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Why Temperament Matters to All of Us

I wrote a book recently called "Why Temperament Matters: Guidance Strategies for Young Children", published by Redleaf Press. The book is a culmination of my work experiences with children as I directed a program supporting inclusion of children with special needs. Special needs was often seen by adults as behavior-related. I saw how frequently a child was labeled as challenging based on his behaviors in a child care setting when in fact, the environment often worked against him being successful. Expulsion and suspension rates are higher for preschoolers than for students in K-12 programs. And by the way, suspension includes being sent home for the day or having to stay in the Director's office for the day.

I'm not saying all this to indict child care programs. I see in families, too, a tendency to 'blame' children for their natural wiring, or try to disorder the child in some way. Sometimes there is a legitimate disability that manifests with high activity level or low concentration in a child, for example. But often, children act and react to the world around them because of who they are, naturally.

Children come to us with a wiring that is in part from genetics and part from the environment around them. We can’t fundamentally change the disposition of a child, nor would we want to. Every child is unique, and it is in his uniqueness that we find so much to celebrate. Honoring every child is the work of early childhood. We want each child with her diverse dispositions to know that belonging is not just about attending our programs, but about being a vital and necessary part of them. Everyone matters and everyone has a unique and equally important role to play in our child care communities.

In my years of work in early childhood I have seen children who struggled to belong and providers who, in turn, struggled to include all children. Children keep the stamps we put on them in these early years. If they are repeatedly moved from program to program, they can begin to believe they are a bit less worthy than peers. They can accept external statements that they are too busy or not a good fit and internalize those judgements. Providers, too, can feel a sense of failure because they couldn’t meet a child’s needs. Often, what becomes identified as challenging behavior is the nature of child, waiting to be nurtured and guided. My hope is that this book will give providers the tools better support who children are, naturally.

Children are children, first. We must see them in the context of their wholeness and not just their parts. Temperament is a part of who a child is, but it not the whole picture of the child. To understand a child, we have to know her in her fullness, which includes temperament but also culture, family, gender, developmental stage, likes and dislikes, and so much more. We want to honor and cherish each child as the individual that she is and nourish the gifts each one brings to our programs.

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