The Four Temperaments

In Waldorf Education, the four temperaments are seen as a tool to help us understand the child as a “whole” human being.  The idea of the four temperaments was not new in Steiner’s time;  it came about during the Greek times and again during the Middle Ages (some of you may remember hearing about the four humors or the four fluids).

Roberto Trostli writes in “Rhythms of Learning”:  “Our temperament mediates between these two streams; it allows us to reconcile our hereditary characteristics with out destiny.” 

Here are a few things to be aware of with the temperaments:

  • You cannot tell what temperament your child is before the change of teeth.  You may see glimmers here and there, but things do change over the years.  So , if you have small children under the age of 7, please save this information for the future.  I would even argue you can see the temperament of your child best as they approach the nine-year change.
  • According to Steiner, each period of the lifespan has a temperament associated with it:  childhood-sanguine (most sources say sanguine, some sources say choleric; I say sanguine);  adolescents- choleric; adulthood-melancholic and old age-phlegmatic.
  • As an adult, the goal is for all your temperaments to be in harmony with none of the temperaments.  So if you see one thing predominating in  yourself, then you may have to work to cultivate the other temperaments and bring yourself into more harmony.

The workshop I attended required some artistic work and rendering of the temperaments, so know that is an option for home.  We worked with a color wheel and the temperaments and drawing.  It was very interesting, and now,  without further ado, let’s talk about each of the temperaments:

CHOLERIC: (colors:  black, reds).  Cholerics are associated with fire, summer and a predominance of “I” for an adult… (in a child, the astral body is said to predominate in this temperament).  Cholerics are people such as Napoleon (okay, he was a badly unchecked choleric), Nero, President Teddy Roosevelt, Donald Trump.   They are strong people who “DO” – the leaders of our times.  Some Waldorf teachers feel less of these cholerics are coming to us as we see less leaders and people wanting to step forth and lead during our times, as opposed to times such as World War II. 

At any rate, these fast, fiery, strong-willed and quick-tempered individuals are also very fair and associated with the mathematical process of division.  They can have great warmth and can be exceptional leaders.  They are also very hard workers and are very goal-oriented.

From a physical standpoint, cholerics can be short-statured, with shorter necks. They also  can be associated with  having health problems involving the heart.

The challenges of an individual with a choleric temperament includes being bossy or stubborn, quick-tempered and then regretful afterwards, not listening to others well.

SANGUINE:  (colors: yellows, the rainbow!)  Sanguines are associated with spring, air, sweetness, and a predominance of the astral body for the adult (for children, the etheric body predominates).  Sanguines are such people as President John F Kennedy and President Clinton.  They are full of life, they have lots of ideas, they are the social glue of a classroom,  the social  movers and the shakers  of society.  They notice everything, they respond to everything and move quickly from one thing to another. They are personable, light-hearted people. Sanguines are often associated with the mathematical process of addition.

Physically, they are often have balanced, graceful body types and are beautiful or handsome.   They can be drawn to smoking, and have health problems associated with the lungs.

The challenges of an individual with a sanguine temperament includes starting many projects but not finishing, being prone to social pressures, possibly one could see a teenager with this temperament being predominate that they would seek out inappropriate things in adolescence in order to ground them.  They can also be seen as shallow, superficial and fickle.

PHLEGMATIC:  (colors: greens and blues) Phlegmatics are associated with winter and water and a predominance of the etheric body (in children, the physical body predominates).  Phlegmatics are slow, steady people who love their physical comforts, order, repetition.  They have a hard time starting things, but once they get started, they become engaged and will stick with a project until it is completed.  They tend to be loyal, patient, dependable.  They can be deep thinkers that come up with great ideas. 

I always think of phlegmatics and digestion and inner bodily processes (due to being associated with water, like the tides going in and out and the inner rhythm of the etheric body.  Physically, there is often a softness to how a person with a predominantly phlegmatic temperament looks.  They tend toward obesity.  They can be prone to such health problems as gout and problems associated with the lymphatic system. 

