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Introduction

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Although the world is full of suffering, it is also of the overcoming of it.

Helen Keller 1903

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Many behavioural issues in children arise because of (and in the context of) factors such as the child’s temperament, parental schema and child–parent attachment. These factors determine, in the beginning, how the parent–child relationship will evolve, and also strongly affect the psychological development of the child.

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Temperament

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Temperament refers to the personality characteristics you are born with—what is innate rather than learned. An awareness of the fact that children are born with characteristics over which parents have no control can be liberating, especially for parents of children with challenging temperaments.

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The best-known description of temperament is based on the work of Thomas and Chess from the 1970s.1 They found that about two-thirds of children can be classified into one of three categories: easy, difficult and slow to warm up. Of these, about 15% were considered easy, 70% slow to warm up and 15% difficult. A child with a difficult temperament will be emotionally labile and have difficulty coping with new experiences. A child with a slow-to-settle temperament will have some difficulty coping with new experiences, but will eventually manage after repeated exposures. A child with an easy temperament will cope easily with new experiences and will have a calm nature.

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Easy doesn’t mean good, and difficult doesn’t mean bad. These children may just require more patience and a thoughtful and paced approach to parenting. Further, the characteristics that can make a child ‘difficult’ can be the flipside of other characteristics that lead them to achieve success (if appropriately nurtured and guided). A stubborn child may have good persistence, and a distractible child may be artistic and expressive.

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Of course, most children will have a few ‘difficult’ characteristics, but some will have more than others. Raising parents’ awareness of this, getting them to think about the innate characteristics of their child (which may or may not be similar to their siblings or one or both of the biological parents) and to adjust their parenting style accordingly will help them deal more effectively with the challenges of raising their child.

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Table Graphic Jump Location
Table 94.1

Easy and difficult temperament characteristics

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Parental schema

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Schema is the view you have of the world based on your own experiences; it ...

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