SummaryTreasure your easy-going phlegmatic child, encourage them and guide them to engage life and you will give the world a calm, collected, and wise human being.
During a recent supper with my daughter and her family, I raised this question: “Who is the wisest person you’ve ever met?”
For a long moment, that question stumped everyone. My son-in-law mulled over some teachers from high school and college. One of the twins pointed to me and said, “You are, Grandpa.” which made me smile. (I need to make sure she gets a bonus gift
Then 10-year-old William quietly said, “I am.”
Laughter followed that response, in part because of his answer but also because of William’s personality. He is the reserved member of this boisterous crew of seven children, the boy who rarely engages in emotional drama, who speaks less than the others but who asks questions at times that do indeed seem wise beyond his years.
If William took the test to see which of the four temperaments best fits his personality—sanguine, melancholic, choleric, and phlegmatic—I’d bet the bank he would qualify as the last on that list.
Going with the Flow
The Ancient Greeks ascribed the quality of water to phlegmatic personalities. Like water, phlegmatics go with the flow, and as water fits a container, they adapt to various situations more easily than others do.
In The Temperament God Gave Your Kids: Motivate, Discipline, and Love Your Children, Art and Laraine Bennett tell us that phlegmatics tend to be placid, “averse to conflict, especially interpersonal conflict,” often have trouble making decisions, and are usually reserved in their communications.
As the Bennetts point out, all these qualities can be strengths. Whether in a marriage or in a board room, phlegmatic men and women are often those who seek reconciliation during a conflict, diplomats who bring peace and harmony to disagreements or negotiations. They weigh possibilities before making decisions, and their inner sense of calm and equanimity can make them invaluable during times of stress and chaos.
“The phlegmatic,” write the Bennetts, “is the classic ‘easy’ baby. He sleeps well, rarely cries, and doesn’t make a fuss over his food. In a large and busy household, the phlegmatic baby is a true gift.”
As phlegmatics enter adolescence, they frequently strive to end arguments among their siblings, play well with other children, and take pleasure in a calm household. As the Bennetts tell us, “The peace-loving phlegmatic would rather sacrifice his own desires, agree to unreasonable demands—even take unjust punishments—to keep the peace.”
Though I knew little about the temperaments when my children were small, I realize now that my oldest son fits this personality type. As a boy, he was obedient, faced adversity calmly, and liked routine and order.
Those qualities have stood him in good stead as an adult. He is a successful attorney, bringing to his work a sense of objectivity and a quiet demeanor that are invaluable in and out of the courtroom. When he is at home, he is a rock for his wife and a devoted dad to his seven children, six of whom are adopted. Like his sister’s home, the house often resounds with laughter, shouts, and tears, but amid the chaos, my son remains unperturbed.
Guiding Your Phlegmatic Child
Like children with the other personality types, phlegmatics need parental guidance to avoid the possible pitfalls that come with this temperament. As “people pleasers,” phlegmatic children may grow into adults who, in their wish to get along with others and to see others do the same, may give in to others with negative consequences. When they hesitate to question a decision or to take a stand on an issue, they can bring harm to themselves and to others.
Because they are docile in a classroom, dutifully doing as the teacher asks and answering questions only when called upon, phlegmatic students are also in danger of being overlooked or ignored. The Temperament God Gave Your Kids warns us that phlegmatics then fulfill that expectation by “becoming apathetic, dull, and slothful…Because they are not naturally confident like cholerics, nor gunning for attention like sanguines, they can underestimate themselves and unwittingly set themselves up to be ignored by teachers and other adults. If they are not encouraged—with much loving praise—they might never find their own talents, strengths, and interests.”
Keep the Criticism Sweet
The Bennetts also warn that “nagging, lecturing, and yelling will cause the sensitive phlegmatic to withdraw in discouragement.” These young people need encouragement, praise, gentle criticism when criticism is due, and reminders of past successes.
When my attorney son, who was homeschooled like his other siblings, joined our local Little League baseball team at the age of ten, the coach never let him swing a bat at the ball during the games. Always, he told Jake to try to get a walk. When an extra game was added to the schedule at the end of the season, Jake was so discouraged, he refused to play. I took him on the morning of the game to a batting box at the American Legion field and threw pitches to him that he soon consistently hit. “If you decide to play today,” I said as we walked home, “no matter what the coach says, you swing at that ball.”
The kid played and hit a double on the first pitch, and I was the proudest parent in Haywood County that day.
The Bennetts call the phlegmatic “the underestimated temperament,” meaning that others may fail to see certain talents in this placid, quiet child, particularly in regard to potential leadership skills. This attitude is wrongheaded, but again, without guidance and encouragement, the phlegmatic may miss out on developing these skills. The Bennetts write that phlegmatics actually make excellent leaders with “their ability to work well with everyone…their willingness to work hard, their level-headedness under pressure, and their dedicated service to others.”
Particularly valuable is “their natural humility: the ability to ask for help and to seek guidance is a key quality in leaders.” In short, the phlegmatic personality makes it ideal for the role of “servant leader.”
Treasure your easy-going children, guide them to engage life and responsibility, and you will bestow on the world a fine gift: a cool, calm, collected, and wise human being.
Temperament as a Homeschool Mom/Teacher
My melancholic temperament is a major benefit to our family in our homeschool journey. Some of the qualities of my temperament are my loyalty, persistence, calmness, patience, and ability to plan and organize.
When we first decided to homeschool, our oldest was barely three years old. I chose Seton after a couple of years of research, speaking with a few veteran homeschool moms, and the support of my husband.
Of course, we did not start Seton until he was ready for Kindergarten, but we have been loyal to Seton since the beginning, and this year we have our first Seton high schooler! I am a very persistent person and, even on difficult days, I’m grateful that God has called us to homeschool our children. As a homeschool mom, the calm and patient aspects of my temperament help get us all through the day and complete Seton’s quarters in a timely manner.
Being patient also comes in handy when a child needs extra help with a particular subject, activity, or motivation to complete a chore. I believe the most important trait of my temperament that helps in homeschooling is my ability to organize and plan.
Planning the day (block scheduling works best for us) and keeping everything and everyone organized (including violin lessons, choir practice, adoration hours, and Junior Legion of Mary meetings) is essential to running a successful homeschool. Our youngest starts
Kindergarten this year with Seton, and I am looking forward to many more years with Seton!
Maranda McElwee, Eunice, Lousiana