The Melancholic Child–Ages 7 and Up

 

 

(This post is not meant to address children who are clinically depressed.  Please speak to a health care professional if you feel your child is depressed). 

 

Then you should know exactly which children lean toward

inner reflection and are inclined to brood over things; these are

the melancholic children. It is not easy to give them impressions

of the outer world. They brood quietly within themselves,

but this does not mean that they are unoccupied in their

inner being. On the contrary, we have the impression that they

are active inwardly.  – “Discussions With Teachers” Lecture One, Rudolf Steiner

 

Rudolf Steiner was not the first person to work with the ideas of the human temperaments;   the Greek physician Hippocrates incorporated the four temperaments into his medical work and the temperaments have made their way into medicine and psychology since then.  Rudolf Steiner linked the four temperaments to not only his ideas regarding the four fold human being, but also to the different developmental cycles of the human being.  For example, he felt the early childhood years of birth through seven were a predominantly sanguine time.

 

When we look at children, I have spoken to many mothers who feel the predominant temperament of their child is melancholic.  Many melancholic children have a particular physical body type – tall, slender, mournful eyes, a slow gait.  They tend to think a lot about the past, themselves, and they have a good memory concerning things that happen to themselves.   They tend to analyze, brood and have a strong attention to detail.  Many times they are bothered by the idea of imperfection.  I find many melancholic children in my own life can be rather inflexible, and when things do not happen according to the pictures or thoughts they have laid out, they can become extremely upset or angry.

 

Many times melancholic children seem to have a poor quality of relationships with others.  These may be the children who have only a few good friends.  They can be drawn into relationships if something strikes them as unjust or unfair; sticking up for the underdog is often part of a melancholic child’s connection and sympathy to another person’s pain and suffering.

 

Here is my area of caution after working with many families over the years:  Please do not confuse the melancholic child with something else.  I have talked to many mothers who felt their child was melancholic, but when I looked at the child in person and observed them and the family, it seemed to me that the whole family may have been in  a stressful, rough patch that was feeding the child’s feelings that the world was not a good place and that the child was working with this sad, unjust feeling as projected from the mother or other attachment figure in the family.  Once the family became stabilized, the child also stabilized.  This is not true melancholia as a temperamental trait. 

 

I have also seen videos of children with sensory issues whose parents were clearly worn out by a child’s behavior and sometimes the child would respond with complaining and  brooding to try to arouse the parent’s attention and sympathy.  This is a scenario too long and complicated to get into via electronic medium, but again, I don’t think that is a true melancholic child.  That is a child trying to elicit attention and increased energy from a parent.  The take away  message is that if your own energy is really low, your child may be acting melancholic to try to arouse something out of you!   We must always look to ourselves first. 

 

And complaining does not always equal a melancholic child either.  I think we have to look at the whole picture of the whole child.  A child may complain and feel lonely through the nine year change, for example, but that is a developmental stage, but not true melancholia as a tempermental trait.

 

The way to work with a melancholic, as advised by many resources, is to listen carefully to the melancholic child’s deep and brooding thoughts and to tell them stories about others who have suffered or times of your own suffering in order to connect.

 

I think this works well in a classroom,  and we can also use it in the home environment.  However, I think there is something more that should predominate with a melancholic child in the home environment:  we have to be careful to listen, but not be a captive stage for hours on end by long tales of the woe of the melancholic child.  This can be a tricky balance!  The melancholic child should not set the tone for the home; we should as parents set the tone for our house.   In the home environment where we are with our children 24/7, it is important to demonstrate to the melancholic child how we protect our own emotional boundaries because this is an important aspect of modeling emotional health for this temperament type.  We can carefully listen to our child and then say  that we have certainly heard them, and that we will carry their thoughts with us whilst we go do the dishes or brush the dog.  We can help engage these children in real work, and get them physically moving instead of wallowing in their own negativity.   I find melancholic children often need more exercise and sometimes even more opportunities to be socially drawn out  than they may be prone to want themselves.  Melancholic children are often happiest being creative and reading, which is wonderful, but physical movement and community is very important for these children. 

 

In my mind, this temperament also needs a strong religious and spiritual life as they grow into adolescence and adulthood in order to have something to hold onto. We want to balance these children and all four of the temperaments that are within them and within us all.

 

Blessings,
Carrie

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6 thoughts on “The Melancholic Child–Ages 7 and Up

  1. This post is so wonderful and helpful for all! You have given us a lot of kind reminders, such as: “we should as parents set the tone for our house.” and reminding us about the need for physical activity, meaningful work and community! Good for all! young, & old.

    Thank-you!

  2. Great post. My son is heavy on the Mel. He has been such a challenge to my choleric/sanguine self! I think it is so important for us to not only focus on what could be going on with our child, but to stand back and take a huge look at ourselves. It is so easy to miss that part. Our children are settling into their bodies, learning boundaries, learning when to feel safe, they get that from us. We have to be that guide. I wrote a piece on Temperament Parenting a while back that can be found here:

    http://waldorfessentials.com/blog/2012/04/temperamentparenting/

    I think this is a great topic- the melancholic child can be very frustrating to a choleric or sanguine mom especially. I find with the complaining, that can often be a phlegmatic child. For years I thought my oldest’s hyper sensitive complaining was part of him struggling with autism until I birthed a child with no sensory issues that still complains! Super Sam is a perfect phlegmatic… loves comfort, snuggles for hours, SLOW to move, eating breakfast could take hours if I let it, a fire ball when he gets himself going…. but make him move his little body and ten steps from the car I hear “my feet hurt, aren’t we done yet?” LOL. So look at the complaining. Often the phlegmatic complains about things surrounding their comfort while the melancholic will complain about things surrounding their ego or their lot in life.

    I did find this year with my teen melancholic being in 8th grade, we opened the year with biographies. This was SO good for him. He is nicely drawn into the lives of others He loved Mandela and we watched Invictus and he is working on this poem:

    Out of the night that covers me,
    Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
    I thank whatever gods may be
    For my unconquerable soul.

    In the fell clutch of circumstance
    I have not winced nor cried aloud.
    Under the bludgeonings of chance
    My head is bloody, but unbowed.

    Beyond this place of wrath and tears
    Looms but the Horror of the shade,
    And yet the menace of the years
    Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.

    It matters not how strait the gate,
    How charged with punishments the scroll.
    I am the master of my fate:
    I am the captain of my soul.
    William Ernest Henley

    The poem alone is a great piece for melancholics! He will read about Tesla. I am so excited to feed him this way this year.

    These melancholic children need MANY opportunities to serve others and they also may need a little nudge now and then to get them there. My son is volunteering at a bicycle collective where he helps repair bikes and the days that he works are magical days in our home because he is singing all day, whistling and happy. We live in co-housing (http://www.cohousing.org/) and that is feeding him nicely too, he serves others outside his immediate family and beams! It is fabulous. This has probably been our best few months in a very long time.

    I totally agree too, movement and God… they need the strength of religious practice to stand by.

    Again, GREAT topic! Blessings.

    • Becky — I have some thoughts for the sanguine child as well, but we will see what the writing muses bring…In the meantime, if you put “temperament” into the search engine on The Parenting Passageway, you can bring up the other posts I have written about the temperaments..

      Blessings,
      Carrie

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