch, sounds, sights, smells and movement.  They have an uncanny ability to tune into these sources of potentially overwhelming stimulation and, consequently, suffer disorganization or even pain. Sometimes they react with extreme to normal stimuli, as in: 

    • Excessive startle reactions (infants and toddlers)
    • Sensitivity to air and object temperature
    • Getting upset if they are tickled or held close and arching away from touch
    • Not being able to tolerate being touched or the feeling of labels in certain clothes
    • Not eating certain lumpy foods
    • Disliking certain movements like swinging or going down a slide
    • Overreacting to loud noises or even voices
    • Overreacting to certain sights such as a flashbulb or a part of a scary picture
    • Being very sensitive to the body language and feelings of others
    • Being very sensitive to internal feelings as well as outside scenarios
    • Presenting as overcautious and anxious
    • Getting upset in places like shopping malls, where there is a high degree of visual, auditory, olfactory and tactile stimulation
    • Having attentional problems as they react to the various sensations that they experience around them
Some children tend to underreact to what is around them.

Understanding disinterest in children

Some children tend to underreact to what is around them. They require an abundance of input to respond and grow involved. They may turn inward, into their own world.  While they may appear to be easy because they make few demands, they also may show little interest in other children or being sociable. Some of their behaviors include: 

  • Having difficulty making eye contact and responding to people
  • Demonstrating a lack of interest in toys and in other stimulations in the outside world
  • Tending to withdraw into a corner and avoiding other children
  • Being drawn to the rapid movements and colors of certain television shows and games
  • Being content to be left alone to play in their crib or to manipulate certain toys
  • Seeming very caught up in their own thoughts and fantasies
  • Failing to initiate interactions, although they may respond to their caregivers if they work hard to get their attention

Caregivers need to acknowledge these physical manifestations of behavior in children. In extreme cases of hyperactivity or severe underactivity, children may need to be evaluated to determine a need for special care. However, in most cases, caregivers can help children who display these behavior traits by simply being sensitive in how they relate to the child.

More principles to come in my next post.

Gerry Vassar, President/CEO, Lakeside Educational Network

Source: Information taken from Pathways to Competence, Encouraging Healthy Social and Emotional Development in Young Children, Second Edition by Sarah Landy, pp 45-46.


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