Why Children Resist ~ And How Understanding the Four Temperaments Can Help
Why do children resist? It sounds like such a simple question. But we often feel stymied by our children’s resistance. I know I have! What’s a homeschooling parent to do?
We’ve all experienced this resistance, when children push back. Or just say no to what we’ve planned. Sometimes kids act out, zone out, or even comply without really being fully engaged.
But do you ever wonder why?
Why Children Resist
Let’s start off with considering resistance.
Can I invite you to take a moment and think about why YOU resist doing something?
Maybe you feel…
- Triggered emotionally
- Like the work’s too hard
- It’s too easy
- It doesn’t seem important or relevant or meaningful
- It’s not engaging enough
Reflecting like this can help us see that resistance isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
In fact, it’s a good clue into what’s going on for our child. Or ourselves! As well as the dynamic between us.
What are the Four Temperaments?
In Waldorf education, we believe that every child has a unique combination of four temperaments which affect a child’s personality, behavior, and learning style.
The four temperaments describe different personality types and learning styles and actually date back to ancient times when they were based on the concept of the four humors ~ which suggested that there were four basic bodily fluids that influenced a person’s temperament or personality.
These four temperaments are known as the sanguine, choleric, melancholic, and phlegmatic.
The sanguine child is outgoing, optimistic, and social. The choleric child is confident, goal-oriented, and assertive. The melancholic child is introspective, sensitive, and perfectionistic. The phlegmatic child is calm, easy-going, and reserved.
How Understanding the Four Temperaments Can Help
So how can understanding the temperaments help with homeschooling and resistance?
First, a few words of caution. Please be careful about determining your child’s temperament and viewing that as a label or a fixed fact. It’s also important that we not share our analysis of our child’s temperament with them. We don’t want to give them an excuse for unacceptable behavior nor do we want to impart blame. Lastly, a child’s temperament doesn’t usually become truly clear until age 6 or 7.
The most constructive way to use this idea of the temperaments is to consider how understanding our child’s temperament can help you support his or her motivation, interests, and your teaching approach.
We want to work with a child’s temperament, to come alongside and meet them where they are. To mirror or match their energy, stance, and interaction. Then invite them forward.
Sometimes this takes some work in accepting our child for exactly who they are!
I’ve found that it’s best to look at the temperaments with both acceptance and curiosity. All temperaments have positive and negative attributes. And it is our job as parents and teachers to recognize the positive wherever possible and help bring balance to the child’s personality.
Along the same lines, these principles can also be applied to ourselves, for our own self-development.
So let’s dive into each of the temperaments and how you might work with them.
Let’s start with sanguines!
Sanguines are cheerful. This temperament is associated with enthusiasm, joy, and optimism.
People who tend toward the sanguine temperament are described as having a “can-do” attitude, and being energized by collaboration and team activities. They also enjoy creative outlets and problem-solving. Sanguine children are motivated by social interactions and positive feedback.
So, parents and teachers can motivate sanguine children by providing opportunities for them to interact with others and by helping them recognize their achievements.
Cholerics are quick-tempered. This temperament is characterized by an assertive nature and a tendency to be goal-oriented.
People who tend to the choleric temperament are often perceived as “take-charge” types, and they tend to be more efficient in their work. These individuals are ambitious and assertive, and have a strong will. They’re often competitive and decisive, but can come across as overbearing or aggressive. They’re basically the ones who are always in charge.
Choleric children are often motivated by challenges and competition. They thrive on setting goals and achieving them.
So, parents and teachers can motivate cholerics by setting challenging tasks and by providing opportunities for them to compete in a healthy way.
On to melancholics!
Melancholics are analytical. This temperament is best known for its thoughtful, methodical approach to problem solving. People who tend toward the melancholic temperament are often highly analytical and have a deep interest in understanding the underlying structures of the world.
These individuals are introspective and sensitive, with a deep sense of empathy. They may have a tendency to worry or be anxious, and are often perfectionists. They’re basically the ones who are always caught up in their feelings.
Melancholic children are motivated by personal growth and mastery. Because they tend to be perfectionists, they can become discouraged if they feel they’re not making progress.
So, parents and teachers can motivate them by providing opportunities to learn and grow in a safe and supportive environment where they can see their progress.
Phlegmatics are peaceful. This temperament is associated with a calm, compassionate demeanor. People who tend toward the phlegmatic temperament are often described as patient, generous, and level-headed. They enjoy building relationships and have an affinity for taking the time to listen and understand others.
These individuals are calm and easy-going, and able to maintain peace and harmony in their environment. They’re often the ones who are caught napping.
Phlegmatic children are motivated by stability and routine. They do not like sudden changes or surprises.
So, parents and teachers can motivate them by creating a predictable routine and by providing them with a sense of security.
A Story to Illustrate the Four Temperaments
This anecdote was passed to me from my mentor and friend, Barbara Dewey. I don’t have the source of this description unfortunately, only an old crumpled piece of paper that I’ve referred to many times.
Four children are sitting around a table serving themselves from a pitcher of milk. The pitcher slips, drops on the floor and breaks, spreading milk and broken glass all over the floor. The Choleric immediately runs for the mop and industriously begins to clean up the mess. The Phlegmatic carefully lifts both feet up onto his chair so they don’t get wet, and watches the action. The Sanguine happily examines the flow of the milk, saying, “Look! The milk is running down the cracks. It’s going to catch up with that line of ants!” The Melancholic says, between sobs,” I didn’t get any milk, and that was my favorite pitcher, and now it is all broken!”
The Four Temperaments and Why Children Resist
Isn’t it interesting to see the reactions of all four temperaments to one event? None are wrong, all are equally valid. Just different. I think you can see from this scenario why accepting our child’s temperament rather than trying to change it is most helpful.
Our job then is observing their behavior and discerning what they need. Understanding a child’s temperament is yet another tool to help us understand why children resist.
So circling back to why children resist, I hope you can see that when we think our children are resisting, they may just be responding to the situation in a natural way for them. Or we may be interpreting their behavior as resistance because we’re viewing it from OUR temperament. Or maybe the child is similar to us in temperament and we don’t like that about ourselves. We see that in our children, and we want to change that in them as well. We sometimes even do this without conscious thought.
So more than anything else, I hope this episode helps you see your child through a more accepting observational lens.
If this episode has sparked your interest…
I hope this episode has inspired you to work with the temperaments in a supportive way.
Here are my recommended resources to explore further:
- The Four Temperaments by Rudolf Steiner
- The Question of Temperaments by Frederick Hiebel
- The Four Temperaments (<referral link) by Helmut Eller and Cynthia Eller
And if you want individualized help working with your child’s temperament and customizing your homeschool experience, I offer 1:1 mentor sessions. I would love to connect with you!
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