How to Understand Your Child's Personality

boy, beach, sunset, happy, content, arms wide open

Personality traits

All children are born with a natural way of interacting with the world, which is their temperament. There are nine different personality traits identified by studies on temperament:

  1. Activity level

  2. Regularity of habits

  3. Approach/withdrawal

  4. Adaptability

  5. Intensity

  6. Mood

  7. Persistence and attention span

  8. Distractibility

  9. Sensory threshold

These traits combine to form 3 basic personality types identified by researchers.

By understanding your child’s unique traits you can tailor your parenting approach to suit your child’s needs.

Happy young girl drawing a picture, flexible easy child

The easy or flexible child

The child’s temperament

These children are generally calm, happy, and regular in their sleep, wake, and eating patterns. They are adaptable, and not easily upset. 

It’s important to be aware of your child’s personality and respect his or her uniqueness without comparing him/her to others or trying to change your child’s basic temperament. 

The parenting approach

Because these children are easy to deal with and may not demand time or attention it’s important to check-in with your child on a regular basis. Set aside time each day or week to talk with your child about their frustrations and difficulties. 

Feisty, active child with eyes close and arms raised in frustration

The active or feisty child

The child’s temperament

These children are often fussy, irregular in their sleep, wake and eating habits. They are fearful of new people and situation, easily upset by noise and commotion, can be high strung, and have intense emotional reactions.

The parenting approach

It’s important to provide these children with a safe place to play actively to work off their extra energy and frustrations. Giving these children freedom of choice in a safe structured way helps them to be the most successful.  Positive redirection can help these children with changes, and giving plenty of time and redirection from one activity to the next.


Young girl clinging to mothers leg, slow to warm up or cautious child

The slow to warm up or cautious child

The child’s temperament

These children are fairly inactive and fussy, they tend to hold back or react negatively to new situations. They warm up slowly to changes and their reactions become more positive with longer exposure.

The parenting approach

Having a predictable environment and giving ample time for new activities can be very important for the cautious child. Avoid punishing or overprotecting when these children are cautious.  Give them plenty of time to establish relationships in new situations, and encourage and support them during exploration of new people and environments.

Resources for parents


Taming the Spirited Child: Strategies for Parenting Children Without Breaking Their Spirits, by Michael Popkin, Ph.D.

The Happiest Toddler on the Block, by Harvey Karp, M.D.

Nurture by Nature: Understand Your Child’s Personality Type, by Paul D. Tieger and Barbara Barron-Tieger

The 5 Love Languages of Children, by Gary D. Chapman, Ph.D. and Ross Campbell, M.D.

The 5 Love Languages of Teenagers: The Secret to Loving Teens Effectively by Gary D. Chapman, Ph.D.


8 Ways to Help a Shy Child, by William Sears, M.D.


Local Resources in Seattle, WA

Program for Early Parent Support (PEPS)

206.547.8570 / 425.744.1199 /