An introduction to the four temperaments.
The other day I went to a talk given at my son Juani’s school. The talk was about how the Waldorf methodology how we can concretely contribute to us as parents. Everything said was very interesting. One remarkable subject caught my complete attention and that was when Ursula, the speaker, explained how children have four temperaments and began to explain each one to us. I found them incredibly fascinating.
In some moments it seemed as though she was describing my child. The descriptions of their behaviors, their attitudes, even physical features had me floored. In my mind I thought of my child, how we communicate, our lives together and, even though the information given was just a start I resonated with it completely.
Almost immediately I wanted to learn more about my child’s temperament and also share the information with other mothers. We should have knowledge about how they feel inside close at hand. Tools that motivate us to know our children better and connect in a more empathetic way with them in our role as parents.
It’s only when we truly understand someone that we may best attend to their needs.
What basic temperament does my child have?
I’ll give you a brief description of the four temperaments. Sometimes identification is obvious, and others take time to classify.
Types of Temperaments
One thing to realize is that, according to Ursula, the goal is to achieve a balance of the four temperaments. This is what we should work towards, complete harmony of the four.
Without question, in most cases there are imbalances in large or small amounts. We can usually see clearly which base temperament they have or if it’s a mixture of two.
What are the temperaments?
They are behavioral characteristics, a way to interact with the world, to experience life, among many other qualities. Each temperament has strengths and weaknesses. The temperaments become more prominent in the second cycle of life. Around 6 years old children begin to lose their baby teeth: this indicates the seven year change is begun. Around 8 years old the temperaments appear more prominently.
The concept of the septimal is important, there are seven year cycles in everyone’s life. Cycles that are marked by physical, mental, even spiritual changes. These cycles affect both children and adults. In each cycle of life there are certain distinct expectations, insecurities, fears, and necessities.
The Choleric child
This is a child that takes initiative. A leader. This child will work towards and fight with all their strength to gain traction in whatever they think is necessary. Quick in deliberate action and in compromise and cooperation in their activities. For sure, they anger quickly when difficulties arise. They often get frustrated and at times this anger can be paralyzing. They are children who self direct their education.
Generally these children will be small in stature, with short necks and larger heads. More massive torsos with shorter extremities. Heavy for their size. You can often identify them by their look, you find them by their intense, passionate gaze.
How do we partner with these children as their parents?
Becoming enraged is one of the greatest weaknesses of these children. The recommendation is to let them be in their moment of anger and not intervene much if at all until their anger has subsided. In these moments they are not connected to themselves. Once the child calms we can reflect together and take whatever steps needed to remedy the issue. They need clear direction and boundaries explained clearly. Saying Stop, in a firm voice, for example. An important thing to remember is that the direction needs to come from an adult that the child knows and respects. The adult must not lose their equilibrium in the face of the child’s anger, as it will only exacerbate the child’s anger to see the adult grow enraged.
As parents, it is important to help them harness their energy and strength. They carry a great internal nobility and sacrificial spirit and when motivated by a cause can move mountains. Telling them stories referencing great leaders and heroes is a good practice. We must also remember that this is a child who needs and will look for recognition from others.
It’s essential for these children to participate in activities where they can dispense their energy without limits, like running, climbing, anything challenging.
Color: Red. Element: Fire.
The Sanguine child
Sentimental. Goes out, takes initiative and makes initial decisions then halfway through becomes distracted. Enjoys doing many things but always has a need to do something more. Often becomes lost in thought. Tends to miss the objective and become lost in the details.
Great social capability, always stays in touch with what is going on with others. Very personable. This is the child who greets with a hug, gives love and words of affirmation. They care greatly. They collaborate and are present. Quite happy.
These children turn everything outward. They are constantly talking, they can’t help it. Pure energy, movement, and changes. They ask many questions over varied subjects in a short amount of time.
They are generally thin, lithe, tend to have bushy, curly hair and lively gestures. Their walk is almost like a hop or skip.
How do we partner with these children as their parents?
They do not have a great capacity to concentrate. They are easily distracted by what goes on around them. This is the child that, while they know their parent is explaining something important to them, it’s virtually impossible for them to not distract themselves. One outward distraction and their concentration is lost. They try to pay attention with all their might but it’s no use, they cannot control it.
