Effective Use of the Temperaments in Education and Discipline

So far we have looked at the four-fold human being and had an introduction to the temperaments.  Today we are going to peek at HOW to use the temperaments as an ally in education and discipline.  As I have said in the first two parts to this post, this information was presented to our homeschooling group at a wonderful workshop on the temperaments given by our Waldorf Handwork teacher, Ms. Judy Forster.  She is so knowledgeable and wonderful. We are so lucky to have her as part of our group! 

So to start, a quick common question is something like this:  “Yes, I read all the descriptions of the temperaments and I still don’t know what temperament my child is.”

Yes, sometimes it is hard to tell.  It is easy to confuse the predominant temperament of a developmental stage for an individual temperament.  I have heard Waldorf teachers say typically two temperament predominate.

So, Ms. Forster gave us a tip that one place to garner an idea regarding your child’s temperament is in looking at how they approach handwork,   A choleric child will want to be done first with their handwork, and will make mistakes along the way because they are going so fast because they HAVE to be done first.  A sanguine child may have lots of holes in their loose knitting because they got distracted or were too busy talking, and are content to know that maybe the fairies will come and fix it later.  A melancholic child will take their handwork very seriously, they will be extremely detail-oriented  and will rip a piece of knitting apart for the one stitch that was off that that the handwork teacher  told them was okay to leave alone (but they can’t, so then they have to rip it all out when the teacher is not looking).  Their knitting is usually tight.  The phlegmatic child is hard to get going on anything, but once they get going, it is either hard for them to stop – they may end up knitting a rug-sized piece of something when the project was supposed to be small because they just couldn’t stop – or they may just be steady and be done first (much to the chagrin of the choleric child).   Those examples came  from Judy Forster, our wonderful and knowledgeable Handwork teacher.  Please see her Etsy shop here: http://www.etsy.com/shop/mamajudes

Here is an example from me.  I think the temperaments show in how your child deals with  social challenges.  For example, the choleric will be telling everyone what to do, what is fair and not fair, and may end up flying into a rage that they feel immensely sorry about later.  A sanguine child will know who said what and who gets along with who and will be flitting around like a butterfly and taking in everything that every person does.  A melancholic child will figure no one will like them, no one will pick them, and they think that  if they do get picked they will end up with a challenge (ie, disaster) that  no one else in the world has faced.  A phlegmatic child will spend most of the time eating and warming up and getting ready to participate, and by the time they are ready to join in, it will be time to go home.

Hope that gives you all some ideas!  Anyway, on to how to work with these temperaments most effectively!  People act as if our goal should be to eradicate the temperament that the child displays, but that is not the case.  All the temperaments have good things about them; perhaps the case is more how to balance and harmonize (which for most people will not completely happen until they are in their 30s), and also how to use the temperaments as an ally in parenting and education.

CHOLERIC:  Choleric children are actually  really fair and they have big hearts, so appealing to the choleric in that way helps. I once was friends with a very choleric little guy who would break everything.  When he came to my house, I always said something like, “You know, I love how strong you are and you are so fast!  I have this pile of ten oranges and I was wondering if you could squeeze them all by hand so we could have juice for snack.”  Worked beautifully.

When a choleric rages and breaks something, if the child is between 7 and 9, I would wait until the next day to talk to them about it.  Usually by that time they are so regretful they have punished themselves more than you ever possibly could.  The worst thing to do would be to get wrapped up in their anger personally.  You must be the wall for them to bounce off of. 

SANGUINE:  Interrupt their work and give them little tasks to do before they take off and interrupt their own work.  You are in charge of the interruption during homeschool, for example.  You need something delivered to a neighbor, you need the tomato plants watered, the dog needs something, whatever.  If you keep interrupting them, they will finally settle down to work!  Work on building up their endurance in this way – the first week interrupt their work so many times a hour and then the second week drop the number of interruptions and then keep lengthening the time that they are focused on a task.

