The nine traits of temperament: Distractibility

Understanding your child’s distractibility 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 distractibility.


Distractibility simply refers to how easily someone is distracted by their environment. People who get distracted easily may have their attention pulled from the task at hand by ambient noise or other people or things in the background. Those who are not easily distracted will find it easy to be absorbed in a task despite outside stimuli.

High distractibility

Highly distractible children will quickly shift their attention from one thing to another. They may not be able to focus on a conversation over dinner if they see a dog outside the kitchen window. They may be very attuned to details and have a hard time focusing in places and spaces that are busy and loud.

Low distractibility

Children with low distractibility find it easy to get really focused on a task. They get absorbed in a book even though there’s a noisy gathering of people in the same room. These children can block out many distractions and really focus their attention on what they are working on.

Parenting and distractibility

Children who are easily distractible may need adult support to really focus on a task. Turn off the TV during homework time and find quiet, calm places so children can focus on what they need to be doing. Remember, distractible children aren’t being rude when they shift their attention, they are just more attuned to noticing things in their environment.

Children who are not easily distracted may be able to be hyper focused on the task at hand, but may find it difficult to move on when they are upset about something; they may tend to focus on those negative feelings. Adults can help support these children by giving them tools to use to manage those emotions.

Letting your daily schedule and your expectations vary to meet your child’s distractibility 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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