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Temperament in School Age Children and the Effect of Success in the Classroom

Bachelors Degree in Organizational Behavioral Psychology with a background in Autism, Mental Health, Business Psychology. Sales Management.


School Age Child’s Temperament in Classroom

Temperament styles in child may relate to their readiness for school

Temperament styles in child may relate to their readiness for school

Understanding Temperament in School Age Children and it’s Role in Learning

A child's early academic and social experiences in elementary school are important for long-term academic achievement. Not ever child begins formal education on equal footing. A difficult temperament can hinder a child's academic chances, and they can be at risk for lower academic outcomes. There is support in the educational community in regards to the role of the quality of the classroom for a child's academic success. They can be at risk for lower academic outcomes because of certain aspects of the classroom (Curby, Rudasil, Edwards, & Perez-Edgar, 2011).

Temperament is defined as an intrinsic tendency to act and react with predictable and relatively stable behaviors to other people and situations. Traits may include a child's activity level, attention span, self-regulation abilities, and emotional responses. Extreme shyness is also a dimension of a child's temperament. Temperament includes a combination of personal choices, the environment, and biological factors that affect the ability of the child to adjust to an educational setting with a lot of regulations (Oakland & Joyce, 2004).

According to Rothbart and Jones (1998) there are many temperament dimensions that include positive emotionality, fear, irritability, frustration, activity level, and attention. Frustration is a response to not being able to attain a goal and also a dimension of negative emotionality (Rothbart & Bates, 1998). Frustration is also attributed to aggressive behaviors (Rothbart, Derryberry, & Hershey, 1995). Difficult temperaments are characterized by negative emotions and difficult to manage behaviors. Children may exhibit high levels of activity and low levels of sooth-ability. It also accounts for shy children who are not able to adapt to new situations and react negatively to novelty (Curby et al., 2011).


A Child’s temperament defined

A Child’s temperament defined


chart is drawn from Temperament Tools

chart is drawn from Temperament Tools

Four Temperamental-based Learning Styles

The National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), and the Study of Early Childcare and Youth (SECCYD) reported high ratings of poor academic adjustment in first grade children with difficult temperaments (Curby et al., 2011). According to Curby et al. (2011) it is not just a difficult temperament that causes lower rates of academic success, but also being paired with the child's environment that causes lower rates of success. They also face more challenges when entering formal education and have adjustment problems.

There are four temperamental-based learning styles, according to Oakland et al. (2004). These four styles are extroversion-introversion, practical-imaginative, thinking-feeling, and organized-flexible. Sixty-five percent of students prefer an extroverted and practical-style of learning. Thirty-five percent of students prefer an introverted and imaginative-style. Sixty-five percent of males and 35% of females prefer a thinking-style, while 65% of females and 35% males prefer a feeling style. Fifty percent prefer the organized-style and the other 50% prefer the flexible-style.

Students who prefer an extroverted-style of learning exhibit many strengths and weaknesses. Children with this style of learning gain their energy from those around them and also from external environmental factors. They enjoy having option in classroom tasks and activities and learn best by being verbal and having an opportunity to share. Children benefit from being allowed to express their feelings freely and have a lot of friends (Oakland et al., 2004).

Extroverted children can also be distracting to other classmates because of their need to excessively talk. While they love to communicate, they have a difficult time listening to others and can be impulsive. Academics based on working alone and in a quiet environment would be difficult for an outgoing child. They avoid activities like reading or writing (Oakland et al., 2004).


Temperament is a child's innate manner of thinking, behaving, and reacting.

Temperament is a child's innate manner of thinking, behaving, and reacting.

Children who prefer an introverted-style of learning have internally motivated energy, and prefer individual work. They need a quiet space in order to concentrate on any given task. Introverted children are quiet thinkers, hesitant, cautious, and like their privacy. Preferred tasks are reading and writing, and they display high levels of concentration. Children who prefer this style of learning can appear to be distant. They prefer working alone and are less likely to share thoughts and ideas (Oakland et al., 2004).

Those that prefer a practical-style of learning are realistic individuals who pay attention to information given. They pay attention to facts and details, and their work is precise. Practical-style children work better with step-by-step sequences, and understand ideas literally. They are unable to think outside the box. These children have problems grasping patterns and the relationship to information (Oakland et al., 2004).

Opposite of practical-styles of learning, is the imaginative-style. These children enjoy words, metaphors, symbols, and theory to their application. Imaginative-style learners are creative, intuitive, and learns by insight. They also come t conclusions too quickly, overlook details, make factual errors, and have issues with managing their time (Oakland et al., 2004).

