Mackenzie DeJong, Human Sciences Specialist, Family Wellbeing
The holiday season brings plenty of changes, festivities, and time at home for children. How they handle it all is affected by their temperament.
Temperament, originally studied by psychologists Alexander Thomas and Stella Chess, determines how individuals fall on a continuum for each of nine traits.
Parents, caregivers, friends, and family members can use temperament to predict how a child will act in a situation and plan accordingly.
So how might the different traits play out in winter holiday settings?
A child with a high activity level is restless when quiet activities are expected for a long period of time. They are also likely the ones roaming around the house, while the child with a low activity level is happy cuddling up on the couch with some hot cocoa, a blanket, and a favorite movie on TV.
Less adaptable children have trouble changing from their usual school schedule to the break schedule with holiday activities. The adaptable child is probably excited for the change and for the hubbub that comes with it.
When entering family holiday events, the withdrawing child might take time to warm up to the situation rather than feeling comfortable hugging their great-aunt who they haven’t seen in a while. The approaching child might be the one who runs off and is sledding at the snow hill with a family they don’t even know.
A highly distractible child may be noticing every conversation, interaction and smirk the adults make at a family gathering, while the less distractible child is able to tune out all the adult interactions and play on their own.
Will you know whether your intense child likes their new presents? Absolutely. Depending on how intense the child is, they might shout and jump up and down when they open a gift. The less intense child might love their present just as much but expresses it much more quietly. They may open each present without more than a “thank you” and a smile.
“Holiday joy!” might be the motto of your high mood child, and they may have been insisting to put up the festive decorations back in October. The lower mood children, even if they are grateful for the holiday season and all it brings, might not show it on their face.
The persistent child may be happy to play one game or with one toy for quite a long while, even if the group is ready to move on. The less persistent child might have never quite finished the chore you asked them to get done before everyone came over.
Your child’s regularity will be affected by all the schedule changes as well. A less regular child typically gets hungry, sleeps, and goes to the bathroom at unpredictable times, while a regular child can be more predictable and often operates on a schedule. During the holidays, a few questions that might come are “Will they be hungry at dinner time? Will they need to go to the bathroom right after you get out of town? Will they be so exhausted from all the excitement that they can barely stay awake during gift opening?”
A sensitive child could feel overwhelmed by the new sights, unfamiliar smells, and loud noises at a gathering. The added stimulation could make them more irritable, or they may simply need more breaks. Less sensitive children might not remember to go to the bathroom because they were so busy playing with their cousins they forgot to check in on their bodily cues. Weather wise, the sensitive child may get cold quickly and will opt to stay inside, while the less sensitive child thinks “the cold never bothered me anyway” and runs outside to play for hours.
As you can see, temperament plays a part in how so many holiday scenarios may go. The key is to start to understand your child’s temperament and plan accordingly!
For more information relating to temperament, check out The Science of Parenting podcast, available on Facebook, www.scienceofparenting.org, and anywhere you can listen to podcasts.
Enjoy the holiday season!