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Getting Along Better By Understanding Individual Differences

Everyone is different, and it is important than grandparents learn to understand the  individual differences that can either be complementary,  or cause  friction between grasndparents and their loved ones.

Personality and Temperament

Your personality and temperament not only affects your growth and development as a grandparent it also has a profound effect on your relationship with your grandchild. It is common knowledge that the reason some people get along better than others can be ascribed to similarities in personality and character. This also holds true for the relationship between you and your grandchild. (See Chapter 26 “Favoritism”). Of all of the personality factors that can affect your relationship with your grandchild, it is both your “temperaments” that are the most important.

Temperament is a quality of character that determines the emotional and psychological similarities and differences between your and your grandchild. How your individual temperaments “fit” together, for better or worse, are a major factor in determining how seamlessly you get along. This applies whether you are a biological grandparent, stepgrandparent, or have adopted grandchildren. And it holds true whether you live near or far from your grandchild.

Explaining TEMPERAMENT

Temperament can be best described as a pattern of thinking, behaving, or reacting that we possess. There are many variations of temperaments. Observe the personalities of your family and friends. Notice how some seem full of life and enthusiasm, while others are more laid back or even lethargic. Some talk incessantly, others rarely speak unless spoken to. You may have a friend that is a reserved “intellectual” and another who hates to read. Maybe someone in your family is a “party person” and others are happier by themselves. All of us possess specific traits that drive our attitudes and behavior. These traits are related to temperament.

Temperament comprises an important part of what we describe as our “personality.” For example, people described as having an “outgoing” personality usually possess the temperamental traits of an extrovert; i.e. they are usually verbal, like to socialize, and have a good sense of humor. Those with an “ingoing” personality prefer solitude and limited social activity. All of us possess a unique mixture of temperamental traits that influence us in a variety of ways. And each type of temperament can be an asset or liability depending on the circumstances.

Temperament affects us intrapersonally—inside of ourselves: How we deal with ourselves inside—personally– through our thoughts, feelings and actions. How we think about ourselves; interpersonally- between others and ourselves: How we get along with other people and socially: How we get along with groups of people.

What is important to keep in mind is that people who share similar temperaments attract one another and tend to get along well. People with dissimilar temperaments may rub each other the wrong way or even antagonize one another. The adage that “opposites attract” is appropriate only if someone is looking for a good brawl.

Types of Temperament

Psychiatrists Alexander Thomas and Stella Chess (1968) have described the qualities of nine different types of temperament. Answering the following questions related to each type of temperament they describe will make you conversant with this idea and help you to learn a bit more about your own (and your grandchild’s) temperament.

  • · Activity Level: How active or passive are you? And are you a “morning person” or a “night person?” Are you full of pep or lackadaisical?
  • · Regularity of Patterns: Are your work, feeding, sleeping and other habits orderly or chaotic? Is regularity and consistency important?
  • · Approach or Withdrawal: Do you respond to new situations with hesitancy and reluctance or enthusiasm?
  • · Adaptability: Are you resistant to change or easily adaptable to new situations?
  • · Threshold of Responsiveness: Do you react quickly to new situations or does it take a while for you to respond? Do you hide your feelings?
  • · Intensity of Reaction: Are you emotional and respond with much feeling or are you unresponsive?
  • · Quality of Mood: Are you an “up,”- optimistic and cheerful, or pessimistic and slow to warm up to people?
  • · Distractibility does your mind bounce from subject to subject or can you stay focussed for a long period of time? Are you highly organized or laissez-faire?
  • · Attention Span and Persistence: Do you have difficulty to listening to others without losing attention? Do you have trouble sticking to a task until completion?

From this constellation of traits, three temperamental “clusters” have been create that are used to categorize individuals as easy, difficult, and slow to warm up. The categories describe people who are easygoing, those who are hard to get along with, and those whom it takes a long time to get to know. For example, people who are approachable, relate easily, are energetic and optimistic are “easy.” Others who are shy, pessimistic, agitated, or always moving or talking may be more difficult to relate to. Those who are slow to adapt to new situations, do not like change, and have a low level of responsiveness are “slow to warm up.” Of course, this has nothing to do with being a good, kind and loving person.