Also, sanguine children love beauty, so be beautiful!  Put flowers in your schoolroom, wear something beautiful.  They will notice.  It will captivate them.  This is also a good way to work on this temperament if you are not naturally drawn to beauty in your daily life..say if you are predominately melancholic and pre-occupied with worry.  🙂

MELANCHOLIC:  Melancholic children have great sympathy, so appealing to what you really need and what obstacles you have yourself your day and if the child could just do “X” how helpful that would be.  I think the other place to work with melancholics is through story telling regarding perfectionism.  Donna Simmons has a good example of a story for a melancholic in her First Grade Syllabus, and there are many more examples out there.

The other key to a melancholic child is to just listen and to feel truly compassionate.  The child truly feels these things do not happen to anyone else on earth,  ever in the history of mankind…So listening, and then perhaps sharing something similar from your own childhood.  The melancholic child will be most interested in stories where the hero overcomes enormous hardship.  🙂

PHLEGMATIC:  To me, this group is the hardest.  They will sit like small little lumps for quite some time.  Our handwork teacher recommends ignoring that they are even there for a time being (which is hard without a classroom of children  to carry, I find).  Some of them will be motivated to do something if it has to be done before snack time comes.   I think rhythm is  a great help to the phlegmatic because transitions can often be hard.   When they say they are “bored”, give them full permission to be with their boredom. Encourage it.  🙂 

The other thing I learned at the temperament workshop is that Fourth  Grade, when children are ten and obviously after the nine-year-change, is when one starts to see “Extraverted” and “Introverted” categories of these temperaments….So, for example, an “introverted melancholic” may be a child to watch closely in the school years for obvious reasons. 

The other little note I thought of is that if you feel you are predominately one way or the other way, what could you do to enliven the other temperaments within you?

Many blessings,


11 thoughts on “Effective Use of the Temperaments in Education and Discipline

  1. My oldest (14) is an introverted melancholic. Over the years she has responded best when she is given the opportunity to care for others. She loves gardening, caring for animals, and babysitting. I can’t peg my youngest.

    • Sarah- I agree with care of something other than themselves for the introverted melancholic….That is so excellent you were able to respond to her in that way and fill her needs!

  2. This is helpful Carrie. It is nice to think of my own temperament and how to find balance rather than feeling as if my temperament is negative in some way!

    Any suggestions on how to help an adult who is melancholic to find balance? My sister is extremely melancholic. She is 33 years old and still reacts to every single event in her life as a “rip off” and as if she is the only one who has to endure such hardships. It’s hard to just listen and be supportive. Truthfully though, I get tired of hearing the same old thing.

    And to clarify, I shouldn’t be trying to fit my 4 1/2 year old into any of these categories or intro/extraversion until he is older than 7?


    • Hi renee,
      Yes, I think that is the hard thing when we see people whose temperaments are not in harmony and things are not in balance..it can be really hard to watch and listen to..I have some VERY phlegmatic people in my family and it is hard for me too! For melancholics, I think if they could at all get involved in caring for other people in need or in caring for animals..that is the hard thing though, they have to come up with this and want to do it themselves and recognize it in themselves…You cannot fix it for her, as much as you would like. 🙂
      Your little tiny four year old – you cannot tell temperament yet and the introvert/extravert thing you will not see until after the nine year change…some young children (ie, ages 7-9) are really shy but then open up after the nine year change (or even the 12 year change)…so just hold on to the information for later..:)

  3. I enjoyed reading this post. I see a little sanguine in my house, my 7 year old son finds beauty and awe in every little treasure he finds and always collecting and admiring flowers especially for me. Such a romantic, he loves to build and create for hours but when it comes to doing some writing, 5 mins is too much. Since we live on a farm there are so many exciting things going on.
    Lovely blog, I forward it to many moms, an inspiration to all.

  4. Thanks Carrie. You did answer for me what I knew in my heart– that I can’t fix things for my sister. She is on her own path and needs to want to change herself. Maybe I can make subtle suggestions about working with others? 😉

    And it’s good to know that temperament is still developing. My son went through an extremely shy phase between 2-4 (almost debilitating). It was hard for me socially. And as a mom, I worried so much about his ability to have and make friends. But, he seems to be coming out of it bit by bit.

    I guess my lesson today is that each and every one of us has our own path!

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