SummaryUnderstanding your children’s temperaments, sanguine, phlegmatic, choleric, and melancholic, can help make sense of how we relate and grow closer as family.
You’ re a Seton homeschooling mother of five: Andrew, 12; Mary, 10; William, 8; Annie, 6; Grace, 4. “My precious steppingstones,” you often think to yourself when you’re seated with the children and your husband for supper.
And like you, Andrew, William, Annie, and little Grace are lively, optimistic about life in general, energetic, and goal-oriented. All of you love the swirl of a good party, the adventure of travel, meeting friends at the swimming pool. All of you look forward to the school day, even Grace, as school for her means being entertained for a while by Andrew, acting out fairy tales and making up stories.
Then There’s Mary.
Unlike the rest of you, Mary is calm, loves order—the room she shares with Annie is a contrast between mess on one side and a spic-and-span Spartan tidiness on the other—and has an eye for detail.
When you can’t find the car keys, it’s Mary who knows where they are. While the rest of you are frantically dressing for Mass—“Where are my shoes?” “I can’t find my blue coat!”—Mary sits demurely in the den near the front door, every hair in place, coat buttoned, teeth brushed.
During school time, Andrew and William are always looking for their pens or notebooks, chattering away when permitted and frequently needing a reminder to finish their math lesson or their grammar.
Not Mary. After you give her the assignments for the day, she methodically completes each one, checking and rechecking her answers, taking care with the cursive handwriting assignment, and carefully putting away each book before drawing another one from the bin beside her desk.
You worry about Mary. You can see how much she loves her family, yet she’s nothing like her siblings. Is she happy? She says she is. But still, you worry, and finally, you mention your fears to your friend, Claire. “She’s just so different than the other kids,” you say. “And different from me and Bill as well. So much quieter. So self-contained.”
“Maybe you and Mary should try taking a four temperaments test,” Claire says, and then explains that the ancient way of classifying people by their temperaments—sanguine, phlegmatic, choleric, and melancholic—sometimes shed light on why and how even members of a close family can differ dramatically in their personalities.
So you give it a go. You find the test, more about that below, you and the three older children take the test, and you figure out the scores. You, Andrew, William, and Annie all place as predominantly sanguine, while Mary’s personality leans heavily to the melancholic.
You begin investigating the four temperaments online and discover that though all of us are a mix of these temperaments, usually we favor one more than the others. You learn that unlike her siblings, Mary craves order and regularity, prefers being at home with her family as opposed to socializing in large groups of people, and likes to plan in advance rather than suddenly and spontaneously heading off to the park or the pool.
Not only are you reassured by these discoveries, but you also use the information to help your daughter. You ask her if she’d sometimes like a quieter study space and allow her to do some of the subjects at the kitchen table while the rest of you are in the schoolroom. You try to inform her ahead of time when you’re planning a trip to the grocery store or the library.
While the rest of the crew and their friends are in rowdy mode in the back yard, you no longer worry that Mary and her best friend Maggie are inside drawing and painting. You learned, too, that to draw Mary out of her shell, you must gently encourage her in making new friendships and looking at life as an adventure.
In addition, you learned more about the personalities of your other children—and yourself. Perhaps in your research, you came across Art and Laraine Bennett’s The Temperament God Gave Your Kids: Motivate, Discipline, and Love Your Children and discovered the challenge for the sanguine parent of sanguine kids “will be to provide structure and to set limits.” You look at your own life and realize that sometimes your spontaneity—those visits to a friend’s house, those days when instead of studying science you decide to take a walk around the neighborhood with the children—can eat into your schedule.
Now let’s hear from a real Seton mom who took the four temperaments test and used the results in her home:
Insight From a Seton Mom
Being a sanguine personality has its ups and downs. I spent 10 years as a classroom teacher, having to be the spotlight and center of attention for large groups of students. Going from there to becoming a stay-at-home, homeschooling mom was quite a change. However, I’m now truly the center of attention for just one student, all the time. I’m ‘on’ pretty much 24 hours a day because I focus on her learning. She is very similar to me and yet we have distinct differences. Just enough of the same that we do sometimes clash during school hours.
Having just one student allows me to focus on each step we take. Being a very emotional person, though, can also lead us to some truly dramatic moments during a school day. The downside to that comes when we hit those moments when she refuses to understand something, even though she does and just doesn’t want to attempt it, and then my emotions take over. Once we get past that time it is very easy for both of us to forgive each other for our outbursts and move on to the happier place we prefer to live. I’m thankful that I have my daughter to help me realize that I need to be more balanced. Seton Mom – Susan S.
Highly recommended: In The Temperament God Gave Your Kids: Motivate, Discipline, and Love Your Children (Our Sunday Visitor, 2012, 187 pages), Art and Laraine Bennett “provide an accessible synthesis of classical wisdom, modern counseling, science, Catholic spirituality, and wonderful storytelling to the four basic temperaments that serve as the foundation of one’s personality and approach to life.”
At the end of their book is a “Temperament Test For Kids.” The Bennetts also have an online quiz where you can discover your own temperament.