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Is it possible to change a child’s temperament?
Q: Is it possible to change a child's personality—or how she reacts to things? My 8-year-old daughter has always been an "over-reacter." A small hangnail brings screams and tears! Everything is a major ordeal with her and it is very disruptive to the family (we have four children in all). Her outbursts at the dinner table are the most bothersome—if her older sister stares at her, she screams and whines.

We are also helping her work through a related issue: she has a lot of friends, but she has shared with me a few instances where her "baby behaviour" has caused friends to leave her by the wayside. I thought these instances would be a great learning experience, but her extreme reacting behaviour continues at home. She's either extremely happy or extremely upset.
A: We can’t totally change the “personality” we come into this world with (or acquire very soon thereafter). The word most professionals use for it is “temperament.” Some babies seem to be unusually responsive, startling easily to any sound or sudden movement. Others, experiencing the same type and level of stimulation, are almost lethargic. Still others are in-between. Other characteristics shown to vary in this way are activity level, tolerance of discomfort (hunger, cold, wetness), and response to parental efforts to soothe and comfort.

At home, I would deal with it pretty much the way her friends do—I would isolate her (even from the dinner table) whenever any “over-reaction” occurs that you don’t consider legitimate. (A factor you can’t ignore here is that her brothers and sisters know exactly what will set her off and probably delight in pushing her button.) “You’re not going to ruin dinner for the rest of us tonight. You can just stay in your room until we’ve finished and then come out and eat by yourself.” Likewise, if you spot one of the other kids subtly trying to get her riled up, give the same treatment to him or her. Your daughter has shown some adaptability by managing not to ostracize herself from her friends, so I think she’ll catch on if the same rules apply at home.