Appreciating Differences - Jack Falt - Ottawa area, Ontario, Canada

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Book Review by Jack Falt

Other Kinds of Temperament: Carey, William B., Understanding Your Child's Temperament, New York, NY: Macmillan, 1997, ISBN 0-02-862826-8, 228 pp

When I was doing a search on the word temperament on, I came across the above title. I was expecting a Keirsey style of temperament book, but this was a book describing another way of looking at temperament. I thought it was worth writing about as I felt it had merit even to the Type community.

Some of theJung/Myers theory work on such topics as attention deficit disorder (ADD/ADHD) hasn’t really found much of a correlation between it and any of the sixteen types. True ADD would seem to be a malfunction of the brain, but many are quick to label any activity of a child that is unwanted as ADD. About 10% of the children in the USA are identified as ADD/ADHD. A more realistic figure for true ADD/ADHD would be 1% according to Dr. Carey.

Dr. Carey writes about the work he and others have done to identify the wide range of normal behaviour and give some suggestions about how parents can help their children fit better into the norms of society. He urges parents to profile their child’s temperament on nine traits: activity, regularity, initial reaction, adaptability, intensity, mood, persistence and attention span, distractibility, and sensitivity. The parent is to rate these as high, medium or low and to give specific examples of the behaviour using neutral words such as energetic rather than hyper, or cautious rather than timid.

These temperament traits are often evident shortly after birth and continue on into adolescence or even adulthood. For example, one child when it learns to walk just seems to get up and keeps on walking for the fun of it, while another child will learn to walk but only seems to move when it needs to get to something. The first child would be identified as very active while the second would have a low activity level. How many adults do you know that could fit into either of these categories?

The value of doing a profile on the child is that it puts its behaviour into objective terms. It helps adults to see that the extreme behaviours are usually within the normal range (albeit frustrating for the adults having to deal with it). When teachers and well-meaning friends and relations label an activity as abnormal, the parent can explain that the child, for instance, doesn’t adapt to new situations easily and just needs more time. Specific techniques can be used to help the child fit into various situations better. A parent might delight in the child being highly active but needs to know how to calm the child down when it is bedtime or other times when a child is expected to sit quietly. If Mom is home with the children all day and Dad comes home for supper and then roughhouses with the kids, the highly active children will be hard to get to bed. The lower level activity kids perhaps could use some lively interaction.

Since identifying temperament in this way is not well known, the parent may have to explain to teachers, day care workers, volunteers, and even doctors that the child is only exhibiting extremes of normal behaviour and the parent has found some specific techniques that usually work with the child.

Every parent that has had more than one child knows that the second child seems so unlike the first child. Having a child with one or more extreme but normal temperament traits does not mean that the parent has done a poor job of parenting. Identifying them is a good first step in learning techniques to cope with the behaviour and to teach the child how to cope in the outer world away from the home.

A good portion of the book is given to defining what temperament is in the author’s terms, with only some information on how to deal with each situation. But it does open up some very good concepts that parents and those leading parenting courses will find very useful

Schick, Lyndall, Understanding Temperament: Strategies for Creating Family Harmony, Seattle, WA: Parenting Press, Inc., 1998, ISBN 1-884734-32-4, 123 pp

This is another book I found on when I was looking for temperament books. It relates to the book above, Understanding Your child’s Temperament. While Dr. Carey’s book deals more with the theory of temperament by traits and does not have too much on specific strategies, Lyndall Shick’s book is meant to give the practical methods to identify the child’s and your own temperament and give a number of suggestions for coping with the various extremes of behaviour. She encourages you to determine your own temperament. This is important when your child’s temperament on certain scales will make the child’s extreme but normal behaviour more difficult for you to tolerate. If you are a low intensity, low activity person, having a high intensity, high activity child is likely to bother you more than it will a high intensity, high activity parent.

Instead of the nine traits in the above book, this one lists ten traits: activity, approach, distractibility, emotional sensitivity, intensity, mood, persistence, regularity, and sensory awareness. most of the match up with the ones in the other book. On a more delicate note, when adults are asked to rate their regularity it does not include bowel movements. I guess the author doesn’t know about irritability caused by constipation that is so prevalent in TV commercials.

As someone trained in Parent Effectiveness Training, which relies mainly on communication with the child, I have found that it didn’t always work for all children. Also, the work of Rudolph Dreikers gave many techniques, but sometimes they weren’t always effective. This temperament trait approach would seem to give a more customized approach. As our children are grown up now, it will be interesting to see how they use it on our grandchildren. Then maybe when four adults, four little boys under eight years of age, and three dogs come for a visit, it will be a little more peaceful.

Alternate Temperament Books

While we are on topic of alternate temperament theories, there are several books on the market that also are temperament related, even related to the four temperaments of Hippocrates: sanguine, melancholiac, chloric, and phlegmatic; but, they are not developed as Keirsey has described them. It is not that they are off track so much as the authors have taken the wide spectrum of behaviours and divided them up into four groups that just don’t fit the Keirsey definitions. For psychological type people, Keirsey is the one whose descriptions most closely resemble the Jung/Myers descriptions. It is useful to know about these books so when someone talks about them with you, you know that it is like talking about apples and oranges.

Alessandra, Tony & O'Connor, Michael J., The Platinum Rule (Warner Books, 1996).
Hartman, Taylor, The Color Code (Scribner, 1987, 1998).
LaHaye, Tim, Why You Act the Way You Do (Living Books, 1984). This author has written a number of Christian temperament books that are based on his concept of the four Hippocratic temperaments.
Littauer, Florence, Personality Plus (Flemming H. Revell, 1983, 1992). This author has written a number of Christian temperament books that are based on the works of Tim LaHaye (above).

As examples of the differences in the these systems compared to Keirsey’s system, here are some key words from Littauer’s book: Sanguine - popular personality, the extrovert, the talker, and the optimist; Choleric - powerful personality, the extrovert, the leader, and the optimist; Melancholic - perfect personality, the introvert, the thinker, and the pessimist; and Phlegmatic - peaceful personality, the introvert, the follower, and the pessimist. As you can see, two are described as extroverted and optimistic and two introverted and pessimistic. You would need to read the full descriptions, but then while it may be of academic interest, it is just confusing when you are trying to keep the four Keirsey temperaments straight in your own mind.

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