Speaking on Special Needs & Temperament

Special needs, diverse abilities, individual differences. Over the years I have learned quite a bit about these words. What I have come to believe is this: all of us to some extent have special needs. As human beings, we all ‘need’ different things to help us learn, grow, and engage with the world. Some of us encounter more obstacles than others. Ultimately, those who care for us, guide us, and love us come to understand what our individual needs are.

When it comes to understanding temperament alongside diagnosed special needs and diverse abilities, we can utilize similar parenting tools. Temperament tools are ‘universal,’ Meaning they can be utilized for all children, regardless of ability.

When we give a five-minute warning to the child that is slow-to-adapt in transitions, it doesn’t matter what their ability is. All children can benefit from a ‘heads up’ about a transition. If we pack a bag of extra snacks for the child that has an irregular biological clock, we can do the same for a child with a diagnosed medical need. Similar parenting tools for all different kinds of individual needs.

As the parent of a child with diverse abilities, knowing that there are parenting tools I can tap into ‘just like everyone else’ made me feel that for that moment in time, my daughter and I could utilize the same ‘parenting book’ as others. Utilizing the tools specific to a child’s temperament, helped me recognize that ALL children have individual needs. When caregivers recognize the benefit of understanding individual temperament and how to engage specific temperament tools to guide children’s behavior (regardless of ability), both adults and children can be impacted positively.

Lori Korthals, M.S.

Mother of three. Lover of all things child development related. Fascinated by temperament and brain development. Professional background with families, child care providers, teachers and community service entities.

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Teen Traits

The teen years can be a whirlwind of changes, emotions, and growth! Not only the physical changes to the teen body, but the pressure that teens may feel from their peers to engage in risk-taking behaviors like smoking, early sexual experimentation, and alcohol or drugs. Teens wanting to “fit in” and who don’t have the refusal skills to use in high-pressure situations may feel very conflicted.

As teens age, they may engage in more social opportunities, and teens are likely influenced by individuals other than their parents. Neighborhood friends, school peers, and sports teammates all can influence how a teen responds in any given situation. Although parents have communicated boundaries, family values, and expectations for behavior, the pressure to belong and be accepted by others can impact the decisions that teens will ultimately make.

Decision-making is such a critical life skill for all, and for the teen whose brain is not fully developed until later adolescence, making the very best decision in any given situation may be impacted by emotions, peer pressure, temperament and so very much more. Parents can do the following things to support their teen as they navigate the teen years:

  • Intentionally listen to your family members
  • Be consistent when dealing with misbehavior
  • Involve family members, when reasonable, in developing rules and consequences for behavior
  • Encourage family members to learn new skills (4-H, Scouts, Youth Group, FFA, etc)
  • Check in with family members to encourage reflection on successes, setbacks and growth
  • Provide an environment in which kids can try new things and challenge themselves safely
  • Help kids set personal goals that align with their values

Additional teen resources for Understanding Emotional Changes; or for Understanding Physical Changes; Resources for teens and their Changes in Thinking.

Barb Dunn Swanson

With two earned degrees from Iowa State University, Barb is a Human Sciences Specialist utilizing her experience working alongside communities to develop strong youth and families! With humor and compassion, she enjoys teaching, listening and learning to learn!

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School-Ager Set Point

The school-age years can be very busy with a flurry of activity for kids and added responsibilities for parents as they try to keep up! Depending on the age and temperament of your child, the school years can be both challenging and exciting, all at the same time.

Consider a school-age child who is curious, energetic, and ready to explore everything offered in and out of school time! For every child like this, we can also find a child who is more cautious, who finds the busyness of school overwhelming, or even overstimulating.

It is a fine dance for teachers, parents, and family members to provide the appropriate amount of stimulation, education, and opportunities all while supporting individual differences of kids.

Routines continue to be a valued asset for school-age kids, who need at least 8 or more hours of sleep, and healthy nutrition coupled with plenty of time for play. Spending time outdoors can provide both opportunities for play and additional exercise. Riding bikes, exploring a nature preserve, or hiking with friends are a few things that school-age children may like to do.

Routines help kids to know what to expect and when to expect them. So, for school-age children, knowing what time the bus arrives to pick them up can help them decide how early to get up and get ready while leaving time to eat some breakfast. For the school-age child who is sleepy in the morning, their routine may look different and that is ok. Perhaps they sleep a few minutes longer and choose to eat breakfast at school.

