When it comes to raising well-behaved children, one size does not fit all. A simple "no" might be enough to get your rule-abiding, people-pleasing son to lift his hand out of the cookie jar. But if your strong-willed daughter enjoys pushing boundaries, then you are going to need a different approach.
Tailoring your discipline to your child's personality does more than encourage good behavior. It actually teaches your child enough self discipline that he or she can manage their own independence. The ultimate goal is to work yourself out of a job. And that can only be achieved if you work with, and not against, you child's personality.
Who is your child?
Typing a young child is incredibly difficult since their moods and preferences turn on a dime. Most experts agree that personality tests designed for adults such as those based on the Myers-Briggs personality theory are ineffective when it comes to profiling children. Certain traits may be evident to you from the moment they are born, but the tests are simply not designed to accommodate the various stages of your child's development.
That said, by kindergarten your child should be revealing certain personality traits that show exactly where they stand on three temperament scales: easygoing/deliberate; moody/placid; and outgoing/slow to warm-up.
Reflecting on where your child sits on these scales will provide you with valuable knowledge into how your child feels, thinks and acts. This awareness will help you become more intentional with your discipline strategy when addressing problems such as temper tantrums or disruptive behavior at school.
The Easygoing Child
Children who are considered to be "easygoing" generally are happy-go-lucky with a positive outlook on life. They adapt easily to new routines and are not upset by new experiences. However, he or she may have a short attention span and lose interest in a task before it is completed.
How to respond to poor behavior: Easygoing or flexible children typically respond well to a variety of discipline strategies. A combination of negative and reward-based consequences may be effective in helping them manage behavioral issues. You might even give them options since an easygoing child may get frustrated when they have their choices taken away from them.
The important thing is to act quickly and nip potential problems in the bud. Easygoing children move from activity to activity quickly and may not remember why they are receiving a consequence if the offending behavior happened several hours ago. If your child cannot connect the consequence to the misdemeanor, then your discipline will have no effect.
The Deliberate Child
Unlike his easygoing cousin, the deliberate child enjoys clear and predictable routines and may become agitated if you don't let him eat, sleep, work and play at roughly the same times each day. Your child may have a good attention span and be able to work on a task for a long time until it is finished.
How to respond to poor behavior: The key is to set clear and consistent boundaries appropriate to the child's age and development level and be very clear about the consequences for poor behavior. If your consequences are vague, or you don't follow through with one , then your child will feel ungrounded. Never make a consequence you cannot keep or nothing you say or do to your deliberate child will matter.
The Moody Child
The moody or difficult child may exhibit dramatic reactions (for example, tantrums or aggressive outbursts) to situations they dislike, and their mood may shift often depending on whatever is going on around them. He or she may also be sensitive to loud noises and distractions.
How to respond to poor behavior: This child needs to feel in control of their environment so listen to your child's ideas, respect their feelings and offer practical solutions for correcting poor behavior. For example, if your moody child is refusing to brush her teeth because the toothpaste tastes horrible, offer to buy a different brand.
The moody child is also going to feel manipulated if you set an arbitrary consequence that has no connection to the original "crime." What has watching TV got to do with eating vegetables? The best solution is to let the child experience the natural consequences of his own poor behavior. For example, if your child is refusing to eat dinner, then the natural consequence is that he goes to bed hungry. This type of consequence is certainly difficult for a protective parent to administer, but it definitely reinforces the message for a moody child.
The Placid Child
The placid child lives to please and will generally be rule abiding and conscientious if she can see that this behavior makes others happy. Because of her easy-going nature, you might have less need to set limits. When poor behavior does occur it may take you by surprise, and there is a risk that you will overreact to your child's occasional rebellion since it seems so out of character.
How to respond to poor behavior: The placid child is trusting and will consider parental opinion very carefully. In fact, she may respond to the consequences you set in order to make you happy rather than choosing the appropriate behavior herself. It's therefore crucial that you use the tools of openness, trust and discussion when responding to poor behavior and avoid authoritarian discipline. Allow the child to take charge and own her decision. That way, you can guide the child to think for herself and take responsibility for her actions rather than being guided by what others expect of her.
The Impulsive Child
The impulsive child is the one who acts without thinking and has trouble deciding whether something is, or isn't, a good idea. When she gets into trouble, it's usually because she's done something impulsive - say, blurted out something inappropriate or climbed up on something she shouldn't.
How to respond to poor behavior: An impulsive child may respond best to ignoring, time out or loss of a privilege. If she's verbal enough, explain what she did wrong and ask her to think about how she could do better next time. But take care not to stifle that fun-loving personality. Instead, give your child fair warning when serious behavior is expected, for example, at a family wedding, and build in time for fun stuff later as an incentive to behave properly in the meantime. For impulsive kids, prevention often is the best discipline.
The Slow-to-warm-up Child
A slow-to-warm-up child is cautious of new situations and people and may be uncomfortable with changes like a new babysitter. They need plenty of time to observe from the sidelines until they feel comfortable enough to join in.
How to handle poor behavior: Shy children misbehave as much as the rambunctious ones, but they are often difficult to discipline. There's a tendency for parents to shield these children from harsh criticism since their self-esteem could crumple at a discouraging word. A time out isn't the way to go either as time away from a difficult situation could actually be a relief.
Instead, talk to your child about what happened and why their behavior was unacceptable. Show your child that she can't do that and give her suggestions for how she might handle the situation in the future. Praise may be effective since it often motivates the slow-to-warm-up child to try new activities faster. They may also respond well to a reward system that provides further motivation to step outside their comfort zone.
No matter what sort of temperament your child has, a consistent approach is likely to be the most effective. Behavior choices are rarely black and white, so the idea is to provide a safe and structured environment within which your child can understand the consequences of their own actions. In this way, your child will learn to manage themselves while experiencing the freedom to become the person they are meant to be.