Temperament is a term referring to a genetic foundation for individual differences in personality. The overall stability of temperament, however, is actually low in infancy and toddlerhood and only moderate from preschool age on up. This means that children’s temperaments often change with age, and the child’s environment has a powerful influence on his or her temperamental adaptations.
Researchers have proposed the goodness-of-fit model to explain the interaction between a child’s biologically based temperament – the genetic foundation – and the child-rearing environment. A “good fit” between a child’s temperament and the environment in which the child develops leads to more adaptive functioning. This means that the adults in a child’s life — parents, teachers, caregivers, and extended family members — can modify a child’s disposition if it interferes with learning or getting along with others.
Goodness of fit involves developing parenting strategies that recognize each child’s individual temperament while at the same time nurturing and encouraging changes in responses and functioning. For example, a mother’s calm and soothing response to a fussing child will help the child regulate emotional reactions and develop adaptive responses to frustration. Shy children benefit from warm, accepting parents who make firm but reasonable requests related to mastering new experiences. Reserved and inactive toddlers can be nudged to explore when parents foster investigation by pointing out objects and asking questions. Temperament can be gently molded to some degree by the interaction between child and parent.
The goodness-of-fit model reminds us that our children are born with unique dispositions that need to be accepted. Though parents cannot be completely responsible for their child’s virtues or faults, a good fit means that parents try to match their demands and expectations with their child’s temperament, age, and abilities in a way that will encourage wellbeing.
Create environments that build on children’s strengths.
More to consider: Your unique child . . .
Knowing your child’s temperament is a good starting place. Here are some temperamental traits to ponder:
Self-regulation (being able to control reactions voluntarily)