• June 2002
  • Vol. 3, No. 5

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Temperament Assessments Seen as Effective Parenting and Child Abuse Prevention Tool

(The Preventive Ounce)
The Preventive Ounce website

A nonprofit organization called The Preventive Ounce has developed an assessment system in which a child's temperament can be determined, providing a valuable tool to parents (and other caregivers) in understanding and guiding their children, as well as preventing child abuse. By understanding their child's temperament, parents are better able to interpret their child's behavior and moderate their own. Developed over 10 years and now accessible on the Internet, this system has been shown to be effective in reducing anxiety and frustration felt by parents who can't understand their children's behavior.

Temperament is different from personality and ability. The major areas of temperament are defined as follows:

  • Energy level -- how much the child moves around, how intensely he/she reacts to events
  • Adjustability -- length of time needed to recover or adapt to intrusions, transitions, changes, or novelties
  • Frustration tolerance -- how easily the child can withstand the disorganizing effects of limits, obstacles, and delays
  • Sensitivity -- the amount of stimulation or change in stimulation levels needed to evoke a discernible response
  • Regularity in sleep and eating schedules -- to what extent the child becomes tired or hungry at the same time each day
  • Distractibility (or in infancy, soothability) -- how easily external events or stimulation interfere with or divert the child from an ongoing activity.

The process begins with a questionnaire by which Preventive Ounce determines what kind of temperament a child has. Information is then provided to the parent concerning the kinds of behavioral issues that are normal for that temperament type, with suggestions of strategies for dealing with them. Also provided is information on the experiences of other parents of children of similar temperaments, with examples of what works well and what does not.

Now available in both English and Spanish, the program is designed to be used by parents of children age 4 months through 12 years. It has been recognized by a number of managed health care systems, adoption agencies, and private pediatric clinics as beneficial to families and cost-effective. Most of this program was developed and tested at Kaiser Permanente, the oldest and largest HMO in the United States. As stated in the April 2001 edition of Children Now's Right Time Right Place News newsletter, in 1994 the program was evaluated by Kaiser Permanente and found to be an effective way to improve care for children and families, while decreasing costs for the health plan. "In one Kaiser facility, four-month-old infants whose parents received temperament-based anticipatory guidance through the mail had 1.5 fewer discretionary visits to Kaiser clinics in the next year, compared to infants in a matching control group," said James Cameron, Ph.D., Executive Director of The Preventive Ounce.

The Preventive Ounce's Web page provides detailed information on their organization's history and on temperament. Cameron and David Rice, Ph.D., the two founding psychologists of Preventive Ounce in 1986, began their careers in the 1960s as child psychologists in children's mental health programs at the county and State levels. "We both recognized that many of the behavioral problems of the children in these programs had started in the infant or toddler period… but parents had received no help at that time," said Cameron. "We believe that child abuse has many roots. One of them occurs when parents don't understand their child's temperament and therefore can't 'fit' their parenting to respond effectively to the issues normal for their child's temperament."

Online, parents and caregivers can complete a short, two-part questionnaire that generates a profile of their child's temperament. The questionnaires currently available online are for English-speaking parents of infants, toddlers, and preschoolers. According to Cameron, Spanish versions of the toddler and preschool questionnaires should be available on the Preventive Ounce website by the end of the year. Cameron also notes that a questionnaire for the older child is in the planning stages; however, the preschool-age questionnaire can be used to forecast issues up through age 7. Training in the use of the Preventive Ounce website and temperament counseling is available through two Internet-based training programs sponsored by Arizona State University's College of Nursing and their Distance Learning Program.

To learn more about The Preventive Ounce and to obtain hard copies of the English and Spanish versions of the temperament questionnaires, contact Dr. Cameron at 510-658-8359 or prevntoz@mindspring.com. Visit the Preventive Ounce website at http://www.preventiveoz.org.

To learn more about Internet-based temperament training programs, contact David.Hrabe@asu.edu.

For information about the Right Time Right Places News newsletter, go to the Children Now website at http://www.childrennow.org.

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