Active, persistent, intense, sensitive. Whether we're adults, teens, or even toddlers, we're each born with our own emotional style, or temperament. Our temperament affects our behavior, personality, and even our health.
If you want to encourage your kids to eat better and exercise more, it's a good idea to understand their temperaments. Once you do, you can work with who they are, rather than struggling to change their inborn traits, says Nicole Welsch, LRD, a pediatric nutritionist with Sanford Health in Fargo, N.D. Understand temperament and you'll also understand more about your child's food and exercise "personality."
There are nine temperament traits recognized by psychologists; a child's overall temperament is a combination of these traits. Read on to see which of these traits seem to fit your child, and how you can work with him to improve his nutrition and boost physical activity.
Temperament Trait: Activity
This refers to how physical your child is. Does she tend to sit quietly or is she a blur of motion?
- Less active: A more sedentary child may be a breeze at the dinner table (no muss, no fuss) but it may take a bit of effort to get her moving and actively playing. So start with what you know she likes. Ronda Rose-Kayser, a certified family life educator with Sanford Health in Sioux Falls, S.D., suggests, "If they love to draw, see if you can't get them drawing with chalk on the sidewalk." Does your child like reading? Ask her to act out a story.
- Always moving: To get an active child to sit still long enough to eat nutritious foods, have her burn off some of her energy with a game of tag or a bike ride before mealtime. Fidgeting at the table is still bound to happen, however. Try giving her a swivel chair or something to play with on the table, Rose-Kayser says. Exercise is less of a challenge: Active kids are usually already inclined toward physical activity.
Temperament Trait: Regularity
This is all about how much routine your child needs. Can you set your watch by her, or does she have only a few consistent patterns?
- More predictable: Kids who like regular routines eat better and exercise more when meals, snacks, and physical activities are scheduled. Think about signing up a child with this trait for a swim class or regular team sport.
- Less predictable: These kids also need regular meal routines, says Rose-Kayser. But they may also need between-meal snacks. And they may also be unpredictable with portions, eating more or less from one meal to the next. Kids are generally pretty good at self-regulating their food intake, so if your child is healthy and following the normal growth patterns according to his doctor, don't worry about how much he is eating every day. To help kids with this trait exercise more, encourage spontaneous free-form play instead of regularly scheduled activities, which may bore them over time.