Did you know there are different types of temperament and that various temperament types impact all aspects of daily living, from learning in the classroom, interacting with peers, social and emotional development, self-regulation, and more? Consider how two different types of temperament would respond to a challenge or learning a new concept. One temperament type might respond to challenges with growth mindset and adaptation to changes in what they know and believe. Another type might respond with negative mindset and sensitivity or withdrawal.
Types of Temperament
There are various types of temperament that you may have heard explained over the years. This is personality at work. Temperament is something to consider when evaluating a person in occupational therapy and it might be part of a parent interview or a teacher interview during the occupational therapy screening or eval.
Types of temperament might be defined as (other names or phrases may be interchanged for these types as well):
- Easy Temperament- also defined as flexible, stable, happy-go-lucky, cheerful, take on challenges, etc.
- Difficult Temperament- Also defined as inflexible, unstable, doesn’t do well with challenges, unresponsive to others, pessimistic, etc.
- Slow-to-Warm-Up Temperament– This temperament type might look like a cautious personality around others. The individual might take their time to warm up to new people and situations. They might have lower activity levels, higher sensitivity, and may be more hesitant when faced with change. However, once they feel comfortable, they can engage more freely.
- Sensitive Temperament– People with a sensitive temperament are highly attuned to their environment and emotions. They often react strongly to sensory stimuli and emotions, both positive and negative. They may require more time to process experiences and may benefit from strategies to manage their emotional responses.
- Active Temperament– Individuals with an active temperament are characterized by high excitement and energy levels and a preference for physical movement and engagement. They may be easily excited and have a need for constant stimulation and activity. Such individuals might struggle with activities that demand prolonged focus.
- Slow Temperament- On the contrary is a slower response. These individuals might have low energy.
- Shy or Inhibited Temperament– People with a shy or inhibited temperament tend to be more reserved and cautious in new situations. They might be more hesitant to approach unfamiliar people or experiences. This temperament type can affect social interactions and require supportive environments to help individuals feel at ease.
- Feisty or Spirited Temperament: Individuals with a feisty temperament are known for their strong-willed nature and intense emotional reactions. They often express their feelings and opinions strongly and may resist directions they perceive as limiting. Managing their strong emotions and channeling their energy constructively is key.
- Adaptive or Flexible Temperament: This temperament type refers to individuals who are adaptable and can easily adjust to different situations. They often display a balanced approach to emotions, are open to new experiences, and tend to have moderate activity levels.
All of these variances in human personality can impact goal achievement. It’s considerations that need to be in mind when creating goals and working toward goal progression.
Occupational therapy providers are trained in the cognitive realm and so this impact of personality on functional performance and daily occupations is ingrained into OT in every therapy session!
Understanding Temperament and Its Early Signs
From birth, a person’s temperament becomes evident in various ways. We hear infants described as “easy babies” or difficult babies”. While this is not always the best way to describe ease or difficulty of daily tasks during the infant years, it definitely is common verbiage that we hear as therapy providers.
Development of temperament has many factors. Take a look at this article which examines temperament development from infancy to toddlerhood.
The study also discusses the genetic and environmental influences on child temperament.
Components of Temperament:
Several components define temperament, including activity level, regularity of routines, sensitivity to surroundings, mood qualities and intensity, as well as tendencies towards persistence and distraction. These are the qualities that make us who we are. It’s how we perceive and respond to daily tasks and challenges.
When we think about all of the components that impact how we respond to daily life situations, there are many! A lot of this has to do with metacognition!
How Temperament Types Shapes Behavior
Thinking about the various influences that temperament has on our response to situations and the descriptions we shared above, you might start to see how temperament types can impact behavior, or the way to behave in daily tasks.
Things like our activity level, interoception, sensory thresholds, mood, intensity of mood, distractibility, persistence, the ability to adapt to change, withdrawal tendencies, and attention are just some of the ways that temperament type can impact daily activities.
Activity Level: Temperament plays a pivotal role in determining an individual’s activity level. Some people are naturally more energetic and dynamic, while others tend to be more laid-back and relaxed. This variance in activity level affects how individuals engage with their surroundings, interact with others, and approach tasks.
Interoception: The regularity of biological functions, such as sleep patterns and meal times, is influenced by temperament. Certain individuals have a consistent and predictable rhythm in these functions, while others exhibit more variability. This can impact their daily routines and how well they adapt to schedules and changes.
