How can I know what a child's temperament is likely to be?

Medically reviewed by Laura Angers Maddox, NCC, LPC
Updated January 25, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Your child's personality is largely shaped by how you raise them and the interactions they have with other people. However, some aspects of their personality are genetic; this is known as temperament. 

Some children are naturally easygoing, while others are stubborn. Some children are talkative, others are shy, and some are a combination of both. Knowing the temperament of your child can help you and others raise them to be the best person possible.

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The nine temperament traits

The nine temperament traits may be used to help you identify your child's overall temperament as it relates to their personality. These traits can be scored individually as well as in observance with other traits.

These traits can be utilized to measure a child's personality at school, with friends, at home, and at any other place they may go on a regular basis. 

Certain temperament traits can affect how they learn and how they concentrate on other aspects of life. Some children have temperaments that allow them to function well at home and at school. However, other temperaments do not. If a child is sensitive emotionally, it can make it hard to function well in school, and someone should be aware of their temperament to work with them as effectively as possible.

It should be noted these traits are measured in levels. Being at either extreme is usually indicative of potential issues.

Trait 1: Activity level

This trait measures how active a child is and how much energy they may have. Either extreme can be a challenge. If a child has low energy, they may find it hard to perform certain tasks, even if they want to. They may come off as lazy or unmotivated. Meanwhile, a child who has too much energy can't seem to sit still. When they are in an environment where they must sit down for a while, they will rock back and forth and fidget. When they can play outside, they seem to have much more energy than everyone else. They may come across as hyperactive or obnoxious. 

The ideal trait for many is to be energetic, but be able to control your energy when appropriate.

Trait 2: Sensitivity to changes

We are consistently faced with environmental changes, such as new friends, new items, or even large changes like moving; this trait measures how children can handle such changes. 

A child who is very sensitive may be bothered by even the slightest changes to their environment. For example, if there is a fan blowing in the background, they may become distracted by that. If their clothes itch, that's another problem. Having high sensitivity can make the child more empathetic, but it can distract. Meanwhile, a child who has little sensitivity may be able to focus but may not notice changes in the environment. This can range from minor, such as trying to get the child to listen to you, to dangerous, such as an alarm going off and them not noticing.

Trait 3: Regularity

Regularity is routine in a child’s life. A child with a regularity level that is high may thrive with a set, repeatable schedule. They love getting up in the mornings, going to school, and going to bed at a certain time. When there is too high of a level of regularity, they may become disturbed if there is a change to the routine. Those who have little sensitivity have a hard time adjusting to routines, which can be a problem for those who live on routines. However, this can mean they don't care if plans change.


Trait 4: Approach vs. withdrawal

This measures how your child reacts to a new dilemma or situation. Children who favor approach will face a problem head-on, but they may react to the problem too quickly and before they have all the information they need to solve it. Kids with withdrawal will hesitate and wait before making a decision, but too much withdrawal will mean they ignore the problem or aren't able to experience new events. The ideal personality for many is someone who wants to approach new situations but also prepares themselves reasonably.

Trait 5: Adaptability

This measures how a child can get used to a new event or situation. For example, how they get used to a new school or a new environment. Children who can adapt easily may be able to adjust to life quite well. However, too much adaptability may mean the child will adapt problematic traits, such as getting in with the wrong crowd. Children who have a harder time adapting to something may lose the patience of other people, and they will have a harder time performing, but they are less likely to be influenced negatively.

Trait 6: Mood

This measures a child's tendency to be happy or unhappy. Some children are more negative, while others are more positive. A more negative child will have a harder time with acceptance, and the people taking care of them may have a hard time figuring out if they are experiencing a problem or if this is just their natural temperament. However, a more negative child has the ability to be realistic about some situations. A more positive child may have fewer acceptance issues and be well understood, but may not be realistic in some scenarios.

Trait 7: Intensity

This is how much energy a child displays when they are responding to a stimulus. A child who is more intense will often respond highly to any situation. They may laugh a lot at a corny joke or cry a lot if something sad happens. A more intense child has a mood that is easier to figure out, and they can often tell you how they feel about something. However, their intense reaction may turn some people off. Meanwhile, a less intense child may seem apathetic to most stimuli, and while this can make them peaceful, their emotions are harder to detect. A child with low intensity may find a joke funny, but may not laugh at it, for example.

Trait 8: Persistence

This is how a child pursues performing a task even if there are distractions or frustrations. A child who is highly persistent can usually work at their homework until they finish it, even if it's challenging. However, too much persistence can make them a perfectionist, and this can make them beat themselves up over mistakes. High persistence can also mean that the child doesn't ask for help even if they need it.

A child with low persistence may be frustrated with problems or be interrupted by distractions. They may stop working if they perceive something as too hard for them. They may be more open to receiving help, but can have trouble meeting deadlines independently.

Trait 9: Distractibility

This trait measures how often a child can be interrupted by distractions or noises. Note that this doesn't affect persistence; a child may be persistent, but easily distracted. They will finish their task, but not as fast as someone who has high persistence and low distractibility. 

An easily distracted child may move their focuses to something else. This can help them be aware of the world around them, but often the problem is when they can't focus. A child who is not easily distracted can finish their tasks but may ignore outside noise that tells them to stop. Or they may not notice an alarm going off.

Studying your child's traits

As discussed, these nine temperament traits can affect your child in numerous ways, but they do not predetermine your child's fate. Those who have measurements in the middle are quite flexible. Extremes can be harder to manage, but there is hope if one wants to adjust these traits and work with the child to help them succeed.

A lot depends on the combination of traits and where the child lands on the scale. A child who is persistent, not easily distracted, and has plenty of energy is often widely predicted to succeed. However, a child who is completely the opposite may not be able to perform as well in life and may need the assistance of others. This isn't to say they are doomed to fail; they can learn to perform tasks in a way that complements their style. However, it can be harder for some adults to be able to sympathize with them.

How to know your child's temperament

Boost your knowledge regarding your child's psychology

Knowing your child's temperament can help you and their school teach them in the most effective way possible. With that said, how exactly are you able to measure it? Usually, the best way to know for sure where your child’s temperament measurements lie is to speak with a professional. Seeing a child or family therapist can help you identify your child’s personality traits and learn to parent in a way that compliments and works with them, offering them a better chance at success. 

Now, with the advent of online therapy, getting the support you may need is becoming increasingly accessible without losing out on effectiveness. In fact, current research suggests that online therapy is just as effective as in person therapy even though it sits at a lower price point. This is especially true with children and adolescents; online therapy can offer them support in a familiar, easy-to-understand, and less intimidating format. 


Understanding the nine traits of your child’s temperament and how they interact can help you make more informed decisions in your parenting style and connect with your kids on a deeper level. Meeting with a therapist to determine and discuss where your child lies on these trait spectrums can offer you insights and support when you need it.
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