Common sense tells us there are different types of people in the world. You might even notice quite a variety in your own family. One child is quiet and serious while another is excitable and outgoing. Classical scholars developed the four temperaments to describe and better understand these differences in disposition and personality; the four temperaments have their root in the ancient Greek theory of humorism.
The four basic temperaments are: SANGUINE, MELANCHOLIC, PHLEGMATIC AND CHOLERIC
Traditionally, personalities were associated with the elements. I’ll mention those here with a brief description of each disposition. See how quickly you can spot your child among one of these! Many of us are a synthesis of two, but one will dominate.
The Playful Sanguine (Air): Quick to react, quick to “let it go.” The sanguine child is highly sociable, optimistic and fun-loving. His emotions run the gamut and can change very quickly. This child is easily distracted and flits from one thing to another. The sanguine is curious, highly sensual and loves sights, sounds, smells and all the variety the world has to offer. Your sanguine child can find a “best friend” in five minutes and will make other children feel loved and accepted. He is impulsive and may like to take risks; “look before you leap” is not in the Sanguine lexicon! Sanguines are often messy and disorganized. They have trouble controlling their emotions. But the Sanguine loves to please people and is thankfully quite easy to cheer up. A Sanguine child has a weakness for flattery, and loves to be praised. Criticism is often not contemplated very deeply, so it can be tough for a lesson to really “sink in” for this child.
The Perfect Melancholic (Earth): Slow to react, slow to “let it go.” Your melancholic child is reserved and analytical. He wants to do everything JUST RIGHT. He may appear to other children to be cautious, timid or unsure at first, but the melancholic does form true and lasting friendships. Highly sensitive with a strong sense of justice and fairness, the melancholic is prone to perfectionism and suffer pangs of disappointment if he falls short. This child is easily discouraged, holds on to grudges and has a memory like an elephant. Melancholics generally like organization; they like to gather information, sort things and make lists. This child fears taking risks and making wrong decisions. Being very sensitive to what others think, he doesn’t want to look foolish or incompetent. This fear of failure or embarrassment may especially hold him back from taking risks, trying new things or performing/making speeches. Melancholics love to learn and take in information; they devour books, recite facts and generally enjoy the idea of school work. Like the Sanguine, a Melancholic likes to please others. He also takes both praise and criticism deeply to heart. This is the child who often needs nothing more than a stern look or word for correction.
The Peaceful Phlegmatic (Water): Slow to react, quick to “let it go.” The phlegmatic child seems generally content with life. Give him food, rest and a few toys and he is good to go. He doesn’t mind waiting for things. In fact, patience is one of the hallmark qualities of the Phlegmatic, along with diplomacy. This child can generally get along with just about anybody and earns well-deserved praise for being a peacemaker. He rarely rocks the boat. The phlegmatic isn’t a complainer and doesn’t often express strong emotion on the outside, but don’t let this fool you. Still waters run deep. You might often wonder what’s going on in that little head. A phlegmatic child has the tendency to escape into a dream world and get very little done. Thinking and planning is more satisfying than action. 🙂 He will need a lot of encouragement and motivation to take action. The phlegmatic child avoids confrontation when at all possible, and prefers the path of least resistance. He prefers simple, repetitious tasks and loves routine. Complicated or difficult jobs can overwhelm him. Nagging or putting too much pressure on a Phlegmatic child can backfire and result in stubborn despondency. But once a task is begun, the Phlegmatic child will almost always persist until the end. He is highly dependable and steady.
The Powerful Choleric (Fire): Quick to react, slow to “let it go.” The choleric is what some call Type A. This child knows what he wants to do, and likes to take the lead. It can be hard to convince him that he is wrong. Independent, quick-thinking and easily annoyed, the Choleric child feels he knows best (yes, he might feel at times he’s smarter than his mama and daddy). A Choleric is highly motivated and gets a lot of things done. He will not back down from a fight, and in fact, he relishes a challenge or a good spar. It can be hard for a Choleric to sympathize with others; even more difficult is to try and understand someone else’s perspective. The world is very black and white. He is also careful about the friends he chooses. But once he finds a friend or gives his love, he will be fiercely loyal no matter what comes. You will often see choleric children taking charge of their peers in a group. Like the Melancholic, a Choleric child may exhibit perfectionism. This is because of the high ideals and standards he sets for himself and for others.
No one is 100% any one of the temperaments, but you can usually discern which one dominates. Most people are a combination of two. For instance, Benjamin (our third) is Phlegmatic/Sanguine. He is peaceful and easy to please overall, but does have feisty moments. The Temperament God Gave You is a practical and enjoyable book written by a husband-wife team, and it goes into all the personality combinations for both children and adults, and talks about how knowledge of the temperaments can help you develop your strengths and weaknesses AND interact better with others.
After reading the descriptions, which do you think fits your child or children best? Oh, and be looking for some upcoming posts on how to homeschool and potty train using the temperaments as a guide!