A new Finnish study shows a link between children’s temperaments and their motor skills.

Researchers from the University of Jyväskylä in Finland found that children with active temperaments and attention span persistence tend to have stronger motor skills. This was a rather novel result, as the association between motor skills and temperament during early childhood is not yet widely understood. The team also found that participating in organized sports and being older were positively linked to motor skills.

The findings are published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.

In general, motor skills include locomotor, ball and balance skills, all of which are present in everyday life tasks like running, climbing, throwing and drawing. Adequate motor skills enable participation in typical games and types of playing for different ages and developmental phases, for example, in tag, running and ball games.

The Skilled Kids study, conducted from 2015 to 2017, involved a sample of 945 children (ages 3 to 7) and their families from 37 different childcare centres in Finland. Children’s temperament traits and participation in organized sports were assessed using a parental questionnaire.

“Even though motor skills develop as a function of age, skill development still needs to be stimulated consciously,” says Donna Niemistö, a Ph.D. student from the Faculty of Sport and Health Sciences, University of Jyväskylä.

“Motor skills do not develop without practicing, thus skills need reinforcement through repetition of the skills. Motor skill development is greatly supported when the child is moving in multiple ways. In a current study we found more evidence that participation in organised sports can be useful to gain more opportunities to practise and repeat essential movements.”

Temperament and its traits refer to a child’s biological and individual characteristics, such as one’s instinctive way of reacting to his surroundings. Temperament is rather stable over time. To date, there have been very few studies focused on young children’s motor skills and temperament traits, even though in older age groups, more research is already available.

“Children who tend to have an active type of temperament, as well as children who show persistence when faced with challenges can be motivated and persistent in learning and rehearsing motor tasks. Therefore, these findings were expected and logical,” said Niemistö.

“A child with an active temperament can react more rapidly. Consequently, the child will get more opportunities to move along with increased repetitions. Without noticing, the child will also gain more opportunities to perform motor tasks.”

Furthermore, the ability to maintain attention is equally important for learning skills.

“To learn new skills, one must be able to concentrate and maintain focus even though the skill may, at first, feel challenging or even difficult,” said Niemistö.

Both temperament traits can influence the development of motor skills. Therefore, it is important that parents as well as early educators and teachers are aware of these individual factors in case they want to encourage and support their children’s motor skill development.

“For example, there is no need to emphasize for an active child to be more active,” Niemistö said. “However, with an active child, a parent could guide the child to maintain focus and attention, despite possible distractions in the surroundings.”

Motor skills were assessed with two internationally well-known measurements. The first assessment tool measured the locomotor and ball skills and the second one the balance and coordination skills of the child.

“The development of balance and coordination skills was better in those children who were described as more emotionally regulated,” said Niemistö. “On the other hand, locomotor skills were better in children whose parents had higher educational level and the development of ball skills benefitted if children had free access to sport facilities in nearby surroundings.”

Source: University of Jyväskylä