The concept of temperament or “character” is trending right now. I can’t even tell you how many times I see comments in my Facebook feed telling me what animal, president, Disney figure or Lord of the Rings character a friend is. These viral quizzes have basically taken different temperament models, associated each on with a character, animal, or other entity that can somehow be seen as resembling that temperament, and then give the reader a set of temperament related questions to determine which entity they correspond to. These games might be fun, but they aren’t enough. It isn’t enough to know that you’re Legolas, if you don’t know what that means and why you should care.
What is temperament?
There are plenty of modern temperament divisions that are interesting, and possibly quite valid, but have yet to stand the test of time. But the actual concept of temperament itself is ancient, dating all the way back to Hippocrates in the fourth century B.C. Hippocrates identified four temperaments based on observing body fluids. While the relationship of body fluids with temperament is highly questionable at best, Hippocrates’ temperament classifications have survived almost 24 centuries and continue to be used. Their value: they accurately describe patterns of human behavior.
The temperaments are classified based largely on whether a person is introverted or extroverted, and task-oriented or people-oriented.
* Note: The following lists are not comprehensive, but are intended to give general overview of each temperament type.
Choleric: The choleric temperament is extroverted and task-oriented.
- A leader
- Strong work ethic
- A doer
- Insensitive toward others
- Lacks tact
In Sum: THE DOER
Sanguine: The sanguine temperament is extroverted and people-oriented.
- Lacks perseverance
- Not loyal
- Overly talkative
In Sum: THE TALKER
Phlegmatic: The phlegmatic temperament is introverted and people-oriented.
- Avoids responsibility
- Lacks enthusiasm
In Sum: THE WATCHER
Melancholic: The melancholic temperament is introverted and people-oriented.
- Well Disciplined
- Prone to get depressed
- Lives in the past
- Too reserved
- Prone to a victim mentality
In Sum: THE THINKER
These are the four personality types first classified by Hippocrates. If you’ve read through each temperament above, you probably already have some idea of your temperament and your child’s temperament. Do you think you have characteristics from multiple temperaments? No problem – all of us do. No person is one temperament alone. The majority, however, have one “dominant” temperament, which is the one close friends would most quickly associate with them, and one secondary temperament (clearly present in the person, but not as strong as the dominant one).
Why does it matter?
A person is not defined by their temperament. Our temperament explains some of our habitual tendencies and our general way of being; it does not imprison us, nor does it explain everything – many other factors (culture, society, lifestyle, family, etc.) also affect who we become. And, most importantly, our free will is strong and real. We can change certain behaviors and form habits if we put our mind to it. So when we talk about temperament, we want to use it as a tool, but not something that locks us or our kids in.
Knowing our own temperament is often fun and can help us understand ourselves better. Knowing our child’s temperament is even more helpful.
1. Knowing our child’s temperament helps us understand them better. Sometimes we know exactly why our child acts the way they do. Other times, we can be taken aback by unexpected emotions, spurts of energy that come from nowhere, or a mood that doesn’t seem to have a cause. Sometimes, temperament is the answer. Understanding our child’s temperament can help us understand, in general, how they perceive themselves and others, and how they naturally tend to act and react (or NOT act/react) in different situations.
2. Understanding our child’s temperament can help us guide them better. Different temperaments have different main strengths and challenges. We’re not talking about virtues or values here, but about character strengths, like levels of sensitivity, levels of energy, introversion or extroversion, etc. Virtues and values can be acquired; temperament strengths and weaknesses are there from the beginning. Understanding the way our child’s temperament works can help us challenge them to develop virtues that don’t come naturally to their temperament, and work on ways to overcome things in their temperament that challenge them.
3. Finally, understanding our child’s temperament can help us develop more effective positive discipline strategies (read more about positive discipline). Different temperaments react in different ways to the same situation. A strategy that works well with a melancholic child might cause a choleric child to dig their heals in and resist. Some things tend to motivate one temperament more than another (for example, cholerics aim for achievement, while phlegmatics might be more motivated to do something out of friendship or just to avoid conflict). Keeping your child’s temperament in mind can help you hit upon parenting approaches that are most effective for your child. Positive parenting principles give us general guidelines that can be helpful in many cases; adding an understanding of our child’s temperament to our understanding of positive parenting techniques can make our interactions with our kids twice as effective, in addition to strengthening our bond with them.