Know Thyself — and Others!

At close quarters and in extended confinement, even the most congenial and compatible of personalities can begin to clash, as many of us have assuredly relearned in this strange “Season of COVID.”

This very uptick in irritability, however, also represents a dearworthy opportunity to grow in humility, to seek to understand the souls around us a wee bit better, and to acknowledge our own weaknesses a little more forthrightly.

The Temperament God Gave Your Kids by Art and Laraine Bennett can aid us in the effort. In it, the authors apply the framework of the four classical temperaments to children and offer specific suggestions to harmonize the parent-child relationship.

Like many a rubric for self-understanding, the classical-temperament formula can offer uncannily accurate insights into various types of the human person — but it can also fall flat, forcing its devotees to shoehorn their understanding of unique, unrepeatable, precious persons into preconceived notions.

Importantly, the Bennetts recognize this. They present the choleric, sanguine, melancholic, and phlegmatic types with verve and conviction, drawing from the model what wisdom can be drawn, but they never reduce children — or parents — to temperament alone. Instead, they emphasize again and again the ultimate importance of the cultivation of virtue in parents and children of any and every temperament.

Still, I sometimes got the eerie sense that the Bennetts must know me and my children personally. Their description of the melancholic mother was so familiar as to almost make me laugh out loud:

Melancholic parents will insist on telling the truth about Santa, may quote Aquinas when the dog dies, and have no qualms about letting the team suffer if the child is grounded. …

Melancholic parents place a high value on all that is good, beautiful, and true, and they want to impart this love to their children. They will play classical music in the home, surround themselves with works of art, institute afternoon high tea, and read only the “Great Works” of literature. This is a beautiful and noble way to raise children; however, a melancholic parent can, on occasion, take it too far, and then it backfires. …

Melancholic parents should remind themselves that their vocation as parents is not to create the perfect child or to be perfect themselves. Indeed, in this fallen world nothing can be perfect. This is true right down to the mundane details of everyday life. Babies cry, milk spills, dogs bark, and moms don’t always have time to clean the house. …

(W)hen Christ said, “You, therefore, must be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48), he did not mean, “Be a perfectionist.” The perfection that Christ calls us to is the perfection of love.

You can bet, then, that I paid extra close attention to the authors’ list of specific virtues melancholics most need to cultivate. In the weeks to come, I’ll be aiming to hone supernatural confidence, charity, courage, joy, gratitude, and flexibility.

Likewise, their descriptions of the various temperaments in children resonated keenly as I reflected on the consistent behavior of my own babies. Perhaps more importantly, the authors evoked enormous hope and excitement in me as I envisioned new ways to help my children reach their full potential.

In light of the melancholy my daughter often hides with learned loquacity, I’ll grant my little daydreamer and dawdler a bit more grace. To elicit more cooperation from my sometimes-hard-charging, sometimes-class-clowning choleric-sanguine son, I’ll allow him to try the tough tasks he craves — and let him ham it up as he does! And I’ll rest a little easier at night as my phlegmatic son stares down toddlerhood, knowing his mostly easy and docile temperament will probably prevail through the travails of the twos. And the baby? The authors say temperament can assert itself even in infants, but I’m not sure yet just who she’ll be.

It’s a good reminder that I’m actually not sure yet just who any of us will be. God knows, though, and, in His graciousness, He’s provided our temperaments as little clues to help us discern His plans for us.

The Temperament God Gave Your Child will help any parent read the clues with a little more confidence.

***

If you like this book, you might like:

“The Temperament God Gave You” by Art and Laraine Bennett

“Children and Parents” by Fulton J. Sheen

“The Whole-Brain Child” by Daniel J. Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson

 

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