Difficult temperaments can be challenging to face, especially when it’s happening to your child. But there are effective ways to cope.

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If you’re a parent or caregiver of a young child, you likely already know that parenting has its fair share of ups and downs. But when your child has a difficult temperament, these challenges can happen more often than you might expect, leaving you wondering how to cope.

Though the challenges are real, having a difficult temperament does not mean that there’s something “wrong” with your child or your parenting style or that you are a “bad” parent. Instead, it indicates natural differences in personality and individual styles relating to people, events, or the environment.

Even so, there are effective ways to manage problematic behavior and help your child become their personal best.

Parents or caregivers often instinctively know their child has a difficult temperament. For instance, their child may cry or act fussy more often, be more difficult to console, or are described by others as “a handful.”

According to a 2017 study, difficult temperament is characterized by:

  • Negative mood: Your child may have an overall negative perspective on things and may be hard to please or difficult to comfort.
  • Withdrawal: Instead of actively participating in new activities or environments, your child may retract away from them. For example, when invited to a new playgroup, a child experiencing a difficult temperament may adamantly refuse to join in and shut down emotionally if you attempt to coax them to socialize.
  • Low adaptability: Your youngster may have difficulty accepting changes in routines, environment, or activities. For instance, your child may become angry if plans to go to their favorite toy store change abruptly, resulting in a temper tantrum.
  • High intensity: Emotional responses in a child with a difficult temperament may be more positive or negative than expected. An example of this might be inconsolable crying over something that typically shouldn’t elicit this response.
  • Low regularity: A child with a difficult temperament may not have a settled routine or predictability — impacting their ability to learn or complete tasks. For instance, a child with low regularity may have chaotic sleep schedules or difficulty learning developmental skills like toilet training.

Having a difficult temperament does not mean your kid is “bad” or that you are a “bad” parent. Instead, it simply indicates natural differences in personality and individual styles relating to people, events, or the environment.

Although having a difficult temperament is not a developmental disorder, challenging behaviors can sometimes indicate conditions such as:

So, if your child regularly displays emotional or behavioral challenges, consider talking with your child’s healthcare professional about your concerns. Based on symptoms and behaviors, they may pursue testing to determine if your child may have something else going on besides a difficult temperament.

As far as causes, 2017 research suggests that genetics may play a significant role in temperament and personality. Even if raised in separate households, identical twins still share similar traits, scientists note.

In addition, 2022 research indicates that negative and positive parenting early in the child’s life does not moderate the pathways of difficult temperaments. Children may have a challenging temperament no matter what their parents do.

Still, although a child’s basic temperament doesn’t change as time goes on, it can lessen in intensity with appropriate management.

Parenting a child with a challenging temperament may take patience, persistence, and a bit of investigation into the subtle nuances of behaviors. Because behavior is communication, one option would be to figure out what your child is trying to communicate through their behavior so you can learn ways to respond appropriately.

In addition to identifying possible communication gaps, consider these strategies to help manage your child’s temperament challenges:

1. Ensure their basic needs are met

Is your child getting enough quality sleep? Eating a nutritious diet? These are important building blocks to regulating emotions and behavior.

2. Consider sticking to a routine

Designing a predictable daily routine can help moderate your child’s tendency for irregularity and teach them how to remain on a schedule.

3. Model preferred skills

Help your child help themselves by demonstrating patience, sharing, and other social skills. You could also teach them how to identify their emotions to communicate their needs more effectively.

4. Choose your battles

Power struggles are hallmarks of parenting a child with a difficult temperament. Therefore, consider choosing your battles wisely and maintaining a consistent discipline method using clear, respectful language.

5. Know your child

Understanding why your child reacts and which situations may trigger negative behaviors can help you transform less-than-ideal situations into teachable moments.

For example, suppose your child is becoming angry because they have been waiting too long. In that case, you can acknowledge their feelings of frustration and offer them strategies to deal with it more appropriately.

6. Highlight your child’s strengths

Although your youngster may have a hard time with some aspects of life, they will also possess specific strengths in other areas. Focusing on those attributes when they appear can help build your child’s self-esteem.

In addition, pointing out when they have behaved positively can encourage them to continue with that behavior.

7. Accept your child for who they are

It might be helpful to remember that even though your child may be similar to you in many ways, they are not an exact copy. They have their personality quirks and traits, some of which you may not understand — and that’s OK.

However, by learning to accept these differences, you can help your child feel secure in who they are. This may allow them to blossom into the unique individual they are destined to be.

Whether your child is difficult to console, exhibits low adaptability in changing situations, or has trouble managing their emotions, it is not your fault, and dealing with these challenges is possible.

Learning as much as you can about your child’s traits and behaviors can give you the understanding you need to cope. This knowledge can also help you develop practical techniques to manage their difficult temperament better.

For more information on coping methods and strategies for parenting a child with a difficult temperament, these publications might help: