When my oldest kid was a newborn, he was extremely colicky. He cried for most of his first year and even when he wasn’t crying, he was still very high needs. His intensity startled me. Daniel and I are both pretty easy going, but our child was the opposite.
I remember spending so much of that exhausting year trying to change my baby. If only I could turn him into the kind of baby that sleeps! Surely there’s something I can do to make him just relax and go with the flow!
When he turned three and his strong, assertive and often challenging personality really emerged, I was tearing my hair out trying to figure out how to parent this child so different from myself. If I just stick to my guns and stay consistent, I can make him more compliant, I thought. He’ll listen better and stop pushing back on every little thing. But maybe I’m just a terrible parent and that’s why I’m struggling!
But as my other children hit toddlerhood and didn’t have the same challenges, I realized it wasn’t something I was doing. It was just how God made my kid. This made me feel better about my parenting but still at a loss at how to mother my son.
When he turned five and more able to reason, parenting him became much easier although still the most difficult task of my life. But the truth is I had wasted so much time with the endlessly frustrating exercise of pushing against my son’s temperament instead of learning to understand it and work with it.
It’s just been in the past year that I’ve realized that I’ve been trying to change my child’s temperament instead of trying to guide and form his God-given strengths and weaknesses. It was a futile exercise and put stress on our relationship and caused us to butt heads.
It really took a complete meltdown on my part and the realization of the humiliating fact that I really don’t know how to parent this kid that gave me the freedom to throw everything I knew or read about parenting out the window and look at THIS child and OUR relationship with fresh eyes. Not through a lens of how most kids act or what kind of discipline usually works. Toss it all and start over.
My perspective really shifted when I started reading a book recommended to me by a dear friend. “You have to read this book! I wish my parents had known to read it for parenting me and it’s 100% your kid!” she said. It’s a book about parenting a child with a choleric temperament. I knew a lot about Myers-Briggs personality types, but hardly anything about the four temperaments.
When the book arrived in the mail and I read the first 10 pages, I almost cried because it’s SO him. He must be 100% choleric. I’m not sure I have a choleric bone in my body, so until reading about his temperament none of his motivations had made sense to me. I didn’t understand what made him tick.
Understanding the little fiery temperament God gave him is helping me so much. I’m more patient because I understand why particular things are so challenging to him and can head those situations off because I predict they might lead to an argument. I feel less frustrated now that I’m not just completely confused at WHY he’s doing certain things. And I’m better able to see the strengths of his tenacious personality.
Yes, we still butt heads sometimes and parenting continues to stretch me in ways I could never have imagined, but it’s like the difference between swimming upstream versus going with the current. You’re swimming and it’s exhausting, but one is possible and the other is an exercise in futility. Working WITH his temperament is so rewarding and I think it’s making us grow much closer.
And now that he’s older, communicating with him about his strengths and weaknesses is easier, too. Praising him when his temperament is really shining or telling him, “Hey, bud, you’re having a hard time with this and I think this is why...” when he’s struggling.
The truth is, he’s an unbelievable kid. I’ve always known that he’s remarkable, but I’m becoming more and more aware of how his unusually strong temperament makes him incredible. He perseveres through any obstacle. He has an unrelenting sense of justice. He is 100% unimpressed by peer pressure. He has an unquenchable thirst to learn about the world around him. He is tirelessly generous and encouraging. He thinks he can do absolutely anything, and 99% of the time he’s right.
Image c/o Citrus Holly Photography
I’m ashamed to admit how long it’s taken me to fully embrace my child’s temperament, but I’m so grateful that even late in the game things are taking a turn for the awesome. I remember a friend telling me when he was a 4 or 5 years old and having a rough day, “I’m so glad he’s YOUR kid and not mine.” I remember it stinging so bad. At the time, I didn’t know how to respond, but today I would say, “Yeah! ME, TOO! I’m so glad he’s mine.” And I am.
Have you ever struggled to understand your child’s temperament? Let’s chat in the comments.
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Ruth Anne says
Thank you for reminding me that I have this book sitting on my shelf. One of my children is difficult (for me). I don’t know if he’s choleric (maybe?) but strong willed and difficult none the less.
Things have been mostly calmer for the last few months, but there are still moments where I’m completely lost with him. And I’ve been so wanting to figure out how to help him grow with the temperment he has, rather than try and squash it.
A cousin of mine said (in regards to his daughter – also strong willed – and discipline): I don’t know how to discipline her because I don’t want to break her spirit…
And that’s stayed with me. How do I help my child and not break their spirit?
Anyways, so for the lengthy comment, I think I’ll be bumping this book up to the top of the to read pile.
It’s a really good book! And yes to helping your child grow with the temperament he has instead of trying to squash it. It’s tricky to figure out how to do that! <3
Living a Catholic Fairy Tale says
I actually have kids who are really easy-going – just like me. My husband, though, is very strong willed. So I can relate to what you have written – just in a very different way.
I’m still learning to take him as the person he is, but luckily we are able to laugh about our differences.
Learning about my kid’s temperament definitely makes me want to figure out what Daniel’s is!
Kaitlin Alfermann says
Haley, Daniel is melancholic! No question about it. He’s so thoughtful and deep. And melancholics and sanguines make great pairs!
Thank you for this post! I will be getting that book ASAP!
My oldest son is so very similar, I spent many of his baby days wondering why in the world he wasnt like anyone else’s kids that we knew, those toddlerhood days just before he was three that things really got hairy. Every single time we left the house everyone returned in tears and I read every spirited child book out there. While some were helpful is seeing how it’s just the way his brain works none were very encouraging for how to work with his brain. Parenting these kids with the wills of Atila the Hun is hard!!! He is brilliant, fun and kind and I want to be able to see that, and for him to know that on a much more regular basis instead of the frustration and clash of wills that so often occurs.
I relate to this so much, Jessica! I was starting to feel like we were having more negative interactions than positive ones and something needed to give.
I see a book about phlegmatic as well, but what about the other two humors? Do you know if the author has written them or is planning to write them?
I’m pretty sure I have a melancholic child, and she’s the one I can’t quite figure out, and who seems to have a really hard time with life.
I’ll be picking up the book you recommend for my number three. She’s two and a half anD a handful!
There’s another book called “The Temperament God Gave Your Kids” which goes over all four temperaments [there’s a book for adults (Temperament God Gave You) and for spouses (Temperament God Gave Your Spouse) too – SO helpful!!] might be worth checking out.
Neat, Kathryn, I’ll look it up Thanks!
I think I heard she’s working on a sanguine book and then she’ll do melancholic! But I’ve heard great things about the book Kathryn suggested which explains all four temperaments. I’m planning to read it next!
Kaitlin Alfermann says
Lizzie, you can follow the author’s blog to see when the other two are finished. She just started working on Melancholic.
Thank you! I will do that.
Hi! Melancholic here who was a very difficult child :). I’ve never met your daughter, but here’s what I wish my parents had known:
1. Regular, genuine assurance that I was loved.
2. Not being told that I was a difficult child.
3. Similar affection/treatment as my less-difficult younger sisters.
4. Heads-up when plans were going to change or the routine was going to be different.
5. Non-grudging/angry help when my room got sooooooo messy that I was overwhelmed by it. Getting overwhelmed by mess is a problem to this day.
6. Alone time.
7. Acknowledgment that problems were real (friends, athletics, bullying) even if parents couldn’t fix them.
8. Support for hobbies and interests, even if they were intense/unusual. I flitted from activity to activity, but eventually settled down. I also like to relate the story of my parents despairing over my computer time (and sometimes using guilt/anger to cut down on it) – now I’m a software designer!
Lucy is NOT a difficult child, but I think she has at least SOME melancholic in her, so this is helpful to me! E
Thank you for these 🙂 some I am trying to implement already, and I like the reassurance that I’m going in the right direction. And some suggestions I hadn’t thought of. Alone time for example. We’re a homeschooling family and she follows her older sister (choleric!) Around like a crazed groupie. I don’t usually suggest alone time.
Today my melancholic has an intense cold. She is certain it is the.worst.cold.ever.and.she.is.close.to.death. it is so hard for me not to laugh at her! We are very different people.
Oops, I replied to this, but down a post! Thanks!
Thanks your comment was very helpful to me with regards to my daughter. Thanks for your honesty.
Connie Rossini says
Hi, Lizzie. I am just starting to work on the melancholic book. Sanguine will be number four. I had to take a little break to attend to my own family more, but look for the last two before long.