Thinking-styles value logic over sentiment, while feeling-styles are empathetic and sympathetic. Children who prefer a thinking-style love to debate and analyze ideas. They are not good with emotions, complimenting others, and can be over-critical often alienating others. Children with a feeling-style are tactful, friendly, trusting, and praise others. They are sensitive to criticism, avoid conflict, are too dependent, and get too involved in other children's problems (Oakland et al.c 2004).


Study Findings on Temperament

Half of the students in this study prefered an organized-style, and the other half prefer a flexible-style. Children who exhibit an organized style prefer schedules, are gpal-orientated, dependable, and respect authority. However, they worry to much, jump to conclusions, are rigid in their routines, and over-work themselves.

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Flexible-style learners prefer open-ended decisions, spontaneity, can adapt to change and are relaxed. They often procrastinate and may intrude in another's workspace (Oakland et al., 2004).

There are ways to incorporate a child's temperament-based learning style into the classroom. Extroverted children learn well with cooperative group activities that incorporate oral presentations. A lesson plan that includes the opportunity for class discussions in an active learning environment is beneficial to the extroversion-style of learning. Tasks like reading and writing are what an introverted child will excel on. They would benefit from being the child doing the research for a class presentation.

Practical-style learners are kinesthetic learners and would benefit from working with manipulative's. They need to be presented with more simple work before moving on to more complex work. Imaginative children will flourish with lessons including science fiction, creative thinking, and fantasy. They love to interact with other inquisitive students. Thinking-style students love to debate, and thrive off competitions. Knowing how each different style learner excels is important for implementing lesson plans into the classroom and changing curriculum (Oakland et al., 2004).


Temperament-Based Styles of Learning Impact Teaching Styles

Temperament-based styles of learning have an impact on teaching styles.

According to Oakland et al. (2004), 86% of school administrators and 68% of teachers have an organized-style. They emphasize deadlines, schedules, routines, and rules. School systems are normally under a rigid system of performance and accountability. The majority of educators are females, and statistically they prefer a feeling-style to a thinking-style. The classroom will reflect style preferences by offering cooperative groups, and a lesson plan of moral conduct.

Since schools normally reflect an organized-style, those with a preference of a flexible-style have higher behavioral and academic problems (Oakland et al., 2004).

One of the most important figures in a child's life is their teacher (Sarason, Lighthall, Davidson, Waite, and Ruebush, 1960). The quality of a child's relationship with their elementary school teachers foreshadows future relationships with later educators. There is growing evidence that the quality of the relationship between an educator and their student depends on the child's temperament. Difficult temperaments create a more conflict orientated relationship rather than one of closeness with a teacher (Curby et al., 2011).

Educating teachers on different temperaments and raising awareness of teaching strategies to educate the more difficult ones will decrease the level of conflict between teachers and students (Pullis, 1985). Punishment can lead to children avoiding academic and social tasks, making them more inhibited (Rothbart et al., 1998). When children fail at an academic task it increases their level of frustrations and they become defensive. The same environment will be perceived differently for school-age children (Rothbart et al., 1997).

Knowledge of temperament-based learning styles can benefit students by providing many different chances to students to use their strengths, to assist children in working on their various weak points, to encourage preferred behavior, and to promote understanding of other individuals.



School’s Impact on Student’s Success

Temperaments form a foundation for children's memory, their own evaluations of the classroom, including their future habits.

An effective teacher of all different temperaments needs to stress what children can do, and what they cannot do. Another important aspect of teaching more difficult children is to reward their effort, not the final outcome, to encourage the entire learning process (Rothbart et al., 1998).

The school environment is a factor in a school age child's success. A teacher should maintain an awareness of children's social experiences and be aware of peer rejection. Positive peer relationships boost children's self-confidence, no matter what temperament they display (Rothbart et al., 1998).

Educators should collaborate with other educators, school personnel, and school psychologists when implementing appropriate curriculum for all temperament types. Rothbar et al. (1997) recommends having a "multidimensional approach" for temperament assessments.

Parents should be a source of information because they are the most knowledgeable of their children. Previous classroom teachers are another excellent source of information regarding a child's temperament and experience in the classroom. Pullis (1989) suggests use of Keogh's Teacher Temperament Questionnaire in identifying a child's temperamental behaviors.

Inhibitory control and teacher–child conflict: Reciprocal associations across the elementary-school years

Across multiple points in elementary school, lower levels of inhibitory control were associated with higher subsequent levels of teacher–child conflict. In turn, higher levels of teacher–child conflict were associated with lower subsequent levels of

Across multiple points in elementary school, lower levels of inhibitory control were associated with higher subsequent levels of teacher–child conflict. In turn, higher levels of teacher–child conflict were associated with lower subsequent levels of

Measuring Child Temperament

Keogh (1994) found that assessing a child's temperament is not enough and should not be the only focus. The contributions of the classroom can provide critical information on how a child adapts. It is imperative to assess the structure of the classroom. An important aspect of the structure and quality o the classroom is the quality of the teacher's interactions with the child (Curby et al., 2011).

