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Does Your Child Cry Easily?

Updated on June 9, 2012

Did you ever wonder why some babies seem so content while others are fretful and cry a lot? Good news to anxious parents: This may have nothing to do with the way you're taking care of baby. It may be all about temperament.

An inborn quality that affects a person's behavior, temperament influences to some extent how quickly a child adjusts to his surroundings and the people around him. Two children from the same family may have totally different temperaments --- the brother can grow up quite cheerful and easygoing while his sister may be moody and occasionally irritable. An important note on the subject: Not all children's problems are connected to temperament. If a child is sick or is experiencing some stress, he may also react negatively to certain situations.

What kinds of temperament are there?

Many years of research have shown three types of temperament: easy, slow-to-warm-up, and difficult. These are based on nine specific characteristics. Not all children fall strictly into one of these categories. A combination of traits would probably give you a better picture of your child.

Easy Child

This child's mood is usually cheerful. He is even-tempered and expresses his feelings in a mild or moderate manner. He is usually friendly. He can easily adjust to changes in activities. When he does something, he sticks to it until it is finished. The easy child is cooperative and flexible, not insisting on having his way all the time. He is not fussy about what he eats or what he wears. He can sit quietly for a long time and not easily get distracted. He has a regular eating and sleeping schedule.

Slow-to-Warm-Up Child

His mood is usually mildly intense, but not always negative. He adapts slowly to new people and unfamiliar surroundings. When faced with new situations, he is more likely to experience separation anxiety.

Difficult or Challenging Child

He is usually serious and moody. He cries easily and expresses his feelings in a loud and forceful way. He is generally cautious and is not too friendly. He does not adapt well to new situations and may have trouble adjusting to changes. When he starts something, he may give up quickly and not finish his work. If there is something the difficult child wants, he can be quite persistent. He may be physically sensitive to certain types of food or the texture of his clothes. He has an irregular eating and sleeping schedule. He can't sit quietly for a long time and gets easily distracted.


What's your child's temperament?

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Why is it Important To Know Your Child's Temperament?

It will help you understand and respect your child's uniqueness. It will also help him handle certain situations in a better way, which is especially important for those with a slow-to-warm-up or a challenging child.

Parents are more concerned about the challenging child. Knowing how temperament plays its hand, they may be relieved to know that theirs is not a "bad" child. The parent's reaction is crucial. If he is upset and angry, do you get upset with your child right away? If you do, his anger will only escalate and he may become more difficult to handle.

The parent's temperament is also a factor here. Some parents and children have temperaments that match well. For instance, an easygoing parent may have a calming effect on a challenging child. If there's a constant battle, however, then their temperaments may not be a good fit.


What Can You Do to Manage Your Child's Temperament?

If there is a mismatch, parents need to modify the way they are reacting to their child. There are two things you can do:

  1. Accept your child's temperament and love him the way he is, and
  2. Be flexible in responding to your child by helping him look for effective ways to face situations that are hard for him to handle. Here are some examples:

Physical sensitivity to touch

"This shirt makes you itchy. You can choose one that feels more comfortable." Statements like this show a parent's positive acceptance, unlike forcing him to wear the shirt or saying something critical.

Tell him that even if something is bothering him, things will be okay. "The sand on your legs feel itchy but it's easy to wash off. The scratchy feeling will go away." These comments will tell your child that these problems are not life-threatening and that they can be managed. As he grows older, he will learn to handle these situations himself. He will complain less and know how to make himself more comfortable.

Reacts cautiously to new people and situations

Don't call him "shy" or "slow". Instead of labeling him, describe his temperament in a positive way: "I know you like to wait for a while before trying anything new. You want to be careful and make sure that everything's okay."

Use small steps or break down tasks: If he is hesitant to climb the playground gym, don't rush him. He may just want to look around and get to know the place first. Then he may want to try the lowest step of the ladder. Eventually he will be ready to climb to the top. Let him handle the situation at his own pace.

Teach your child conversation skills, such as saying "Can I play?" or "What are you doing?" when approaching new friends. Teach him courteous remarks like "Hi!" and "Thank you." Help him practice saying these words. These will make him feel more at ease with others.

Don't neglect to acknowledge your child's progress to encourage him to move on. Assure him that things will get easier: It may be really tough when he's doing something for the first time, but then it gets better the second and the third time. Let him know that other people (including you) go through similar experiences and are able to work it out.

Has trouble adjusting to changes

Inform him ahead of time about changes in schedule so he has more time to get used to the transition. For example, "In five minutes, it will be time to get out of the pool." Show him the clock or use a timer if necessary. Ask older children to choose a "stopping point." If your child says he will go to his room right after the TV commercial, then be sure he follows it.

If there is sudden change beyond your control, expect him to be upset but proceed with the plan. Tell him calmly, "I know this is hard for you. You don't like surprises, but we have to leave right now."

All these do not mean you will avoid introducing your child to changes. It may take him longer to adjust but it's good for him to get used to them.

Yells and cries easily

Don't take it personally. Remember that your child is not yelling and crying to challenge your authority or to spite you. It's only that he has a limited way of expressing his emotions. Be tolerant. You may just have to wait for him to calm down. He may even need to be alone for a while.

At a quieter moment, present him with better ways of expressing his feelings: "Instead of shouting and crying, can you tell me what you want? Let's try it now." Show him that using words may be more effective and less taxing than crying or shouting.

Teach him ways to cool down and manage his anger: Lie down in bed for a while, read a book, eat a snack, listen to music, watch TV. Tell him that you want him to learn to control his unnecesarily strong reactions.

Acknowledge his progres. Point out occasions when he was able to say what he wanted without resorting to yelling or crying. This will encourage and enable him to use other ways of dealing with his emotions.

Yes, parents can work around their children's temperament. A person is likely to be easy, slow-to-warm-up, or difficult until adulthood, but parents play a significant role in modifying behavior and experiences so that they can bring out the best in their children.

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