When we try to describe a child’s temperament, we are inclined to look at the “how” of behaviors—how intense, moody, adaptable, and predictable the child tends to be. Because temperament is about tendencies, temperament is malleable to some degree, and parents play a part in developing the “how” of a child’s behavior over time.

In order to respond to various behaviors in a supportive way, parents can try to remember that the temperamental style of a child is outside his or her control in the early years of life. For example, a toddler doesn’t hide behind a parent at a friend’s birthday party as a form of manipulation. Parents and other caregivers will be most helpful to a child by empathizing with the child’s inherent tendencies and responding in a way that will nudge rather than push. If a child, let’s say a little girl, needs to stay close to mom’s hip at the beginning of a birthday party, give her a little extra time to warm up. It is likely she will engage with the group in a few minutes.

Try to remember that your child’s temperament is not his or her “fault,” and respond in ways that will help your child moderate temperamental vulnerabilities.