The nine traits of temperament: Intensity of reaction

Understanding your child’s intensity of reaction 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, and in this article we will explore the trait of intensity of reaction.

Intensity of reaction

Individuals differ in how strongly they react to situations. Some people react very mildly to situations, both negative and positive, while others have more powerful reactions. Those with lower intensity may only smile when they receive good news, whereas individuals who react more intensely may jump up and down and run around the house when they get the same good news.

High intensity

More intense children will have very powerful reactions to things. When something negative occurs, their reaction will be very strong even if the situation isn’t serious. For instance, if they want to wear their favorite purple shirt and it’s in the washer, they may have an intense outburst. Similarly, they may be hard to contain even when positive things occur. Children with high intensity reactions may be labeled as dramatic and it may seem like they are making a big deal out of nothing.

Low intensity

Children with low intensity will react very mildly to negative and positive situations. They will have a restrained reaction to things that happen to them or may not appear to react much at all. It may be difficult to recognize how a low intensity child is feeling.

Parenting and intensity of reaction

When parenting high intensity children, it’s important to remember they are not purposely being difficult or dramatic. Understand that your child’s strong reactions are part of their temperament and help them learn appropriate ways to express those strong emotional reactions. For low intensity children, it is often more difficult for parents to recognize how their low intensity child is feeling because they may not show those emotions in their reactions or will not show them very strongly. Knowing that your child is low intensity, you can work on picking up on your child’s cues and even asking about their feelings so that you are tuned in to how they are feeling.

Letting your daily schedule and expectations vary to meet your child’s intensity of reaction 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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