School has started. For 25% of all students, happy times will prevail; these are the academic super stars. For the majority of students, school will be okay. For 10-20% of students, school will be torture. Temperament is one of the factors determining if a child is happy or unhappy in school.

Many of my foster children, and both my sons, struggled with various learning disabilities. One was also super sensitive and easily hurt; school tortured him.  He was only happy on weekends or school vacations.  The other son had different temperament traits and could shake off  his learning problems a bit more easily.

When a child hates school or always has a stomach ache on school days—particularly on test days—or begins saying “I’m stupid” or becomes a behavior problem in the class room, these as strong signals saying “I need help.” Your job as a parent is to figure out what is going on. The place to start is temperament.

Starting in the 1950s, researchers Alexander Thomas, Stella Chess, Herbert G. Birch, Margaret Hertzig and Sam Korn began the classic New York Longitudinal study regarding why some children were easier to raise and lead better lives than others.  They found it had nothing to do with parenting but with the combination of genetically endowed ways of being.

Jerome Kagan, retired Harvard guru of child development, published a list of eight factors that shape lives, and fist on the list is temperament. Temperament is one of the first things to think about if your child is unhappy in school.


Tip number one:  Temperament is genetic. That should have lifted the pall of blame from parents for the things they cannot control. It didn’t? Lift it for yourself by learning about temperament.

Tip two: Read this quick introduction to temperament.

  • Activity: Is the child always moving and doing something OR does he or she have a more relaxed style?
  • Rhythmicity: Is the child regular in his or her eating and sleeping habits OR somewhat haphazard?
  • Approach/withdrawal: Does he or she “never meet a stranger”, ie. are they friendly and confident with everyone OR do they tend to shy away from new people or things?
  • Adaptability: Can the child adjust to changes in routines or plans easily OR does he or she resist transitions?
  • Intensity: Does he or she react strongly to situations, either positive or negative, OR does he or she react calmly and quietly?
  • Mood: Does the child often express a negative outlook OR is he or she generally a positive person? Does his or her mood shift frequently OR is he or she usually even-tempered?
  • Persistence and attention span: Does the child give up as soon as a problem arises with a task OR does he or she keep on trying? Can he or she stick with an activity for a long time OR does his or her mind tend to wander?
  • Distractibility: Is the child easily distracted from what he or she is doing OR can he or she shut out external distractions and stay with the current activity?
  • Sensory threshold: Is he or she bothered by external stimuli such as loud noises, bright lights, or food textures OR does he or she tend to ignore them?

Tip three: Use this quick guide to figure out the various temperaments operating in your house.

Tip four: Look for the next blog post which will deal with “Goodness of fit” issues and give some tips for handling those that are interfering with school.

Tip five: Learn more about temperament.  There are lots of books out there that discuss temperament as well as lots of articles on the web. An educated parent serves their children best.  Start with this Wikipedia article.  Then look at some of the resources it suggests.   It points you to a Myer’s Briggs site and when I took their test at a management training, my marriage improved.  I made David take the test and comparing results improved our understanding of each other and our children.


Like this post, comment on it—if only to tell me what you didn’t like—share it.  On Pinterest? Pin it and follow me; I will follow you.  Every action you take will help me stay strong, will strengthen you, and hopefully some others.

You will also be practicing one of the 12 Daily Emotional Fitness Exercises.  Click here to view all Daily Emotional Fitness  Exercises. If  regular practice of the 12 Daily Emotional Fitness Exercises does not improve the quality of your life, more might be needed.  That is the time to think about adding more support to your life or  getting coaching, counseling or therapy.

Good luck, life is a struggle, caring for children harder than you expect AND despite the struggle, life as a parent can be wonderful and the best part of life as a grown up.



First:  All advice should be thought of as suggestion, particularly parent advice.  Take it all with a grain of salt, mine included.

Second: Sometimes my posts are a bit peppered with mis-spellings, oddly used words, weird punctuation.  These stem from a lesser known learning disability called dysgraphia, but also from rushing.  My apologies. Don’t read or check back in a day or so, as I usually catch most of the errors when I re-read.  Also practice forgiveness is a useful Emotional Fitness Exercise.

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