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Observations of Parent-Child Interactions and Temperament

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Temperament is defined as the features of your personality that are present at birth and have a genetic/biological basis. Your temperament, or basic disposition, interacts with environmental influences to create your personality (Salters-Pedneault, 2010). Temperament is a behavioral style that shows the how of behavior, rather than the what or why. Temperamental differences are present at birth; they influence how children behave toward individuals and objects in their environments and how they are affected by the environment (Behavioral-Development Initiatives, 1996-2012). Temperament originates in genes and prenatal development and is affected by early experiences (Berger, 2011, p. 183).

Parenting is a mutual process where the parent influences the child’s development, and in return, the child influences the parent. However, parents differ on how to raise children. The nine temperaments suggested by Thomas and Chess, have been grouped into three basic classifications of children: easy children, difficult children, and slow-to-warm-up children. Easy children usually have positive moods and approaches to new situations. They adapt quite well to change. Easy children are somewhat predictable in their sleeping, eating, and elimination patterns. Difficult children tend to have irregular sleeping, eating, and elimination patterns. They often experience negative moods and withdraw from things which are new. Difficult children are slow or non-adaptive to change. Slow-to-warm-up children may react to new situations in a negative but mild manner. They are low in activity levels and tend to withdraw in new situations. These children are more likely to warm up when approached in a way which respects their temperament traits (Culpepper, 2008). Our temperament and style of parenting used while being reared can ultimately determine how we do or do not handle stressful circumstances later in life. Long term consequences of temperamental disposition into adulthood can be traced back to the different styles of parenting and how a child’s temperamental behaviors are addressed.

The four different styles of parenting established by Diana Baumrind along with Maccoby & Martin include authoritarian, authoritative, permissive and uninvolved (Cherry, 2013). Authoritarian parents enforce children to follow strict rules without explanation or reason. These parents have high demands of their children and when the child does not meet their parents’ expectations, instead of being nurturing to the child tend to give harsh punishments. Authoritative parenting style differs by establishing rules and being willing to listen and provide explanations to questions asked by the child. They are also very nurturing and forgiving of their children’s conduct. The authoritative approach promotes assertiveness and responsibility within their child. Permissive parents make few demands or expectations of their children. This style of parenting enforces no discipline but is still nurturing of the child. Uninvolved parents lack discipline and tend to be emotionally unavailable to their children.

According to Thomas and Chess, the key to good parenting is to follow the goodness-of-fit model. The goodness-of-fit model states that the quality of a similarity of temperament and values that produces a smooth interaction between an individual and his/her social context, including family, school, and community (Berger, 2011, p. 185). Three scenarios of parent and child interactions have been observed and will be correlated to the goodness-of-fit model and style of parenting.

First scenario observed took place at McDonalds. A mother and her daughter ordered their food from the counter and once they completed ordering, they proceeded to the drink station. The younger girl was asking her mother questions pertaining to drink selection, condiments, and napkins. The young girl was very inquisitive of her surrounding and her mother was very attentive to responding to all her questions. They sat down in a booth to eat and the interaction continued. It was observed that the young girl was very polite and respectful and the mother did not use a cell phone during the interaction. Once they finished eating, the young girl helped her mother clean up the table and left the restaurant hand-in-hand.

Second scenario observed was at the Greentree Mall at Texas Roadhouse when a mother, father, and young boy were ordering dinner. The waitress brought crayons and paper for the child. Both parents were using their cell phones adamantly. Once the food arrived at the table, the mother reached over and took the crayons and paper from her son. The young boy began screaming and demanding the crayons and paper back. The mother was saying “no” to the boy and he continued to scream as the parents attempted to appease the boy by returning the crayons or ignoring the negative behaviors. The behavior continued to the point that others patrons were complaining and the family was ultimately asked to leave the restaurant.

Third scenario took place within Wal-Mart standing in the checkout line. A young boy was sitting in the shopping cart and wanted to be put down on the ground by his father. The father continued to state “no” to the young boy. The young boy pouted and eyes filled with tears for a moment. With the father’s reassurance, the young boy ceased whining and focused his attention on the candy rack. The young boy began begging for candy and the father received a phone call. The father became increasingly irritated as the child became louder. The father gave the child a stern look and the child cowered. The child went from a whiny behavior to asking for candy politely. The father did not give in to the child and the child left with him without another peep. In the first scenario the child displayed an easy temperament. This was easily determined by the child’s behavior of being polite, respectful, and not acting out negatively in any way. The easy child is generally in a positive mood, quickly establishing regular routines in infancy and adapts easily to new experiences (Speaks-Fold, 2008). In determining the pattern the child and mother interacted positively with one another. The mother displayed an authoritative parenting style by not being distracted from the child by being on the phone and nurtured the child’s needs. The mother being accommodating of the child’s needs and questions determined a “good fit” for the child in 5 to 10 years to grow up being more responsible and assertive.

The second scenario differs significantly from the first by the child’s temperament and the parenting style observed. The young boy in the second scenario would be classified as a difficult temperament. The Difficult Child tends to react negatively and cry frequently, engaging in irregular daily routines and is slow to accept new experiences (Speaks-Fold, 2008). The parenting style observed was uninvolved. The family did not attempt to nurture the child screaming and tried to ignore the situation without having to remove the child from the environment proving not to be a “good fit”. It can be predicted that the child will in 5 to 10 years have anti-social tendencies and disregard for authority. In the third scenario the child displayed slow to warm up temperament. The slow to warm up child has a low activity level, is somewhat negative, shows low adaptability and displays a low intensity of mood (Speaks-Fold, 2008).

The parenting style observed would be authoritarian because the father did not give in to the child’s demands but was not willing to offer an explanation as to why. The interaction between the child and father in the social setting proved to be a “good fit” since there was a smooth interaction. It can be predicted that this child in 5 to 10 years would be less likely to test boundaries due to his mild temperament and being able to accept strict rules and consequences. In conclusion, parenting styles can be influenced by differences including culture, personality, family size, parental background, socioeconomic status, educational level and religion (Cherry, 2013). The data suggests that child behavior can be influenced by many factors. If there is not a “good fit” between the child’s temperament and the parenting style and the issues are not approached in early childhood the child is more likely to carry their negative behaviors into adulthood. Child temperament is such a broad topic that it is difficult to determine all the factors that can affect how an adult’s personality and temperament will be defined.


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Berger, K. (2011) Temperament and goodness-of-fit. The Developing Person Through the Life Span, 7, 183-185. Cherry, K. (2013). The four styles of
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[->0] – http://www.temperament.com/temperament.comfaqs.html
[->1] – http://www.psychology.about.com/od/developmentalpsychology/a/parenting-style.htm [->2] – http://www.earlychildhoodnews.com/earlychildwood/article_view.aspx?ArticleID=241 [->3] – http://www.earlychildhoodnews.com/earlychildhood/article_view.aspx?ArticleID=303

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