There are three dimensions that are important while assessing the quality of the classroom. It is recommended to assess emotional support, classroom organization, and instructional support (Curby et al., 2011).

Emotional support refers to the ability of the teacher to create a positive environment that meets every student's needs individually. They should promote individual responsibility, while encouraging a child's individual choices. Higher levels of emotional support are shown to promote higher levels of the child's competence and fewer behavior problems (Curby et al., 2011).

The classroom organization should include an environment where behavior issues will not impede on a student’s learning. There should always be work to do in a variety of ways. Higher levels of classroom organization will promote improvement in a child's ability to self-regulate.

Linked to classroom organization is instructional support. Greater academic learning is a result of effective instructional support that includes helping to engage a child in the material presented, promoting thought about presented concepts, and providing constructive feedback (Curby et al., 2011)

Curby et al. (2011) did a study that measured a child's temperament and how it related to the quality of the first grade classroom. They also measured how a more difficult temperament affected the child's success in the classroom. They observed emotional support, classroom organization, and instructional support. The research team found that higher quality classrooms assist in helping a child overcome academic risk that is commonly associated with difficult temperament (Curby et al., 2011).

Early Childhood Research Quarterly

Teacher–child relationship quality: The roles of child temperament and teacher–child interactions

Teacher–child relationship quality: The roles of child temperament and teacher–child interactions

Understanding Individual Differences

Examining 4 Dimensions on Temperament

Rothbart et al. (1998) examined knowledge of temperament in four dimensions. They linked those dimensions to a teacher's approach to a child's mastery motivation, fear of novelty, and ego-based anxiety.

It was further argued that educators should receive professional training regarding temperaments. Every teacher has a preconceived nation of the perfect student. This varies between longer attention levels, ability to adapt to expectations and routines, and an appropriate level of reactivity (Keogh, 1998). It is easier to teach a child who fits the model.

Characteristics are an important aspect of how teachers view and treat their students (Keogh, 1994). According to Pullis (1985) children who show characteristics of a difficult temperament are more likely to be criticized than children of a more desirable temperament.

Temperament is an important aspect of a child's experience in the classroom. This experience can affect academic success. Children exhibit temperament-based learning styles, and teachers have similar temperament-based teaching styles that can have an affect on the child's success. In addition, there are many factors to help facilitate academic success such as emotional support, instructional support, and quality of the classroom.

It is important to note that temperament is not the only factor that can impact school experiences. The influence of the home setting is a contributing factor, and all should be kept in mind when examining a child's academic future. Temperament impacts a child's self-evaluation. With a positive and unconditional support from the parents, their self-evaluation is more stable and positive (Curby et al.l, 2011).

Child Guide: Dealing with Perfectionism

The temperament profiles of school-age children


  • 1. Curby, T., Rudasil, K., Edwards, T., & Perez-Edgar, K. (2011). The Role of Classroom Quality in Ameliorating the Academic and Social Risks Associated with Difficult Temperament. School Psychology Quarterly, 26 (2). 175-188. Doi: 10.1037/a0023042

  • Keogh, B.K. (1994). Temperament and teacher's views of teachability. Preventions and early intervention: Individual differences as risk factors for the mental health of children, 246-256

  • Keogh, B.K. (1998).Applying temperament research to school. Temperament in childhood. 437-450.

  • Oakland, T., & Joyces, D. (2004). Temperament-based Learning Styles and School-based Applications. Canadian Journal of School Psychology, 19 (1/2), 59-74.

  • Pullis, M. (1985). Student's temperament characteristics and their impact on decisions by resource and mainstream teachers. Learning Disability Quarterly, 8, 109-122.
  • Pullis, M. (1989). Goodness-of-fit in classroom relationships. Clinical and educational applications of temperament research, 117-120.
  • Rothbart, M.K., & Bates, J.E. (1998). Temperament. Handbook of child psychology: Social Psychological Review, 27, 479-491.
  • Rothbart, M.K., Derryberry, D., & Hershey, K. (1995). Stability of Temperament in Childhood: Laboratory infant assessment to parent report at seven years.
  • Rothbart, M.K., Ahadi, S., Hershey, K., & Fisher, P. (1997). Temperament and Personality Origins and Outcomes. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 78, 122-135.
  • Sarason S.B., Lighthall, F.F., Davidson, K.S., Waite, R., & Ruebush, B.K. (1960). Anxiety in elementary school children. New York: Wiley, Print.

This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.

© 2012 Abby Rourk

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