Understanding Your Child’s Temperament: First Response
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Published on March 17, 2015

boys not wanting to eat their vegetables

Understanding Your Child’s Temperament: First Response

I observed a group of kids playing the other day and commented to one of the moms how wonderful it is to see a group of little ones playing so well together.

“It hasn’t always been that way. When we first joined this group, my son, Jackson, wouldn’t have anything to do with the other kids. He just stood on the sidelines and watched them. I was afraid he would never join in. But look at him now — he’s one of the ringleaders!”


If I were a betting person, I’d bet that Jackson’s temperament profile would indicate that he is much more withdrawing than approaching. These kids need a little extra time to observe and think about anything before they get involved with it. Sometimes, as parents, we’re so anxious to have our kids enjoy fun activities that we fail to allow the more withdrawing children an opportunity to watch. If we can step back and allow the children to watch before becoming involved, we’re more likely to ensure that our little ones have the wonderful experience we desire. If, on the other hand, we push them into activities when they’re not ready, we are more likely to deal with an emotional meltdown.

Another situation in which a child’s “first response” comes into play is in the introduction of new foods. Children who are more withdrawing will likely withdraw from trying new foods as well. We never want to turn our mealtimes into battlegrounds. Encourage the child to taste the new item and tell you what she thinks of it. If she still doesn’t like it after she tastes it, then congratulate her bravery in trying it and don’t insist that she eats a serving of it. Please continue to serve the item. The more familiar it becomes, the more likely your child will eventually enjoy it. Also, it’s helpful if you eat the item yourself. If you don’t like it, find an equally nutritious item that you do like to substitute in your menu planning.


At the opposite end of the withdrawing spectrum would be approaching. When we’re dealing with a child who balks at every new activity, it might seem appealing to have a child who is eager to try all sorts of new things. There is a downside to this as well. Highly approaching children can be easily led into situations that may not be best for them. In the early childhood period, this could translate into dangerous risk-taking. The approaching child may be the one who willingly hops into a car with someone she doesn’t know. For these children, take special time and effort to teach them again and again about stranger danger. Don’t frighten them, but repeat often the rules about not talking to someone they don’t know.

As your child gets older, you will want to keep close track of her friends. You can do this easily and non-judgmentally by inviting the friends to spend time in your home, paying attention to the interactions and conversations, and talking to your child afterward about your impressions.

If you’d like to find out what your child’s temperament scores are like, email the child’s date of birth and your mailing address to temperament@avera.org.

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