These categories can be helpful in understanding what is going right or wrong between you and your grandchild. First, take a moment to consider how would you categorize your temperament? Now think about your grandchild’s temperament? Are they similar or different? Are you easy with one another or do you tend to rub one another the wrong way from time to time? Do your personalities “fit” with one another?

Personality “Fit”

You and your grandchild will automatically get along well if your temperaments “fit.” As Ossie, a 72 year-old grandfather said. “I’m an early riser and so is my granddaughter, Leshawna. When I stay at my daughter’s house and go down to make coffee early in the morning, there is Leshawna with her little shining face. She always pours out the orange juice for both of us ‘cause we’re the early birds in the family.” Clara, a 49 year-old grandmother, recognizes her fit with her grandson Sonny. “Me and my grandson Sonny are two peas in a pod. Same interests, same way of looking at things.”

The concept of fit extends beyond temperament. Other personality characteristics combine with temperament to affect grandparent-grandchild “fit.” Sometimes an exaggerated dose of a particular personality characteristic can cause trouble. For example, an over emotional grandparent (tending toward the “hysterical” in psychological terms) may tend to over-react, or worry too much in the eyes of a grandchild. A slightly paranoid grandparent, expressing fear and caution too often, may frighten a child. A highly organized grandparent might upset a grandchild with an obsession for manners, order and neatness to the point where the child will not enjoy spending time together because he can’t do anything “right” in the eyes of a compulsive grandparent.

On the other hand, when balanced in a healthy way, the same traits can offer positive lessons to a grandchild. An emotional grandparent can be a lot of fun and teach spontaneity, openness and imaginativeness. A cautious grandparent teaches alertness to danger. A compulsive grandparent can teach orderliness, thrift and neatness.

Obviously, similar personality types will have similar interests. Good athletes will play together. Singers will sing together. Emotional people will emote together. Nature lovers will enjoy being out in nature together, and so on. A passive grandparent and grandchild may play cards together for hours. A compulsive grandparent and grandchild might enjoy cleaning house together or playing with a computer. Artistic grandparents and grandchildren will draw, or design clothes together. 9-year-old Rebecca said, “My Grandma teaches me manners and how to set the table really nice. It’s just she drives me crazy because she always finds dirt after I clean up.”

Mix and Match

It is important to be aware of how the factors I have mentioned affect your “fit” with your grandchild. If there is a personality, temperament or personal interest mismatch, watch out for trouble. Elvis, a 62-year-old grandfather, is an “easy”, active, and aggressive grandfather. He was a very active athlete in his day and still tries to play sports whenever he can. Although Elvis has continually tried to get his 10-year-old grandson, Josh, involved in sports, Josh is “slow to warm up”, shy, and is not athletically inclined. “I hate baseball and soccer, ” Josh said. “I’m afraid of getting hit in the face by the ball. In fact one day I did and my nose bled really hard. I am not a good athlete. ” Elvis admits being “turned off” by Josh’s lack of enthusiasm. “I love Josh and I though I could share my love of sports with him. He is kind of, I hate to say it, but he’s kind of chicken. Fortunately Elves made some adjustments in the activities he shares with Josh. “The most enjoyable thing we do is fly kites together and play computer games. At least we have that in common. I guess I’ll have to settle for that.”

Rowena, a 59-year-old grandmother, has a similar problem with her grandson who “never sits still. I’m losing weight trying to keep up with him. It’s just constant. He never stops. I’m not the most energetic person. I am waiting for a nice calm grandchild.”

Acknowledge the Differences

Having a difference in temperament from your grandchild does not necessarily mean you are going to have problems. Once you acknowledge and understand the nature of the temperamental differences, you have made the first and most important step in finding your middle ground.