It’s important to help connect these children with their inner world. To help them, stand strong, look in their eyes, and speak to them precisely. Rarely is the sanguine child resentful, they are not often defiant when corrected.
They need to be given clear objectives, without overly specific methods or plans on how to complete something because they will become lost and bored.
Color: Yellow. Element: Air.
The Melancholy Child
This child has a lot of empathy for the pain of others. They ask profound questions, that may seem out there.
This child imagines everything will happen to them. This the child who will complain or cry to the parents or teacher because someone hit them, generally a choleric, and won’t stop crying.
Change is a challenge and very hard on them. Painful situations are what mobilizes and provokes their anxiety.
Thinker. Methodical. Organized. Focuses on details until the job is done. This child has their feet firmly on the ground, the physical world predominates their reality. They ask many questions that may seem surprising. In their questioning they dig into profound subjects which may become exhausting for the parent.
This is the child who accompanies, who understands, thanks to their great capacity to empathize with others.
Generally they are tall, thin, with curved posture. Their walk is strong and heavy. Many times they appear pale and haggard.
How do we partner with these children as their parents?
Do not try to change the melancholy child. Do not force them to be excited or happy. On the contrary, put yourself in their place and try to understand them: “I understand you”, “I’m here for you”, “What can we do?” As their parents we must accept their melancholy state. It’s better to not try and be happy all the time, accept that they have their moments of introspection and nothing bad will happen.
This is a child that needs you to not forget about them, they need to be seen, not be left on their own or abandoned. They need to always be on our mind, always present because they will not call out for attention like a choleric or sanguine child.
Color: Blue. Element: Earth.
The Phlegmatic child
Happily lost in the feeling from their senses. Their slowness and calmness works in their favor and many times people do things for them. They don’t want to be pushed, they don’t want to run. They cause others great anxiety trying to get them to hurry up.
This is the child who wants you to count things without urgency. It is one of the most agreeable temperaments, the one who doesn’t want trouble, is always ready for fun and good times. They don’t look to stand out and won’t call attention to themselves. They won’t yield or submit themselves.
While at play this child prefers slow, calm games over running and climbing. This child strolls.
Generally evenly proportioned but their love of food may cause them to gain weight and have a round appearance. Their gait is deliberate.
How do we come alongside these children?
At times we want these children to work and be active and we become impatient with them. We don’t have to force them into action. We need to wait for them to take initiative. It’s important to surround them with good references and examples. Seeing their peers in activities often motivates them sufficiently to take interest and begin but at their own pace.
We must understand that they live inside themselves, comfortably contemplating life from their comfort zone. They don’t see any reason to leave this comfort. They have to feel like something will truly benefit them to involve themselves in an activity and leave their cozy inner world.
When they eventually involve themselves in an activity that truly motivates them watch them go. This type of child commit fully to the process and can busy themselves for hours. For hours they will paint and continue painting when the others have stopped hours earlier. They don’t do it to finish the work or because it’s imperfect, but because they enjoy the process.
Why is it important to know the temperament or temperaments of my child?
I feel that most importantly it is an excuse to take the time to look deeply at our children. Begin to observe and understand the particular things about them. To stop and study them. We also find out that these tools exist, these concepts that help us bond with them in ways that are unique to each child.
Even though it is an extensive subject and this is just a quick glance I hope that it awakens a curiosity to know how these temperaments influence not just character but diet, daily rhythms, sleep, play and communication. A framework like this helps us to not worry so much as parents and connect more…
Feel free to leave your comments! Thank you!
Concepts are based on the words of Ursula Vallendor brought up during the talk: What does the Waldorf education provide parents and what does it need from them? and in the audio files below. More on this subject:
- Audio Introduction to the four temperaments (Spanish content).
- Audio Temperament Phlegmatic. Innata Journal (Spanish content).
- Audio Temperament Melancholy. Innata Journal (Spanish content).
- Audio Temperament Sanguine. Innata Journal (Spanish content).
- Audio Temperament Choleric. Innata Journal (Spanish content).
Words: Mariana. Pictures by: Meri Slinger. Translation: Katrina Marie