Charles Gustafson, MFT

Lic.# 5983

We are born with temperament.  Temperament generates behaviors like boldness or shyness, curiosity or active or quietness.  These temperaments have been separated into groups leading to three categories of children’s behaviors.  Knowing the temperamental nature of your child can help guide your parenting and enhance the quality of your parent-child ‘attachment’. 

The first category is the ‘easy’ child.  The easy child has a tendency to sleep the whole night through fairly early on.  When distressed, the easy child soothes fairly quickly when held and comforted.  If placed in a daycare setting, the easy child tends not to get thrown out for biting or spitting.  The easy child rather enjoys elementary school and is generally popular with teachers.  He segues easily into middle school and negotiates puberty with a minimum of fuss and turbulence.  He will work for parental approval.  He will likely graduate on time from a mainstream school and either goes to college or joins the work force, develops a stable group of friends, invests in a primary relationship and eventually gets married and brings home a grandchild to be babysat on the occasional weekend.  The easy child moves through life without leaving a large wake.  The easy child makes parents look good.  They look like they are able to control the well behaved child.  But the truth is that the child may actually be controlling the parent.  The easy child is so hungry for parental approval that the child tends to watch the parent’s faces and as long as the parent is smiling the easy child will continue doing what he is doing.  But…if the parents face shows disappointment or disapproval, the child will change his behavior until the parent smiles again. 

The second type of child is the ‘slow to adjust’ child.  This child actually looks a great deal like the easy child until there is a significant change in their environment.  Examples of significant change could include having a loved older sibling move out to go to college or to get married or to have a best friend move away or a divorce in the family or a loss of a pet, etc.  Any significant change in the environment can lead to regressive behavior such as being cranky, resisting homework or bedtime and generally being a pain in the butt.  This condition may continue until the new routine becomes the old routine and then the ‘slow to adjust’ child reverts back to the easy child.  The ‘slow to adjust’ child values parental approval but doesn’t get hung up on it.

The third type of child is the ‘difficult’ child.  This is the child that is restless as an infant and does not sleep the night through at an early age.  The difficult child doesn’t seem to pick up social cues readily and may make many social errors.  The difficult child may be expelled from preschool for biting or spitting.  He may be impulsive and can frequently run afoul of household rules that can trigger punishments.  The difficult child may resent these punishments and become quite angry because, after all, he ‘didn’t break the lamp’ on purpose.  It is as if the difficult child just never seems to find his niche in the world.  The difficult child is not thought to be intentionally disruptive.  He is simply not very sensitive to social nuances and tends to be impulsive.  Over time the difficult child may develop a rather angry response to being seen as a ‘bad child’ and receiving frequent punishment.  Over time the reputation of the difficult child can spread through the school he attends, and, eventually, when the child enters the next grade, the teacher sees him enter the room and rolls her eyes in despair.  The ‘difficult’ child can pick up on that and before long he may be walking around with a dark cloud over his head like the character in the Lil’ Abner comic strip.  The ‘difficult’ child may despair of getting parental approval.  This child may be a High School drop out or perhaps may graduate from an alternative school or get a GED.  By the time he is 18 he may have had one or more run-ins with the law and it is believed that the ‘difficult’ child has an eight times greater likelihood of spending time in an adult prison than either the ‘easy’ or the ‘slow to adjust’ child.  It seems clear that when raising the difficult child, the traditional ‘woodshed’ style of parenting can exacerbate the situation rather than improve it.  When punished for unintentional errors in behavior, the ‘difficult’ child can become angry and resentful.  A polarized relationship might be a result.  The ‘difficult’ child requires more thoughtful and measured parenting than other children in order to avoid future problems.

Obviously these are not discreet categories and a child can fall anywhere between the specific examples given.  Understanding your child’s temperament can help you be a better parent.

1. Smile

2. Read at least two parenting books.

3. Have family meetings on a weekly basis and use “the book”.

4. Legitimize the child’s unhappiness.

5. Parent the child you have.

6. Get conscious (feel less-think more).

7. Reward positive behavior 

8. Kish’s rules—one minute for each year(for timeouts)  one day for each year(for restrictions)


If your only tool is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail!

Imagine that a child asked you to take him to ride on a roller coaster and you agreed to do that.  The child would likely be very happy.  Now picture you taking that child to an amusement park and getting in line to buy the admission.  The child might fuss a little about the wait but you could explain that the waiting is part of what has to be done in order to ride the roller coaster.  Now you are in the park and you both walk to the roller coaster that can be seen from afar.  The child is probably getting excited and is quite eager to ride.  There is a sign that states that there is a 90 minute wait in line.  At this point the child might have become rather upset and fussy because he WANTS TO RIDE THE ROLLER COASTER.  You might be tempted to say,” Look, you are the one that wanted to ride the roller coaster.  I have already ridden the roller coaster several times and have no need for further rides.  I am indulging you by investing the time and money and effort to give you this experience that you wanted and I don’t want to hear any more fussing and complaining.  Amusement parks are not all rides and fun and excitement.  Waiting in line is part of the deal.  There can be no roller coaster if you are not willing to wait in line.”

Now the child has to make a decision.  He hadn’t necessarily realized that waiting was part of the deal.  How could he have known if no one had thought to tell him ahead of time?  Knowing ahead of time what hardships may be involved in an undertaking allows us to be prepared and removes the element of unpleasant surprise.  Knowing about the wait, we might still choose to ride.  Not knowing can take much of the pleasure out of the experience when we are finally confronted with the unpleasant reality of the wait.

Although a great many of life’s blessing and opportunities may include periods of unpleasantness, they are less apt to derail us or sidetrack us if we know about them ahead of time.  People that climb mountains or go on long hikes know ahead of time that there will be periods of discomfort and that simply becomes part of the over-all experience.

The greatest adventure and the most thrilling ride we’ll ever take is life.  But for those of us who haven’t been told about the waiting and the occasional unpleasantness, the difficult times can be misinterpreted to mean that we aren’t doing it right or that somehow we are not worthy of a better experience.  That would not be true.  Even Mother Theresa may have had to wait at the pearly gates for St. Peter to fetch the key.

Consequences are instructive!  They teach!  All behaviors have consequences.  Have you ever hit your thumb with a hammer?  The pain is a consequence!

Punishment can be divisive and polarizing.  Punishment is the intentional infliction of pain and/or distress.  It builds resentment and does not encourage cooperation.

Most of what we learn we learn by making mistakes.

About Charles Gustafson

Charles L. Gustafson has been a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist since 1973. He offers a combination of interactive psychotherapy and educational information in his approach to counseling.