It is also important to understand that the “fit” you share with your grandchild is dynamic, and thus will change as your grandchild matures. You might “fit” better at one age than another. An imaginative grandfather might be a big success spinning outrageous yarns for a “magical-thinking” four-year-old grandchild. But he’ll have a bit more difficulty convincing a literal seven-year-old of the veracity of his stories, and may even be angered by the child’s relentless rational questioning. A compulsive grandmother might have trouble with a rebellious two-year-old whom she may label as “disrespectful,” yet she may take excellent care of compliant infants or older children who have attained the “age of reason.” An adolescent may relate with greater interest to a working grandparent actively involved in the world than one who is isolated and uninvolved. In fact grandchildren who end up working in the family business usually “fit” well with the parent and grandparent who work there. The ones who do not fit usually move on—the stuff of which drama is made.

BLENDING TEMPERAMENTS AND PERSONALITIES

If you have a grandchild with a temperamental makeup different from your own, you have to find a middle ground to reach her. One “hard-livin” Mississippi grandfather, self-described (and proudly I may say) as a “loud redneck,” solved this problem by taking his very shy granddaughter fishing. “She don’t have to say a thing when we’re sitting out there waiting for the catfish to bite,” he said. A sedentary grandmother found a way to have fun with her hyperactive grandson by playing, in her words, “knock-down, drag-out card games. We also go to the movies together to see action movies. That seems to hold my grandson’s attention.”

Finding the middle ground can sometimes be difficult if you are going against your own nature. Understand that it’s not personality differences per se that cause relationship problems. It’s the way they are handled. There is no right or wrong when it comes to temperament. We are not responsible for the way we are made. We are, however, responsible for what we do about it.

One mistake many people make is to criticize one another for their differences in temperament instead of accepting the person the way they came into the world. Criticizing the other person will most often drive them away and set a bad example. Harry, 68-years-old, learned this the hard way. “We had a great time together when my granddaughter Flo was a baby. When she got to be five I found that I was nagging her because she always kept forgetting stuff and leaving stuff around. Sometimes she didn’t pay attention. I started to poke fun at her sometimes because she just seemed to not be thinking. Actually I nicknamed her ‘airhead’ but I didn’t say it in a mean way. One day my daughter-in-law came to me and told me Flo was unhappy with me. She told her Mom that I was mean. Well, I was floored, let me tell you. Sick to my stomach was more like it. I did something about it quick. I love Flo. I took her on a long walk and we talked. I told her I wanted to know what she thought of me and she told me I hurt her feelings and she didn’t like to be called airhead. So, I apologized for hurting her. I told her I wasn’t the most sensitive person and that she was teaching me to be more sensitive. I said I would not call her airhead anymore. And I stopped all the nagging. I can tell she’s much happier now when we’re together.”

The issue of how personality affects relationships is vast. I have tried to highlight some of the important points that you should know as it affects your relationship with your grandchild. Here are some guidelines to help you to have a better “fit” with your grandchild.

GUIDELINES

  • · Know thyself. Assess your own temperament in terms of its assets and liabilities. See the categories above.
    • · Know your grandchild. What type of temperament does she have? How do you fit naturally? Are you both an easy fit? If not, where are the differences?
    • · Make adjustments in the light of this new awareness. Find the temperamental middle ground and spend lots of time there.
    • · You grow and change. Children grow and change rapidly too. Be alert to the fact that your “fit” might change, too.
    • · Serve as an example. Teach everyone in the family about temperament, announce your own temperamental liabilities, and let your family know how you manage its challenges. That is a great example!

CONCLUSION

Be conscious of your own temperamental makeup as well as that of your grandchild. If you “fit” with one another, all the better. If not, do some “detective” work. Identify your differences and make an effort to find a common ground where you are both at ease. Set the example and watch your relationship blossom.


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  1. Karen adderton January 26th, 2013

    I found these articles very helpful. I am a family therapist and have been asked by my church to develop a program on grandparenting for young parents. After reading these articles, I’m thinking of including children of all ages , parents and grandparents in the program. Do you have any suggestions on how to implement a 3 week program? Thanks, Karen

    Reply
    • FGP January 31st, 2013

      Thanks for writing.
      Dr. Kornhaber has written “The Grandparent Guide” as a curriculum for grandparent classes.
      You can get a copy on Kindle, r Amazon.
      All the best.

      Reply

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