SummarySeton’s philosophy, “Adjust the program to fit the child, not the child to fit the program” is borne out in Laraine and Art Bennett’s book on temperaments.
You’re a laid-back mom, a woman who takes life in stride, a good listener, an easy-going soul rarely ruffled by the hurly-burly of your children, the household duties, a change in plans.
Your husband is much like you, a patient man whose motto might be “Keep calm and carry on,” good-natured, a guy who rarely raises his voice to the children and never to you. He doesn’t grumble about changing the toddler in the middle of the night and watches the kids while you take that Sunday afternoon nap.
Two peace-loving, contented souls!
And then there’s your oldest child, eleven-year-old Angelica. She takes charge of her siblings like a Marine Corps drill sergeant. She’s competitive in games with her friends, questions everything, and could argue a Supreme Court justice into submission.
“Angelica?” you sometimes think. “Boy, did we pick the wrong name.”
After some of the pitched battles with Angelica—she wants to watch another half an hour of television when you’ve reminded her for the fourth time that it’s bath-time, she tells her brother’s friend she’s going to sock him in the kisser if he takes that extra cookie, she argues with you about the time you start your school day—you and your husband look at each other and wonder: “Where did this kid come from?”
Or maybe yours is the opposite situation. You are a homeschool mom who lives by a schedule, pushing your children to excel in school, the arts, and sports, just as you did at their age. You fill their free time with activities—dance, soccer, gymnastics for Chloe and Peter, piano for Robert—and they thrive, meeting these challenges and excelling.
Except for Jake. Eight-year-old Jake is a dreamer, the son you have to badger every day to do his schoolwork, the soccer player who just last week was watching a butterfly while a girl dribbled the ball past him and scored a goal. Jake amuses himself at home for hours, building forts out of blocks, manning them with toy soldiers, or just lounging in the hammock and gazing at the clouds.
“Don’t dawdle,” you tell him as you load everyone into the car, meanwhile thinking: “Where did this kid come from?”
In The Temperament God Gave Your Kids: Motivate, Discipline, and Love Your Children (Our Sunday Visitor, 2012, 187 pages), Laraine and Art Bennett take readers on a tour of the four temperaments: choleric, melancholic, sanguine, and phlegmatic. Conceived by the ancient Greeks as categories for explaining human personality types, this idea of temperaments, as the Bennetts show us, has enjoyed a comeback among some contemporary psychologists.
In an insert, “The Four Temperaments in a Nutshell,” the Bennetts give us this scenario as a handy explanation:
You are at church when one of your children fails to genuflect.
- Punches him (Choleric);
- Tattles to Mom (Melancholic);
- Explains and demonstrates how he would do it (Sanguine);
- Ignores it (Phlegmatic).
Laraine and Art Bennett contend that once we recognize the temperaments of our children as well as our own, we can use that knowledge to help our young people grow intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually. With that deeper understanding, parents can “build on their children’s natural strengths.”
The Bennetts agree with management theorist Peter Drucker, who wrote that “a person can perform only from strength. One cannot build performance on weaknesses…”
The Bennetts then take a long look at each of the four temperaments, showing parents how to nurture the strength found in a particular temperament, and how to blunt or counter its weaknesses.
Through a blend of classical wisdom, anecdotes, humor, and Catholic spiritual practices, the Bennetts teaches us how to evaluate our children and ourselves.
In the chapter “Parent-Child Temperamental Interaction,” the authors go through all the combinations of the temperaments, such as a sanguine parent helping a melancholic child. In the section on Melancholic Parent/Melancholic Child, for example, they describe a melancholic dad who had high expectations and strict rules for his children. Deeply stressed, his melancholic son fell into depression and had to be hospitalized.
“What was needed was a little more one-on-one time, relaxed conversations after dinner, some fun activities together, dinners out, and so forth. These would have helped create an atmosphere in which the child could feel comfortable revealing his deepest fears and anxieties.”
Does familiarity with temperaments help us to better understand our children?
As I was reading The Temperament God Gave Your Kids, my grandchildren kept coming to mind. All of them fit one of the temperaments—some are a blend of two—and recognition of those temperaments gave me greater insight into their strengths and weaknesses, and how I might encourage them.
Here at Seton, Dr. Mary Kay Clark has often said, “Adjust the program to fit the child, not the child to fit the program.”
A deeper acquaintance with our children’s temperaments helps us to do just that.
A Closer Look at the Temperaments
Here, the Bennetts tells us, is a child who is “strong-willed, determined, a quick learner, and a natural leader.” Cholerics are always ready to voice their opinions or debate a point and are persistent in reaching a goal. They also can be “impatient, stubborn, interruptive, quick-tempered, and occasionally lacking in empathy.”
Melancholics tend toward seriousness, reflection, and solitude. They need time to think through situations and are frequently shy and sensitive. “The weaknesses of this temperament are that he or she can be moody and withdrawn, overly self-conscious, and perfectionist.”
Here are children who love socializing, bringing sunshine and laughter wherever they go. Sanguines are the opposite of melancholics: extroverted, noisy, easily distracted, and often messy. Their weaknesses are a tendency toward superficiality: skimming through school assignments, attracted to social media, unable to stay motivated through a difficult chore or a long school assignment.
“Count your blessings for a phlegmatic child! He is a joy—so peaceful, quiet, cooperative, and obedient that you will be forever spoiled.” As the Bennetts point out, however, the flip side is that phlegmatics often become followers, willing to go along to get along, people pleasers who may lack initiative or the ability to stick up for themselves.