“To everything there is a season.” And each season brings unique differences, wonderful aspects, and particular challenges, just like our children bring to our world!
Nature often mirrors the temperaments and personalities that we see in our families. This connection between seasons, natural elements, and temperament is a fundamental part of Waldorf Education called the Four Temperaments. According to Rudolf Steiner, knowing how the four temperaments guide our children’s personalities allows for “all multiplicity, beauty, and fullness of life to be possible.”
Perhaps you have a child who is constantly on the move or one who prefers quiet inside activities. Maybe your child has intense outbursts when they feel passionate about something or lights up at any social opportunity. These in-born personality traits correlate to the four temperaments, and also to the four elements and four seasons. And while our children are influenced by a myriad of different factors, understanding their intrinsic temperament helps us as we guide their growth.
There are many different personality questionnaires and theories out there but the four temperaments have been around since the Ancient Greeks used it to treat illnesses, making it one of the oldest personality type systems. Rudolf Steiner used this theory as one way to work with and understand children. He taught this philosophy to his teachers who in turn used it to help design their seating arrangements, lesson plans, storytelling, and other components of their classroom community.
Waldorf teachers know that each child’s temperament changes through time and that children will ultimately embody all four temperaments in a more balanced way as they grow into adulthood. According to Waldorf teacher, Mima Djordjevic, “We don’t hold the children firmly in one temperament. Even if they show some dominance, we know that it is likely to change when they get to be nine and older, they are tendencies, they don’t really define us.”
However, using this guidepost of temperaments does offer insight into how your children process and interact with siblings, peers, new ideas, and challenges. Not to mention, it’s a fascinating way to look at the individual characteristics of the people around us.
The Four Temperaments In A Nutshell
An incredible resource for understanding these temperaments is a book written by Helmut Eller called The Four Temperaments: Suggestions for Teachers. Eller explains that people can have more than one predominant temperament and may even have up to three. So as you read these descriptions, use it as a guide to areas where your child might have some extra tendencies and think of also where you fall into these categories as their parent. I know for myself, it is important to challenge myself to reach into different temperaments as I expose my children to activities that aren’t always in my own temperament’s comfort zone! Remember that not all children fall neatly into each category and their personalities are complex and unique.
After a brief explanation of each basic temperament, there are some simple suggestions for ways to work with this temperament in your home. The amazing toymaker, Grimm’s Spiel & Holz has designed a beautiful wooden block set called The Four Temperaments Building Block Set. This set is divided into four parts, each representing one of the temperaments, creating a stunning visual representation. It is a wonderful way to introduce children to the four temperaments, and allow them to explore some of the foundational ideas behind them through building and play. It comes with a large paper to show where the blocks are placed, making it an excellent puzzle as well. There are also nesting and stacking block sets that complement each temperament, they are linked below as well.
This temperament is connected to the season of spring and the element of air. Like a butterfly flitting about to every flower, this temperament is often carefree, happy, and social. Eller describes this temperament as “light and cheerful, spontaneous and confident.” The Sanguine child is open to new opportunities and friendships and is eager to embrace all of the excitement and joy of the world around them.
Working with the sanguine temperament at home:
Sanguine children are most inspired by their love for their parents and teachers. Their enthusiasm is bountiful but they can also be prone to distraction. Because of this, Steiner recommended helping those with a sanguine temperament to find greater focus by supporting them in one special interest and encouraging them to stick with it even when they get pulled in other areas. Eller recommends looking closely at objects of interest each day and remarking on every detail that the child notices as a way to help sanguine tempered children develop focus.
This temperament is connected to the season of summer and the element of fire. Passionate, fiery, and filled with a strong will, choleric children have a tremendous amount of intensity and energy. They are extroverted and determined and as Eller writes, “A choleric child leads the way, constantly strives forward and energetically pursues her goal. Once it is achieved, she immediately seeks a new one. Determination and drive go hand in hand." Sometimes this drive and determination can turn to frustration when things don’t go as planned or according to their particular ideal.
Working with the choleric temperament at home:
Choleric children need to see that the adults around them are calm, collected, and knowledgeable even in the face of the fiery temper of this temperament. Steiner believed that choleric children are best able to engage with the adults in their lives through respect and said that “for the choleric child one must be thoroughly worthy of esteem and respect in the highest sense of the word.” Steiner recommends that choleric tempered children have plenty of challenges to work on, get plenty of exercise, and are witness to the talents and skills of the adults around them.
This temperament is connected to the season of autumn and the element of earth. Compassionate with a rich inner life, melancholic children are often cautious and deeply sensitive. Eller writes that this temperament “ feels much more at home in his inner world — in his thoughts, emotions and even dreams. He loves inner and outer peace and quiet and behaves sensitively and tactfully.” This temperament is also a very strong observer who is able to empathize with others.
Working with the melancholic temperament at home:
Helping melancholic children to look outward is helpful for this temperament and Steiner recommends that they focus on the needs of others to divert their intense introspection. Giving them comfort and compassion is important as is connecting their struggles to similar stories of your own experiences where you felt pain. Asking them challenging questions and setting aside time each day to discuss subjects that spark their curiosity and passion are two ways to help this temperament process their intense feelings.
The phlegmatic temperament is connected to the season of winter and the element of water. Like a warm blanket and a hot cup of tea on a cold day, this temperament knows how to savor comfort. Although similar to melancholic in their inward direction, this temperament tends to be more contented and interested in coziness. Eller writes that these children “encounter the world around them with a feeling of well-being at their own leisurely, unhurried pace. Nothing can get them worked up.” This temperament loves rhythm and regularity and has a tremendous amount of patience, endurance, and calm.
Working with the phlegmatic temperament at home:
Phlegmatic temperaments, according to Rudolf Steiner, do best when connected to other children with a large variety of interests which encourages them to become more active and engaged with the world around them. Providing phlegmatic tempered children with a lot of play dates and asking them questions will also keep them connected. These children often need a bit more time to get ready in the morning and need a stable home with lots of calming routines.
Overall, these temperaments enrich our lives as each element, season, and personality brings needed variety and depth to our world. Each temperament has unique gifts, challenges, and strengths that we can learn from. Through understanding where our children and family members fall on this spectrum, we can work to balance and appreciate the fullness of life with all of its wind, sun, bonfires, and waves.