The nine traits of temperament

Understanding the different traits of temperament can help you understand and support your child.


Temperament refers to personality traits that determine how someone reacts to the world. Are they quiet or rambunctious? Easygoing or apprehensive? The traits of temperament are mostly innate traits that we are born with, although they can be influenced by an individual’s family, culture or their experiences. A person’s temperament style plays a role in how they behave and interact with other people and within their world. There are nine different traits of temperament:

  1. Activity level
  2. Biological rhythms
  3. Sensitivity
  4. Intensity of reaction
  5. Adaptability
  6. Approach/withdrawal
  7. Persistence
  8. Distractibility
  9. Mood

Each person has their own unique combination of personality or temperament traits, so you may be similar to another person or your child on one trait and different on another. These traits are part of someone’s personality and one of the ways that makes each of us unique. There is no right or wrong temperament—every person has their own unique style of thinking, acting and interacting with the world.

Parenting and understanding temperament

Temperament can describe or bring context to your child’s behavior. For instance, if your child is a picky eater, that may be very frustrating. However, if you understand your child is very sensitive to texture and touch, that may help explain their behavior, which can change how you feel about it and how you react to it.

Understanding your child’s temperament will also help you have appropriate expectations for them. Just like it’s not fair to expect a toddler to wait patiently, it’s not fair to expect a child who is “slow to warm up” or tends to withdrawal to jump into a new play group or play with other children on the playground right away.

Sometimes your temperament is very similar to your child’s, and sometimes or in some specific ways it can be very different. When styles are similar, it might be very easy to parent your child, but when they are different or in the specific ways or situations when they are different, it can be very challenging. Taking the time to understand your child’s temperament and the ways it is similar or different than your own can help you adapt your parenting to build on your child’s strengths and meet their specific needs.

When you don’t understand your child’s behavior or you’re struggling with a routine like bedtime, diapering or grocery shopping, take a minute to think about whether that struggle is related to your child’s temperament. If it is, you may be able to make small adjustments to your expectations, routines or methods that can make things easier for you and your child.

Through this article series, we will explore all nine traits of temperament and how they can affect child behavior, and talk about ways you can support your child by understanding their temperament.

For more articles on child development, academic success, parenting and life skill development, please visit the Michigan State University Extension website.

To learn about the positive impact children and families are experience due to MSU Extension programs, read our 2016 Impact Report. Additional impact reports, highlighting even more ways Michigan 4-H and MSU Extension positively impacted individuals and communities in 2015, can be downloaded from the Michigan 4-H website.

Other articles in series

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