The challenge of this temperament is to interest them in something besides comfort and food.   They can be rather lazy – or are they just taking it all in and thinking deeply?  Transitions can be a problem, for once they are started and caught up in something, they do not want to stop.  But most of all, the  phlegmatic individual can have a temper!  A temper that makes a choleric look like a kitten.  People who have a predominantly phlegmatic temperament are very patient indeed, but once they are angry – look out, because it all explodes.

MELANCHOLIC: (colors:  indigo, purples, violets)  Melancholics are associated with the fall and earth, along with the mathematical process of subtraction.  They have a predominant physical body, although in children one sees a predominance of the “I”.  A melancholic person is introspective, thoughtful.  They tend to be insightful people and take everything to heart and are often sad or despondent.  They can have a great capacity for sympathy and tend to be perceptive about other people’s pain.  They typically can articulate their thoughts and feelings well.

Physically, a melancholic is often tall and thin and can be prone to rheumatism and arthritis.  Due to their sensitivity, they often make good workers in the health care field.

The challenge of the melancholic is that they can become self-absorbed and feel their problems are like those that no one else in the world  has ever experienced.  They also can get lost in details and lose the big picture.  They can be prone to perfectionism.

In the next post, we will talk about some ways to work with each temperament effectively.

Many blessings,

Carrie

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14 thoughts on “The Four Temperaments

  1. I’m intrigued by these posts and although my kids are far too young to be thinking about this in them, I am interested in thinking about how to work with myself in this context. And agree with a previous commenter on your last post that there are some striking similarities to Yoga’s system of doshas, etc.

    Sorry to ask this unrelated question, but I’ve been combing the archives today trying to find a post I loved but forgot to bookmark – it was about inner work, developing rhythm, etc, when you know you plan to homeschool but your kids are still young. As I look toward the 3-5 timeframe for my currently 2.5 year old, I want to revisit that post…happen to know which one I mean? :)

  2. Hi Carrie,
    I’ve been reading about temperaments but I’m not sure how I’m to figure out which one my child has. Do you have any suggestions/direction?
    thank you,
    Sherene

  3. I feel like I have a very difficult time trying to decide if my 8 year old is sanguine or choleric. Also I notice there can be a lot of variance in descriptions from author to author – for example I have seen the math process of division assigned to both sanguine and choleric types. This is such a fascinating subject! And it’s always exciting to learn more! Thanks Carrie!

    • Apple,
      you can have two dominant temperaments, so perhaps he really is both right now, especially at that transitional stage of 8 where sanguine is a predominant feature of the 7 year old child and under…
      Blessings,
      Carrie

  4. Dear Carrie,

    I love your blog and consider it my go-to resource for parenting questions and challenges. I have a 3.5 year old son who is very strong willed. I have read your posts about that age group, and he sounds like a normal kid for that age, but he is certainly very strong willed. It is a daily struggle to get him to brush his teeth, go to the restroom, come for his nap, etc etc. He wants his wishes to rule at all times. He is a nice and bright boy, but very difficult to handle at times. I read your post on the Four Temperaments, but need more info on how to raise him lovingly while staying sane.

    Regards,
    LivingAndLearning

  5. No Carrie,

    Didn’t find any related back post. I searched for ‘strong will’, ‘strong personality’, etc, but not finding a detailed guide. Will appreciate if you could share some thoughts about a strong willed child.

    Love & regards…

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  8. An updated system separates things about a Phlegmatic into two separate temperaments: one with the same name (phlegmatic) and the other called “supine.” Loyal, patient, and dependable are usually true of both. So is the “slow and steady.” The difference is that supine is the “willing servant’s” temperament, known for its “parent-like charm.” Both temperaments probably do take things in and think deeply about them, the supine more-so than the phlegmatic.
    Phlegmatic, in the updated system, is positioned in the “middle,” which can mean “sluggish and neutral” or “a little bit of everything”; while supine moves in on the position associated with winter and water. I don’t know how “official” the same “supine” is yet….

  9. Dear Carrie,
    I have just learn about waldorf education, and i gain a lot from your posts, thank you so much! i am currently reading the four temperaments, but i couldnt find the second part, can you help me?
    Bless you,
    Agie

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