Recently I had the opportunity to work with high school students talking about temperament.  We are all born with one.  It make get modified but there are some traits that are simply there.  The complication for the students was the reading used the same word two different ways which kept them from grasping the concept.  Each set of traits exist on a continuum:


easy going________________________________________________________highly sensitive

calm__________________________________________________________in constant motion

To help the students understand each one I shared experiences from my own life.  Raising 6 children and being blessed with lovely grandchildren, I’ve seen a wide variety of temperaments.  I also, from experience, believe that all we can do is modify kids a bit.  However, I also learned that this applies to me too.  I joked for a long time that I was a chameleon and became what ever people wanted me to be.  I needed to discover my own temperament.  I needed to learn who I was.  I needed to be true to myself, but first I needed to know what that looked like.  From an early age I learned to jump when I was told jump.  I was terrorized to become the perfect people pleaser but I had no idea who I was, what I liked or what kind of temperament did I have.  This is how I described each of these traits to the students:


If there is a mystery box out on the playground, a passive child will sit back and watch the active child open the box to see what will happen.  Eventually the passive child may join the active child to see what is in there but only after someone else leads the way.  A person can be taught to be more passive or more active but generally this is their first response to a new situation.  My mother expected me to be passive but reality was I was active…..I like getting in there and trying experiments. I didn’t know this about myself until after I was counseling for quite a while.

easy going________________________________________________________highly sensitive

The spectrum I changed the word irritable for highly sensitive. This is usually in reference to changing activities.  Easy going child goes with the flow, everybody change activities and they go right along with it.  However, a highly sensitive child is the one that focus in on an activity and gets irritable when expected to change by someone else’s agenda.  They are playing house in the room they don’t want to go outside.  The are playing outside and don’t want to go inside.  They are highly sensitive to changes.  The more abrupt the change they less able they are to cope.  I need lots of fore warning and transition time.  I may jump from activity to activity but it is by my schedule not someone else’s.  I learned to be quietly compliant to the demands of others but I don’t do this naturally and I feel a lot of resentment when I feel like I am being pushed around.  An easy going person doesn’t feel they are pushed around in the first place.  In fact, an easy going person is puzzled about why the highly sensitive person is so upset.  Neither one is wrong, it is a difference in style that seems to be inborn.

calm__________________________________________________________in constant motion

This refers to how their bodies move or not.  It was easy to see this in my grandkids.  One granddaughter is moving constantly while she is eating, running around or even sleeping.  The other granddaughter.  I lay her down to go to sleep.  She lays perfectly still and immediately goes to sleep.  She sits quietly at the table and plays quietly.  She can be active and loves running around the playground but over all her actions are much calmer.

What is interesting to me is each person is their own combination of these.  A person can be passive, highly sensitive and calm.  Or they may be active, easy going, and calm.  Or myself I tend to be active, highly sensitive and I prefer constant motion but I learned to be calm.  The easiest way to observe these traits in a person is when they choose for themselves what they are doing then someone else tries to impose their agenda on them.  Temperament effects interpersonal relationships, choice of activities, how adventuresome and many times an employment they choose to do.  Finding your own temperament is one of the many steps to becoming true to yourself.  One of the results of abuse is denying who I am and what I like to do.  The first time my counselor asked me what I wanted, I was totally confused.  My response, “What do you want me to want?”  I am learning to accept my temperament and make adjustments to improve how I feel about my life.

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