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Published on August 15, 2013

Kids jumping on a trampoline

Understanding Your Child’s Temperament: Level of Activity

Ever wonder why some kids seem to be always “on the go” while others are content to sit and play quietly for long periods of time? Chances are that the differences we’re looking at in this situation are related to temperament.  Level of activity is one of the nine temperament traits.

You might be saying, “Well, my two-year-old really moves a lot. I bet he’s got an active temperament.” This may be exactly right but, actually, most two-year-olds move quite a bit. If you look at your two-year-old in connection with others in his age group, you will get a clearer picture of where he stands on the activity trait.

A kid whose temperament is programmed for high levels of activity will be noticeably more active than his or her age-mates. The same is true of a kid whose temperament is programmed for low levels of activity.

Developing a Schedule for a Highly-Active Child

“I love the summertime!” exclaims Dianna, mother of three-year-old, Jonathan. “He is so much more content, just all smiles and so cooperative. It’s a total change from his disposition in the winter. It seems like in the winter he’s owly all the time. He gets crabby and upset at the least little thing. Maybe he’s got that Seasonal Affective Disorder.”

Maybe, but I’m wondering how much active play he gets during the long cold winters. When I chatted with Dianna about this, it turns out my guess was correct. In the summertime, Dianna (a school teacher) is home with Jonathan all day. They spend hours outside playing actively and Jonathan’s large muscles get lots and lots of use. During the school year, his time is spent mostly indoors and very little active play is incorporated into the daily schedule of his child care program. It turns out that Jonathan is active by temperament – meaning that his body needs more active play than many of his age-mates. When he doesn’t get opportunities to use his big muscles, he starts to feel uneasy and that often comes out in less than pleasant behavior.

I sat down with Dianna and her child care provider and we came up with a simple plan to add periods of active play into Jonathan’s schedule. Both were amazed at the change in his attitude and behavior! (You can see this same sort of thing on vacation when an active little one is required to sit strapped into a car seat for long periods of time. A few minutes on a playground can go a long way toward easing this situation. Never allow the “crabby” traveler to get out of his car seat just to quiet him down. Stop the car and get out to play.)

Creating Activities for a Low-Active Child

“My little Josie is such an easy baby! Even though she is 2 ½ and others in her room at day care are running around raising cane, she is so good! She likes to sit and ‘read’ her story books, and drawing is one of her favorite pastimes. I’m not sure how I got so lucky to have a baby like her!”

When I talked to her mother, Lynette, she shared that she’d been a bit worried at first because it seemed like Josie was always behind others of her age when it came to things like rolling over, crawling, cruising and walking. But she eventually did all those things. Even now Josie is a bit behind in movement skills, but she’s progressing. Her intellectual ability is right on.

Parenting a child who is low on the activity trait is much less challenging. They are relatively easy to keep tabs on and are less demanding of physical attention from their parents. The tricky part here is that, even though their bodies don’t demand it in the same way that active children’s bodies do, all kids still need physical activity in order to stay healthy! Lynette took up the challenge and checked online for ideas for interesting things to draw Josie into more active play – games that require her to get up and move actively.

Understand Your Child’s Temperament

Simply knowing about their children’s temperament allowed these parents to make relatively small changes in their child’s environment that brought about happier and better-behaved little ones. As you can see in these examples, this doesn’t mean that the whole family has to do anything difficult – just simple changes in approach make a huge difference!

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

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