Knowing and respecting the individual differences of all kids and families can help everyone plan for and enjoy a successful school experience.

Barb Dunn Swanson

With two earned degrees from Iowa State University, Barb is a Human Sciences Specialist utilizing her experience working alongside communities to develop strong youth and families! With humor and compassion, she enjoys teaching, listening and learning to learn!

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Preschooler Predisposition

Making predictions when it comes to kids is part of the job of a parent. Do you predict that today serving grilled cheese sandwiches will be met with glee or disappointment? Do you predict that having to make a quick trip to the store will be met with delight or dread by your preschool child? Depending on the age and stage of your child, your prediction may change. What is acceptable to one child may not be well accepted for another child, even in the same family.

Parents with a child who is three or four years of age will soon experience the preschool years. A time of excitement for some children and a time of worry or anticipation for others. A few factors, including temperament, interaction with other children or siblings, and the network of family support, will all impact how children respond.

Most children in this preschool age range have developed both fine and gross motor skills and enjoy reading and talking with others. Some parents will describe their preschooler as a chatterbox. Social skills are developing, and children often cue parents as to how they are feeling through their behavior. These parents can usually predict how their child may respond to any new situation. You may have seen the preschool child who is so nervous and fearful who may hide behind their parent hoping they can hop back into the car and return home to play and forget the school experience. Then there is the other child who bounds out of the car toward the school door, not waiting for anyone to direct them to the right classroom, only to find a room full of toys and other children just waiting for the class to begin.

Learning to help a distractable child to focus as they navigate the new preschool environment or assisting an intense child who may talk loudly to use an indoor voice will be some of the challenges parents face during the preschool years.

The Centers For Disease Control has a great child development resource parents may find very helpful! In addition, The Science of Parenting team is exploring the relationship between child temperament and growth and development milestones in this season of the podcast. Be sure to check out the preschool resources available at Iowa State University Extension and Outreach.

Barb Dunn Swanson

With two earned degrees from Iowa State University, Barb is a Human Sciences Specialist utilizing her experience working alongside communities to develop strong youth and families! With humor and compassion, she enjoys teaching, listening and learning to learn!

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Toddler Tendencies

The toddler years are a time of learning and growth! As these children become more mobile, parents may be on high alert to protect and provide safety for these newfound movers! Each new skill learned is a proud moment for parents as they may be following the “Ages and Stages” milestone charts for assurance that their child is developing on schedule.

Each child, however, will develop at their own pace and will learn new skills in their own time. The guidelines are a helpful reference. Every day is an opportunity to help a child learn language through talking and reading to your child. Reading can happen anywhere and doesn’t just have to be at bedtime. Large and fine motor skills are developing and opportunities to enjoy outdoor play take on even greater importance!  

How much your toddler engages in play, learning, and talking can also be impacted by their individual temperament! Children who are sensitive may need individuals who communicate with a soft voice. Children who notice everything happening around them may need to have fewer play choices so that they can experience success.

Do you have a toddler who reacts to situations with intensity? This too is a temperament trait and learning to help your child navigate intensity can help you both reduce the stress and anxiety that intense emotions can raise. A toddler who is slower to engage in play with others may need the helpful encouragement of another adult or teacher.

The Science of Parenting team is exploring the relationship between child temperament and growth and development milestones in this season of the podcast. Be sure to check out the toddler resources available at Iowa State University Extension and Outreach.

From the podcast:

A full chart of temperament as it pertains to a toddler, as discussed in the podcast.

Barb Dunn Swanson

With two earned degrees from Iowa State University, Barb is a Human Sciences Specialist utilizing her experience working alongside communities to develop strong youth and families! With humor and compassion, she enjoys teaching, listening and learning to learn!

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Infant Inclinations

A new baby joins the family and immediately parents look for cues from the infant to begin the communication process. The temperament and disposition of the new infant is foundational to who this child will become, and parents soon recognize the unique way this child begins to communicate.

Each of us is gifted from birth with a set of temperament traits that are expressed as we grow and develop and live day to day! The mood we have, our adaptability to situations, or our regularity! Everyone has a different combination of traits that create a unique being and as parents learning the fine dance of how these temperament traits can look different for each child is a task. 

In a family with several children, one may be an early riser, full of energy and ready to go all the time, while another child is a little slower to engage and takes more time to participate. Having a set of strategies to help one child slow down, while having a different strategy to encourage another to engage is helpful. Be sure to review the season three podcast featuring sleep and infants. In addition, explore the blog by author Mary Sheedy Kurcinka for additional support.