Yay! Looking forward to it! I appreciate your wisdom, all all the best you and your family.
She’s in the process of writing them, yes. And I also am waiting for the melancholic one! That’s my husband and our second son..
Oh oops, my comment wasn’t needed. Should have scrolled farther!
Oh my goodness… yes!! I have the world’s most compliant firstborn, but my second born has really thrown me for a loop!! Thanks for this post!!!
I’ve always thought that I’m so glad I got Benjamin first because then Lucy seemed like a walk in the park! I can only imagine how difficult it would be if the order had been reversed like in your case. Hang in there 😉
Rebecca Scheunemann says
Oh my goodness, yes, I completely feel you here. My firstborn was actually really easy as an infant, but once he hit toddlerdom…WHAM – Super-duper handful. He still is (at 9) but I am, like you, learning to focus on his strengths instead of the problem-areas. I think he has inherited my husband and my perfectionism and intensity, which is not always a good combination. It is hard, in that respect, when you see character traits that you have had trouble with and knowing what sort of challenges lie ahead (since you have been there). Great post!
Absolutely. Sometimes I just think……bud, it’s not fair that life is so much harder for you!
My oldest definitely has a lot of choleric in him. He was so tough to parent as an infant and toddler. He’s a teen now and an amazing person. He’s fun, determined, and hard working. He still push back at times, but it’s gotren much easier.
My 8yo daughter, on the other hand, is a fiery ball of choleric and I’m still trying to channel her stubbern determination for the best! She will be a great leader someday…if we all survive until then!
My youngest has SOME choleric, but I think she’s mostly a sanguine so that tempers it a bit!
Mandi Richards says
Davey is a really difficult baby and a friend just loaned me “Parenting Your Fussy Baby and High Needs Child” by Dr Sears and it is just so affirming to read that there are other babies like this and that it’s not just my parenting. Lucia was such an easy baby (and I knew it and appreciated it) that When I was pregnant I felt like I was going into parenting this child without any tools in the toolbox because I just didn’t need to use any with Lulu. Now she’s starting to get a bit difficult at age 4 and I should probably read the temperaments book to figure out what makes her tick becaus she really bewilders me a lot.
That makes complete sense, Mandi. And don’t worry, Davey is not the only baby like that! You’re a fantastic mom.
I am definitely struggling with his with my oldest. She is 4, incredibly (frighteningly) smart, and a total Jekyl and Hyde. One moment she’s helping her brother (2) brush his teeth and the next she’s up in his face screaming at him or throwing her toys against the door after being sent to her bed for disrespectful behavior.
I definitely feel like in drowning in my attempts to find the best way to ‘handle’ her. I know God made her special and I see her brilliance and kindness in beautiful moments throughout the day. So the times when we are constantly at odds with each other are that much more heartbreaking and frustrating.
Will definitely have to check this book out!
Just wanted to respond to your comment because it is my life! My four year old boy is such a Jekyll and Hyde. His intensity is actually scary to me sometimes and everyone in the family is struggling with it. And I LOVE him so much and see so much goodness….but peoples advice to just be “firm and consistent” just doesn’t work for him. Still trying to figure out what will. You aren’t alone!
I will have to look into that one. Our oldest is 2.5 and might actually be more stubborn than his mother. *cough* Who knew that was possible? Not me!
He’s such a bright and funny little boy, but fights us on every single thing. He has taken to hitting me and the baby and nothing works to discipline him. I feel so overwhelmed that it’s hard to enjoy the good times.
I second The Temperament God Gave You. It not only explains each person’s individual temperament but it also tells you how to relate to your spouse and children. Very interesting – and helpful!
Thank you for this! As a mostly choleric young adult, I really appreciate you addressing this, doing an awesome job of understanding personality differences, and recognizing his positives.
I often feel misunderstood by other people, because they take my intensity and tenacity the wrong way sometimes…that I’m being rude or care about things too much. I DO care about things a whole lot, and put my whole self into projects. I don’t “get” peer pressure. I’m usually the one who leads. You helping him channel that energy into something good is going to help him be such an awesome person! I’m thankful for my personality, but it sure has negatively affected relationships before. People just do not get it sometimes, but I’m trying to be more understanding of other people too – that they just don’t see life the same way. You’re doing a great job!