Sensory Thresholds: Sensory thresholds, or how sensitive individuals are to sensory stimuli, are intricately tied to temperament. Some people are highly sensitive and notice even subtle changes in their environment, while others have a higher threshold and require more intense stimuli to elicit a response. This sensitivity level affects how they experience and interact with the world around them.
Quality of Moods: Temperament greatly affects the emotional landscape of an individual. Some individuals tend to experience predominantly positive moods, while others may be more prone to experiencing negative emotions. This can influence their overall outlook on life, interactions with others, and how they handle challenges.
Intensity of Mood Expression: The intensity with which individuals express their emotions is a facet of temperament. Some people are more expressive, openly showing their emotions, while others are more reserved and exhibit emotions in a more subdued manner. This impacts how others perceive and respond to their emotional cues.
Distractibility: Distractibility, or the degree to which individuals are easily diverted from tasks or activities, is a temperament trait. Some individuals find it challenging to maintain focus, becoming easily sidetracked by external stimuli. Others have a higher ability to concentrate and remain engaged in tasks.
Persistence: Persistence refers to an individual’s ability to initiate tasks and then stick with a task or activity despite challenges or obstacles. Temperament influences this trait, with some individuals being naturally tenacious and determined, while others may be more inclined to give up more easily. This trait affects how individuals approach goals and overcome difficulties.
Adapting to Change: The way individuals respond to change is influenced by temperament. Some people embrace change and adapt quickly, while others may struggle with transitions and prefer stability. This adaptability trait can impact how individuals cope with new situations and unexpected events.
Approach/Withdrawal Tendencies for New Situations: Temperament shapes an individual’s approach or withdrawal tendencies when facing new situations. Some people eagerly approach novel experiences, showing curiosity and enthusiasm. Others may be more cautious or hesitant, preferring to withdraw initially before engaging.
Attention Span: The length of time individuals can focus their attention on a specific task or activity is impacted by temperament. Some individuals have a longer attention span and can sustain focus for extended periods, while others may have a shorter attention span and require more frequent shifts in activities. There is a lot related to executive functioning skills.
Adaptation to Change: The ability to adapt to changes varies among individuals, with some children finding it challenging while others adjust more easily.
Approach and Withdrawal: Temperament shapes how individuals approach new situations and their attention span in such scenarios, thus influencing their learning about emotions and social interactions.
Things to consider about temperament type
Temperaments can change: People exhibit different levels of activity, routine regularity, and sensitivity to their environment, leading to varying temperaments.
Extremes in Traits: Some individuals experience mood swings, intense moods, and show extreme persistence or distractibility. This is ok!
Slower Rhythms: Some individuals have irregular routines, changing moods, and difficulty maintaining focus. They usually possess moderate activity levels and sensitivity. This might look like a slower response, destructibility, inattention, but it can also just be a slower temperament response. It’s ok to have a slower response!
Balanced “Flexible” Temperament: Others have a balanced temperament or flexibility when it comes to their response to activity, routines, and sensitivity. They adapt well, maintain positive moods, and tend to avoid extremes. It’s ok to have a balanced temperament, or to not!
Temperament’s Impact on Learning
When you think about it, there is a close relationship to self-regulation, coping skills, social emotional skills, impulse control, persistence, and temperament. This is the connection of self-regulation and executive functioning skills in action.
- Influence on Self-Regulation: Temperament significantly shapes how individuals exhibit self-regulatory behaviors and manage their impulses.
- Understanding Effortful Control: The final developmental step is “effortful control,” where individuals learn to resist impulsive actions and choose more socially acceptable responses. Children grasp this concept quickly.
Whatever temperament type you are working with as a therapy provider, educator, or even parent, remember that every individual is unique. And, we all have variations in our mood and reactions to life events, and that sometimes these variances change in a single day. Just like differences in regulation is ok, and it’s perfectly ok to feel or respond to situations in different ways, temperament changes are ok as well.
Colleen Beck, OTR/L has been an occupational therapist since 2000, working in school-based, hand therapy, outpatient peds, EI, and SNF. Colleen created The OT Toolbox to inspire therapists, teachers, and parents with easy and fun tools to help children thrive. Read her story about going from an OT making $3/hour (after paying for kids’ childcare) to a full-time OT resource creator for millions of readers. Want to collaborate? Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.