The Science of Parenting team is exploring the relationship between child temperament and growth and development milestones in this season of the podcast. Be sure to listen as Mackenzie and Lori explore the temperament traits and how they are expressed depending on a child’s age or stage of development! 

From the podcast:

A full chart of the nine temperament traits in an infant, as described in the podcast.
A chart capturing the green, yellow, and red zones as described in the podcast.

Barb Dunn Swanson

With two earned degrees from Iowa State University, Barb is a Human Sciences Specialist utilizing her experience working alongside communities to develop strong youth and families! With humor and compassion, she enjoys teaching, listening and learning to learn!

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What is Temperament?

Parenting practices rarely are one size fits all. In fact, most parents will admit that because each child is unique, their approach to child guidance and support is also individualized. The good news is that parents can find a variety of resources to help in answering questions about temperament, child growth and development, child health, and more.

The Science of Parenting is one resource with several ways to connect including a podcast, blog, social media, and educational trainings! Often parents will find helpful information related to child nutrition, vaccinations, or well-child visits at a local health department. Iowa State University Extension and Outreach has an excellent resource for families entitled Spend Smart Eat Smart, designed to assist families plan, shop and cook recipes at home.

Parents can also learn about what their children might need through interaction, observation, and conversation with their children. Infants express their needs through facial expressions, emotions, and gestures! Preschoolers are now adding talk and questions to the ways they can communicate with parents and others. School-agers and teens are often ready to enjoy more independence and parents often still provide limits and boundaries designed to protect kids while still allowing room for more freedom. Every age brings opportunities for parents to encourage development while providing safety and protection too.

This season on The Science of Parenting, co-hosts Mackenzie Johnson and Lori Korthals will explore two topics: Developmental Milestones and Temperament and will discuss how together, these two topics influence how parents can effectively support, communicate, and celebrate the whole family!

From the podcast:

Barb Dunn Swanson

With two earned degrees from Iowa State University, Barb is a Human Sciences Specialist utilizing her experience working alongside communities to develop strong youth and families! With humor and compassion, she enjoys teaching, listening and learning to learn!

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Going Bold

Have you ever looked at your child and said, “Oh my, this child of mine has a lot of energy”? Or have you ever thought, “Wow, my child is very emotional.”

Some may call this a spirited child. Others may label a child difficult, feisty, or even strong willed.

Having an awareness of a child’s natural temperament can prevent us from labeling them in ways that diminish our appreciation of them! When a child’s behavior is challenging, we start to evaluate a number of outside influences to answer any questions we have about the type of behavior we observe. We look at the environment. Maybe we look at the time of day. Perhaps there’s a situation the child is navigating.

How can we celebrate the child who exhibits more tenacity or feistiness? Perhaps we consider the child with focus, tenacity, and feistiness will stay at a project and finish. Maybe that same child will be able to withstand other distractions, when others may have lost focus or given up.

Appreciating the temperament of each child will help us observe and adjust our expectations in ways that can assist our children be successful in their growth and development.

Mary Sheedy Kurcinka is featured as our guest in this episode discussing that spirited child.

Barb Dunn Swanson

With two earned degrees from Iowa State University, Barb is a Human Sciences Specialist utilizing her experience working alongside communities to develop strong youth and families! With humor and compassion, she enjoys teaching, listening and learning to learn!

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About Those “Easy” Kids

Researchers Thomas and Chess have provided so much information to help parents learn more about how a child’s temperament impacts their behaviors and how they experience the world. We understand that we cannot change temperament, that it will always be an integral piece of who we are, and what we can change is our approach to others.

As we have seen, the nine temperament traits fall into patterns, and we notice that a large majority of children’s temperament may fall into the ‘flexible’ pattern. This pattern may include temperament traits such as easy to soothe, less active, and intense as well as less demanding in general. While this pattern may not cause many parent/child power struggles, it is still important for us to teach this child to raise their voice.

As a flexible child, they may go with the flow and easily agree to others’ ideas. We need to help them be brave enough, use their voice, and say what they need to say! As adults, we need to watch for times when we see them go along with a suggestion even when they don’t want to. We need to protect their right to have their own voice be heard, and perhaps to help them sound their voice!

Giving the flexible child a voice to be heard is just one way to help children appreciate the gifts their temperament provides. What are some other gifts temperament gives our children?

Join us each week as we continue to talk about parenting with temperament in mind.

