Temperament: Parent-Child "Fit"


Try fitting a square peg in a round hole - pure frustration! Not a good thing for the peg or the hole!

In social science research, “goodness of fit” refers to how a person’s temperament and environment respond to each other. The “fit,” compatible or not, has a strong influence on social and emotional well-being and the ability of a person to get along with others.

As parents, we make up a large part of our children’s environment. We can help improve “goodness of fit” by being aware of our own temperament and adjusting our own behaviours to work well with a child’s temperament. In fact, research shows[1] that there are fewer disruptive behaviours at home and at school when parents, teachers and children all recognize and adapt to individual differences in temperament.


1. Understand Temperament

When a parent understands temperament, it’s a game-changer. It can give you a new perspective on how to interpret a child’s behaviours and help you choose how to accept, support and nurture a child’s uniqueness.

Ever find yourself perplexed and amazed at a child’s emotional response to certain situations?

Do you catch yourself or others labelling children as being easy or difficult?

Do you wonder how children in the same family, with the same parents, can be SO different from each other?

Start your learning journey about temperament here

2. Adjust Your Parenting Style to “Fit”

Look for patterns in how you, as a parent, respond to your child -in your thoughts and your actions. We have the ability to change that pattern by choosing different responses to work with (instead of against) your child’s temperament. For example:

If you tend to forget about eating regularly, but you find your child having regular hunger melt-downs - you might want to look at how you can maintain eating routines.

If you respond to change with dramatics with an intensity that is overwhelming to your children and they are frequently reduced to tears - you can find ways to keep your reactions in check. Or you can find different ways to express your intensity, such as writing or managing your emotions, such as deep breathing.

If you seem to be fighting with your child every time you need to leave a place or finish an activity - you can, instead, anticipate your child’s reaction and give your child a head’s up that a transition is coming.

In addition to improving your relationship, your awareness of temperament is also helping your child develop social skills. How children get along with others is influenced by BOTH temperament and parenting style. An interesting study looked at the combination of a child’s temperament (specifically the levels of reactivity and self-regulation), the parenting style[2] in the home and how the child played with their peers. Researchers found that highly reactive children who had parents that were very rigid in their parenting style were more disruptive in their play with other children. But when these rigid parents made the effort to be “less rigid,” the disruptive play decreased!

In addition, being too involved or “hyper-parenting”[3] has been shown to have a negative influence with highly reactive children. A study in 2014 indicates that when mothers were over-involved[4] with their reactive children, the children had difficulty in social situations and playing with others.

3. Equip Your Child

Help children to develop both the self-awareness and the skills to interact with others more smoothly.  First, begin by helping your child understand his or her own temperament. What makes them unique? How do their reactions help them or challenge them in different situations? Help them find ways to share these insights with teachers, friends and neighbours.

Second, teach your child specific problem solving skills. Research shows that the ability to solve problems peacefully[5] strengthens social competence and emotional management, both of which serve a child when temperaments don’t “fit.”

Start with: 5-Step Problem Solving for Young Children.

Temperament theory is a helpful framework for understanding why and how children differ in their responses to school. The INSIGHTS Curriculum, used in this study examing temperament and behaviours at school, has a teacher, parent and student component.


Sandra Gagnon and research colleages examined how child temperament and parenting styles might predict play behaviours with peers in a sample of 44 preschool children.

Follow the link to watch a CBC documentary, Hyper Parents & Coddled Kids which explores the cultural pressures about parenting and the impact hyper-parenting has on children.

Parenting "over-involvment" combined with children who tend to worry, are fearful of uncertainty, and are anxious with strangers was found to be a poor "fit." 

In this study, problem solving mediated the relationship between shyness and inhibitory control on later academic skills and was suggested as a preventative skill to buffer potential adjustment problems.