As I prepare to teach a temperament class today at a conference, I’ve been reflecting on the topic of temperament. As I thought about the 9 different temperament traits I became very aware that the importance in knowing about these traits isn’t actually in the traits themselves, but rather in knowing how to approach, accommodate, and adapt to the traits. Sure…it’s always beneficial to have information about yourself or someone else to understand how that person approaches the world..but that information is pointless if you don’t actually do something with it.
Therein lies the importance of the term “goodness of fit.” Goodness of fit is a term used in a variety of context, but when it’s used to talk about temperament it means matching your caregiving style to what the child needs. This is especially important at an infant and toddler level. What I often see happen is that teachers try to force children to adapt to a behavior that they find easier to handle. For example, a teacher that has a child that is highly active may try to help that child calm down. This isn’t what’s intended when we ask caregivers to practice goodness of fit.
To truly understand this, we need to take a look at the developing brain. There are two aspects that are particularly important to understanding goodness of fit:
- First, the limbic system, which is the system that experiences and controls emotions, has two components: The lower limbic system which experiences emotion and the higher lymbic system which regulates emotion. The higher limbic system is located in the cortex…the part of the brain that doesn’t really start developing until children are a bit older.
- Young children (kindergarten age and below) tend to live more in the right side of their brain than the left side…and the right side of the brain is the one that is processing things like emotions, facial cues, gestures, and body language..while the left side is what processes the language.
So how does this relate to temperament then? Well…first, infants and toddlers do not yet have the brain skills to control or regulate their natural state of being. For young children…it’s the things unsaid that make a huge difference in their self-concept. What is the unspoken message you are sending when you try to make an infant or toddler adapt to your preferences instead of honoring the child’s preferences?
The key then in promoting a positive sense of self and honoring the way the child’s brain is developing is for the adult to make the adaptation. Have a toddler in your classroom whose activity level is extremely high? Provide a climber for the child. Have a child who is slow to warm to new experiences? Provide extra time for that child to become comfortable. Meeting the child at his/her developmental stage will allow the child to develop the positive self concept and regulation skills that will help the child to be able to adapt to situations at an older age.
Remember to always ask yourself: What is the unspoken message I’m sending…and is that what I really want this child to hear?