Lori Korthals, M.S.

Mother of three. Lover of all things child development related. Fascinated by temperament and brain development. Professional background with families, child care providers, teachers and community service entities.

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Baby Steps

Quiet and Shy – and I’m OK! 

Season three of The Science of Parenting podcast has explored the many facets of temperament! The information shared each week celebrates the unique and rich gift each trait expresses! Every day brings new opportunities to master challenges and milestones. As parents watch their children grow and develop, they consider the temperament that a child possesses and other factors like family structure, siblings, and so much more.  

The child who is slow to warm up – or seems inhibited when interacting in their environment may need assistance from others to explore their surroundings. Parents must consider that their own temperament and their own actions are cues to their children about how to behave. Keeping the lines of communication open and asking questions of our children can help them explore “new situations.” Asking our child to tell us: 

  • how they are feeling;  
  • what questions do they have about the new situation;  
  • what do you think might happen if you explore further;  
  • how can I help you manage this new challenge;  
  • could we set a goal – or simple steps to begin this new challenge?  

These few questions can be the start of helping your inhibited or shy child gain the self-confidence needed to interact and explore their environment.  

In the podcast, Lori and Mackenzie talk about these slow to approach kiddos and talk to expert Robert Coplan on helping those shy kids navigate the world.

Barb Dunn Swanson

With two earned degrees from Iowa State University, Barb is a Human Sciences Specialist utilizing her experience working alongside communities to develop strong youth and families! With humor and compassion, she enjoys teaching, listening and learning to learn!

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Bring Out the Best

“Hey, you’re in a good mood today!” Has anyone said that to you lately? Our mood is a temperament trait! The Science of Parenting team has been exploring many temperament traits, and MOOD is just one that may resonate with many parents. Having children with a happy disposition or in a good mood is a joy. Finding ways to comfort our child when the mood is negative can be a challenge. Parents may find they need to adjust their own schedule or expectations if a child’s mood is one that is emotional or negative from time to time. Learning to soothe a child takes skill, patience, and time. It also takes the same to help children learn to self-soothe. 

Have you heard a child become whiney as they are learning to tie their shoes? Or do they have an “I Can” attitude when it comes to this new skill? Which mood will surface? 

Listen in on the Science of Parenting podcast, as our hosts discuss developmental milestones and how children’s mood may be expressed as they grow.   

Barb Dunn Swanson

With two earned degrees from Iowa State University, Barb is a Human Sciences Specialist utilizing her experience working alongside communities to develop strong youth and families! With humor and compassion, she enjoys teaching, listening and learning to learn!

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Rhythm of Life

Maintaining a manageable schedule when a newborn arrives is one of the first pieces of advice new parents receive. “Be sure to stay on schedule.” The schedule is something that may include feeding, sleeping, diapering, etc. The idea of a schedule seems important, yet it is something that may be out of your control if your child is not one to eat when you are ready; or sleep when they are tired! Although we cannot control our children, we can influence their environment, which can help them sleep and eat!  

Parents seek control because they feel confident when they can anticipate their baby’s needs. Children who can eat and sleep on our schedule help to keep things moving smoothly in our very fast-paced world. Many new moms and dads will have lengthy conversations about preparing for leaving the house with a newborn. Do we have formula or a safe place to breastfeed? Do we have diapers? Has the baby slept, been fed, or still sleepy? What do we need to anticipate to make our outing manageable? The schedule we keep can help us answer those important questions. So, it stands to reason that temperament may have to be considered when discussing these pivotal moments in the day. 

Helping our children get into a rhythm can be very helpful. Some children feel more secure when they know what to expect, and they are familiar with their body’s natural rhythm. How we help our children develop their own rhythms may look like the following: we adjust our own expectations for our children; we may put aside our plans or schedule to help our child manage their needs – like eating or sleeping or toileting. We may need to limit the competing distractions that children experience, anything from other siblings, television or screen time; and any loud noises that prevent them from eating on a schedule, or relaxing before sleep. We may provide the nutrition needed for healthy bathroom experiences and reminders about taking the time to go to the bathroom! Listen in as our hosts, Lori and Mackenzie, discuss this very important temperament trait.

Barb Dunn Swanson

With two earned degrees from Iowa State University, Barb is a Human Sciences Specialist utilizing her experience working alongside communities to develop strong youth and families! With humor and compassion, she enjoys teaching, listening and learning to learn!