Yes! I have been told sooooo many times to relax, or to calm down, or that it isn’t as serious all that, or various similar things. I generally am left wondering why they think I’m so worked up, because I certainly don’t feel that way.. I’d be yelling if I was! Anyway, yes, personality differences apparently. Just seconding your experiences..
I love hearing about being a choleric child from young adults with so much wisdom and insight! It helps me empathize with and have a greater understanding of my choleric 9 year old son. And gives me so much hope and reassurance that he will be just fine:) Thank you Laura!
Mary Tagge says
God bless you for working to discover your child’s needs and nature! We benefitted from Dr. Sears’ books immensely also. Allergies were some of our child’s issues, and it made huge difference when those were addressed. Our child continues to be loving, loyal, and highly successful as an adult. We are blessed!
Rachel R. says
I was that choleric kid. 😉 I have one now, too, and I’m just thankful he’s a boy. (The world doesn’t know what to do with choleric girls. 🙁 I’m still not sure how to really prepare a choleric girl for the world.)
Some moms are asking about other personality types. There’s another book I’d recommend, but with a caveat. The author is NOT a Christian — in fact, she has other books/resources where she gets into some pretty weird spiritual stuff. But if you’re just mindful that the worldview is different, I still found this book to be one of the most practically helpful child training books I’ve ever read. The Child Whisperer talks about four “energy types” which are basically equivalent to the four basic personality types. (“Energy” here is not a weird, “woo-woo” kind of thing. It’s more about the energetic *movement* of a person, whether still and calm, slow and steady, upbeat and “bouncy,” or forward and “pushing.”) It does a really excellent job of pointing out some *patterns* that show up in certain types that I would never have recognized on my own as simply innate to that particular personality and might have been less understanding of.
It’s thanks to that book I was able to recognize that my youngest daughter was actually not being stubborn and strong-willed when she refused to let us put her shoes on; she was just too slow to figure out how to express to us that something was wrong (not her shoes, the socks were upside down and needed to be fixed, etc.). She didn’t need discipline; she needed us to back up a moment and give her the space to figure out how to give us the necessary information. I would otherwise have, honestly, just disciplined her and not been able to figure out why it didn’t “work.”
Thank you for this post. This is my first born too. he is 9 now. I feel like most times we have more negative experiences than positive also. His first five years were so hard. I will look into this book. A friend with older children reminds me that his personality traits will make him into a wonderful adult someday. I hope so!
This is SUCH an important subject, and one that people dont really talk about. What happens when you and your child have personalities that clash? My oldest and I are like that as well, and its hard when its your FIRST child because you start to second guess your abilities as a mother.
She’s definitely sanguine and I think I may be Melancholic, and our issue is that we are usually at total odds— I want to quietly concentrate on something, and she wants to loudly bounce from thing to thing. It’s like….Julian of Norwich living with The Singing Bush from The THree Amigos, lol!
I read a book called The Child Whisperer that merges personality type of child and parent to see what your parenting style is and how it combines with your child’s personality type. I found it really helpful.
I’d be curious to hear how moms of a large number of kids deal with the differing personality types. I’ve only got 2, and I can tell the little one is more like me, he’s just easier. But I know as the adult, its my job to make sure we all get along.
I have always been called the ugly word for strong-willed (stubborn) and after having one tough-minded little girl and two straight up strong-willed boys I have found what was usually marked as my own character flaws to be a great blessing to my parenting. My own strong-willed nature has kept me from giving up when dealing with them–and having to tame my own strong-willed nature has given me great insights to their struggles. The book “Superparenting Your ADD Child” (because we have that diagnosis here as well, but we’re dealing with it naturally not medicinally) gave me HUGE insights as well. I started crying as I read the first chapter because it talked about how ADD behaviors can create chaos in the home and damage relationships and that as parents we have to really prioritize things so that we are putting our relationship with our children FIRST and all other markers of “success” second. We have to learn to see (and seek out!) the positives instead of negatives of their personalities and lead with love.
I loooove the four temperaments! I’m a junkie! Hehe.
I need to read that book. My three are so different from each other … but I think one of the twins is a choleric. I often find myself at a loss with him.
