Whether your child leaps right in or hovers on the sidelines, different temperaments aren't necessarily better. They are what they are, but they do present varied challenges in parenting and teaching. How to discover and flow with your child's ingrained traits:
The way children see the world changes a lot between ages 3 and 6, according to the authors of "Positive Discipline for Preschoolers" (Crown Publishing, $16.95, 2007).
It's not until about age 5 that children begin to do things with a specific goal in mind, say the three authors, who are family therapists Jane Nelsen and Cheryl Erwin and Roslyn Ann Duffy, founder of the Learning Tree Montessori Childcare.
"Until that time they are far more interested in the doing itself, or process, than the product or goal of what they do," the authors write.
They outline temperaments that research has shown children are born with, and that parents benefit from understanding:
*Activity level: A child's level of motor activity and the proportion of active and inactive periods. Plan with your child's needs for running-around time balanced with quiet reading and artwork.
*Rhythm: The predictability of your child's biological functions such as hunger, sleeping and bowel movements. To ease conflict, make plans that respect your child's natural rhythm.
*Initial response: This temperament describes the way a child reacts to a new situations, new food and toys, or different people and places. Recognize cues for withdrawal, such as crying or throwing a toy, and positives such as smiling and joining a new playmate.
*Adaptability: How a child reacts to a new situation and is able to adjust. Don't put a burden on him by pushing him before he's ready.
*Sensory threshold: Some children wake up at the slightest noise, while others can sleep through anything. How sensitive a child is to whatever information comes through his senses -- such as the scratchy feeling of new clothes -- affects how they behave.
*Quality of mood: Just like adults, some children face the day with smiles and happy outlooks and others frown and pout. Don't get hooked on your child's sad moments or take them personally. Instead, ask for both happy and sad memories at the end of the day to get your child to see the sunny side.
*Intensity of reaction: Children respond to events around them in different ways. Some might pitch a fit, others might hide in a corner, others might cry. Respect those differences.
*Distractibility: How outside stimuli interfere with a child's behavior. Is your child willing to be diverted or dig in his heels? Low distractibility can be good for focusing -- unless you cannot get your preschooler's attention away from the bear she left at home.
*Persistence and attention span: A child's willingness to pursue an activity despite obstacles, and the length of time he will pursue an activity without interruption also influence their behavior. High activity levels, short attention spans and impulsive behavior might simply be part of their developmental stage and temperament.
All in all, the authors of "Positive Discipline for Preschoolers" say, adults who fit the needs of a situation, such as in a busy classroom, will take each child's temperament into account in firm yet loving and respectful ways.
Asking a child, "Are you ready to come in for lunch?" is a question. To avoid power struggles, only give a couple of choices that you consider acceptable. Make either-or statements instead of asking questions.
If you have tips or a question, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.