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Dealing with Difficult Behaviors

Sometimes we label things so that we can understand them better. In fact, the labels can be limiting if we are not careful to explore our own use of the labels. Have you ever heard someone say, “Wow, that child is difficult!”? Or, have you heard, “I’m so glad my child is not as difficult!”? Well, what does difficult mean? In terms of temperament – it may mean that a child has their own idea, of how they interact with their environment. They have an idea and want to put that idea into action! Often the “difficult” behaviors that may be observed, may also be accompanied by strong emotions as well. 

A child with strong ideas, and a willingness to act, may need boundaries and structure! When we acknowledge our child’s skills and temperament, as the adult, we can accommodate their needs by setting an environment and boundaries so that they can succeed.  

If our child gets dis-regulated, or frustrated because they experienced a challenge to their “action plan”, we may need to wait for them to calm down, and get – re-regulated before we can have a discussion about how to meet that same challenge in the future. Our child’s ability to make a good decision when they are experiencing big feelings is much more difficult, than when they are calm and ready to listen to reason.  

We can accommodate and put the “difficult” label aside! 

In this episode, Lori and Mackenzie discuss this and feature an interview with Dr. Sean McDevitt, Ph.D.

Barb Dunn Swanson

With two earned degrees from Iowa State University, Barb is a Human Sciences Specialist utilizing her experience working alongside communities to develop strong youth and families! With humor and compassion, she enjoys teaching, listening and learning to learn!

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Proceeding with Caution

I almost jumped, but then I hesitated! 

Have you ever challenged yourself to jump off the diving board at the pool? You may climb the steps with confidence, walk to the end of the board, and peer overboard. Once you take in the view from up high, you may have second thoughts. You may hesitate to jump. But why? You were excited by the thought of jumping, but at the last minute, you may have discovered you were fearful.  

This is how many people and even children react to situations in real life every single day. Each of us may have those self-doubts that creep into our consciousness every day. We may have every intent to do something, but when it is finally time, we hesitate, or put off, what may be a difficult decision. We may not even know why we do it, but the hesitation or withdrawal is another temperament trait.  

As parents, we want our children to find success in their own growth and development at home, school and in their community. Some children, as our Science of Parenting Team has explored, will be very excited and jump right into new situations, while others will act with caution. Which one is right? They both are. Acceptance, accommodation and celebration will be useful approaches to helping children learn to use their temperament traits in ways that meet their own needs.  

Barb Dunn Swanson

With two earned degrees from Iowa State University, Barb is a Human Sciences Specialist utilizing her experience working alongside communities to develop strong youth and families! With humor and compassion, she enjoys teaching, listening and learning to learn!

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Finding Focus

What…did you say something? I was distracted.

Each week, we have been exploring temperament traits and discovering how those traits may or may not show up in children. Each of us is born with unique genetic features and within the same family, we can look alike but behave differently and have very different temperament traits. The differences between individuals can make parenting joyful AND challenging.

For children who find themselves easily distracted, we may celebrate their perceptiveness. In other words, they may be on high alert to everything going on around them. This attentiveness may make it more difficult for them to settle, quiet themselves, or find peace easily. They may be so alert that napping is difficult. Eating and other routines may be interrupted because so many competing distractions make it hard to focus on any task at hand.

Parents with children who are very perceptive may need to keep what I call “shiny objects” at a minimum. In other words, if we expect children to sleep, we may have to be intentional about minimizing the distractions in the bedroom, or limiting the noise, or reducing the stimulation that can interrupt a child’s natural desire to sleep or rest easy.

The constant stimulation that may occur in a household may be energizing for some family members, while being a total distraction for others. As you learn more and more about your child and their temperament, are there certain boundaries you can establish that will help your child feel comfortable and able to focus? Using praise and recognition when a child manages to stay focused or not get distracted is one approach.

Looking around your home environment may provide some solutions for reducing the stimulation that can be the cause of distractibility.  Another idea is to review daily routines and trying to honor the schedule and routine that assists your child’s ability to focus and become less distracted. I know that when I have many competing thoughts it is hard to prioritize and make good decisions. How many times are children faced with trying to make a good decision, when they are plain distracted? Join the Science of Parenting podcast hosts as they explore distractibility in children.

Barb Dunn Swanson

With two earned degrees from Iowa State University, Barb is a Human Sciences Specialist utilizing her experience working alongside communities to develop strong youth and families! With humor and compassion, she enjoys teaching, listening and learning to learn!

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