I have not heard of the four temperaments (except in reference to medieval history), but I am intrigued. I definitely have a harder time with our son, oldest. We have a very strong-willed middle child, but I feel like I have a handle on her, and my husband even more. Our youngest is very sensitive and cuddly–she has her own challenges, but again, we usually have a good idea of what will work. I’m not sure what temperament my son would fall under (except almost certainly NOT choleric–he’s not super strong-willed, unless he gets very angry), but I’m going to check into the book I’ve seen mentioned several times. Thanks for this post, though–it’s very encouraging.
This is something I struggle with all the time. My 4 year old is very strong willed and I have a hard time seeing his side of things. I am definitely adding this book to my amazon wish list.
It is always so efreshing to hear others have the same struggles. But even better to know there is a way to get through it.
Thank you! I’m nearly 9-1/2 years into this gig called parenting. My oldest is choleric. I personally don’t have an ounce of choleric in my bones (melancholy INFJ) so my oldest and I constantly misunderstand each other. But it’s so much better than toddlerhood! I truly see her personality as a gift (but I didn’t when she was little). Anyway, thank you again for the book recommendation–just purchased the kindle edition.
Yes! My oldest (5.5) may not be “as” choleric as Benjamin, but as soon as I read The Temperament God Gave Your Child I had him pegged. I’m melancholic so basically we are fighting nonstop. I loved the tips and advice in that book but once I was done reading it I promptly forgot most of it. I’m definitely checking out the book you recommended. Most nights my phlegmatic husband and I fall into bed and have the same “I don’t know what to do with that kid” discussion. Hopefully that boom can give us some direction! Thank you!
Thanks for this post! I have had problems dealing with my oldest since he turned 2 (he will be 4 soon) and after reading your post I started thinking about his temperament and I realized he is so much like me! And totally Choleric. My second child is much more laid back but difficult in his own way. I will be looking into this some more and hopefully will be able to deal with them both better before things get worse.
Sounds like an ESTJ in Myers Briggs and Jungian typology!! I’m really interested in this four temperaments book!
Emily L. Pittsford says
I soooo understand. I also learned this, but not until I saw that blood types help to determine personalities. Our daughter is an O. And they are warriors. We are As. We’re tenacious but not in need of control. Now we know to not back her in a corner, give her choices and everyone gets along. 🙂 and she is 35!
Jennifer Morgan says
Thank you for this post and the book recommendation. I’m just finishing The Temperament God Gave Your Kids and I’ve found it very insightful but not specific enough. My first-born son is very choleric/some sanguine and we fight a lot. It’s gotten so bad that I breathe a sign of relief when I drop him off at school.
This summer (2 weeks after my #4 is due) we will be moving from DC to LA (hubby is active duty Coast Guard) and it’s looking as though homeschool will be the best option for him. I feel God has been calling me to homeschool him but I am SO scared because of our polar opposite temperaments. Many thanks for this post and book recommendation!!!!
Please pray for us!!
Thanks so much for this! I completely relate to your situation! I have a string no willed, choleric, perfectionist son and saw those traits when he was just a baby. Even then he was so demanding, and he didn’t cry… he screamed! He’s fearless, determined, enthusiastic, stubborn, adventurous, and decisive. He’s high energy and not felxible. I already knew about the four temperaments when he was born so I knew very soon. That has allowed me to not fight who he is but encourage his strengths and try to channel his weaknesses. It’s not easy though. I’ve always thought he’s my difficult child. My older daughter is just the opposite—phlegmatic sanguine! And I guess there aren’t many kids like him because I have yet to find any! I always feel like the struggling parent whose kid is out of control, but he’s not out of control—he just knows what he wants and persists. The hard part is knowing when to let him persist or when to make him (with all my strength!) do what I say. I have to be very firm and hold my ground sometimes. I’m phlegmatic, so it’s a challenge! It’s relieving to read about someone with the same experience and struggles. I often feel like the odd mom out (or that he’s the odd child). Great to know there are others out there like us. And I have to keep reminding myself that although he’s difficult now, he will do many GREAT things someday. There’s an endless array of energy and potential in him.
Yes! Those strengths will continue emerging as he matures. It’s just hard to be a young child with a highly choleric personality because you’re not in control of much of anything and that’s SO frustrating to you! Hang in there.