The nine traits of temperament: Approach/withdrawal

Understanding your child’s approach and withdrawal traits 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 how they interact with other people and within their world.

There are nine different traits of temperament. In this article, we will explore the trait of approach/withdrawal.


Approach and withdrawal refers to how quickly and easily a person adjusts to changes or new situations. Some individuals may find it easy to adapt to new situations and are likely to jump in and meet new people or try new things. Others, whose style is withdrawing, tend to need more time to warm up to new situations; they may hang back before they join in.


Approaching children are excited and willing to explore new things, people and situations. They may run to investigate a new playground without hesitation and oftentimes will take very little time to adjust to new situations.


Withdrawing children are also called “slow to warm up.” They need extra time to adjust to new situations and may hang back before they explore or join in. They may hesitate at a new social situation instead of joining in right away.

Parenting and approach/withdrawal

Approaching children are likely to jump right in to new situations and adjust quickly and without trouble when changes occur. Parents can support these children by giving them opportunities to explore their environment and meet new people, like joining a play group or going to the park.

Withdrawing children need extra time, understanding and support in new or novel situations. Parents can give them space and permission to hang back at the family gathering or on the first day of school until they feel comfortable joining in.

Letting your daily schedule and your expectations vary to meet your child’s approach/withdrawal can prevent conflict and stress, and allow your child to have their needs met in a way that plays to their strengths and builds upon their natural temperament.

For more information about children and temperament, check out the other articles in this series:

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 2016, can be downloaded from the Michigan 4-H website.

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