What Cards Were You Dealt? A look at Temperament


12/7/20233 min read

a couple of women standing next to each other on a street
a couple of women standing next to each other on a street

Temperament is a person's nature, their emotional response.
Examples of temperament: optimistic, calm, easy-to-anger, more-easily-irritable, analytical.

A study conducted by Sandra Graham McClowry and colleagues (2002) delved into the different temperament profiles exhibited by school-aged children. Researchers examined various factors such as activity level, reactivity, and task persistence. They categorized children into distinct temperament types.

High Maintenance: Energetic, Reactive

One of the identified temperament factors was labeled "high maintenance." Children falling into this category displayed high levels of activity, negative reactivity, and low task persistence. These children were often described as energetic and easily aroused by external stimuli. They may find it challenging to stay focused on a task for an extended period.

Cautious/Slow to Warm Up: Reserved, Reactive

Another temperament factor identified in the study was characterized by high withdrawal and high negative reactivity. This temperament type was named "cautious/slow to warm up." Children with this temperament profile tended to be more reserved and hesitant when approaching new situations or people. They may require more time to adjust and feel comfortable before fully engaging.

Industrious: Focused, Persistent

On the opposite end of the spectrum, children exhibiting low activity, low negative reactivity, and high task persistence were classified as "industrious." These children showed a remarkable ability to concentrate and persist in completing tasks. They were often described as focused and determined, displaying a strong work ethic.

Social/Eager to Try: Outgoing, Resilient

Children categorized as "social/eager to try" demonstrated high approach and low negative reactivity. They were outgoing and enthusiastic about exploring new experiences and interacting with others. These children exhibited resilience and adaptability, readily embracing challenges and new social situations.

Challenging versus Easy

Based on the temperament factors identified in the study, children who displayed both "high maintenance" and "slow to warm up" tendencies were classified as "challenging." These children may require additional support and understanding due to their high energy levels and initial hesitancy in new situations.

On the other hand, children with either the "industrious" or "social/eager to try" temperament profiles were classified as "easy." These children tend to adapt well to different environments, displaying a more positive and cooperative demeanor. Here are the numbers from the study:

8% of children were high maintenance only
8% were cautious / slow to warm up (challenging)
6% were both challenging temperament AND cautious/ slow to warm up (challenging)
6% were industrious (easy)
8% were social/eager to try (easy)
4% were both industrious AND social / eager to try (easy)

6%, pretty low percentage. Despite these low odds, do you ever think that your child got one of these "challenging" temperament cards?

It is easy to classify a child as "challenging", or "easy" but I do not think it is that simple. All behaviour serves a function and is working for the child in some way. Perhaps a child who has a high maintenance or cautious temperament needs something from their environment (support? tools? teaching aids? guidance? visuals? motivation?) to help increase desired behaviour and decrease challenging behaviours. Every child, even an "easy" child has yet to develop the frontal lobe and executive functioning skills. They need their parents, teachers, caregivers, and therapists to work with them and help shape the environment they need to thrive.

Parenting is not designed to be easy, and you don't have to go through it alone.

Understanding a children's temperament can provide valuable insights for parents, educators, and caregivers, but this is not enough. Recognizing the unique needs of each child can help explore effective strategies and approaches to support their individual needs and foster positive development. Working with a therapist does not mean there is something wrong with your child. Early intervention is effective. A health professional can help understand your child, explore effective strategies and support you in implementing a game plan that supports (both you and) your child to develop to their full potential.


McClowry, Sandee. (2002). The temperament profiles of school-age children. Journal of pediatric nursing. 17. 3-10. 10.1053/jpdn.2002.30929.