Temperament Traits and Executive Functions

Temper tantrum word cloud

Temperament Traits and Executive Functions

Dr. Bob | executive function, temperament traits | 0 Comments | Post Date: May 09 2019

The Reason Your Child is Easy or Not-So-Easy


Temperament traits and executive functions are the building blocks of brain function and are really what makes kids tick and are responsible for the Easy or Not-So-Easy label.

Temperament traits are first on the scene followed by the executive functions. Temperament traits are genetic, i.e., inherited from the child’s parents. They are present and functioning at birth. They can be measured at three months, are stable at 18 months and last essentially unchanged the rest of life. The good news is that with the help of his parents a child can learn to manage temperament traits that are overly strong or weak. (More later)

During the first two years of life executive functions begin to develop. Ages three to seven years are the rapidly developing stage. At age four years these EFs can be measured, and the results are predictive of which children will have behavioral, socio-emotional and or learning problems.
EFs don’t develop in a vacuum but in an environment that may be supportive or not. A non-supportive environment, such as an abusive family, can be detrimental to EF development. (Much more about how temperament traits and EF predict success or struggles in the introduction of my book, The Normal but Not-So-Easy Child.)


Temperament traits are like our brain’s musical notes. 

Everyone has nine notes; four of those notes play our behavioral tunes, and three different notes play our learning tunes, and two either enhance or dampen our tune. Each note can be either high or low and how our notes are arranged determine the music we play. Our melodies can be soft or loud, positive or negative, harmonious or discordant, flowing or choppy, pleasant or unpleasant, and how they are put together determines our unique personality song. These notes or temperament traits are genetically determined and present at birth. These temperament traits are the building blocks of our personalities and are components of our executive functions, which develop in very early childhood.


Both Temperament Traits (TTs) & Executive functions (EFs) are divided into behavioral drivers and learning drivers. The behavioral drivers are called hot executive functions, and the learning drivers are called cool executive functions. The temperament traits within our hot executive functions determine how we process change, new information, the information collected by our senses, and our mood. These processes determine our ability to solve problems and get along with others. Our cool executive function's components determine how we initiate a project; do we start immediately, or do we procrastinate? These elements of our cool EF determine our skills of planning and organizing, time management, organization of materials, our monitoring of our problem-solving and our efficiency in retrieving information.


How does your child sound? Loud and fast, soft and slow, harmonious and flowing, discordant and choppy? Does your child sound like a Gershwin song or hard rock? As many different songs as you can imagine, there are more distinctive children’s personalities. Children are very different, and your job is to discover your child’s uniqueness. If you have several children; what does their band sound like and does it harmonize with the family?


Temperament traits (TTs) were most recently researched in the late 1950s by two child psychiatrists, Drs. Stella Chess and Alexander Thomas. They studied a large group of children from infancy until they were 30 years old. TTs did not change. If a child has an abundance of energy, he continued to, and the reverse is true. The nine temperament traits consist of four behavioral drivers, three learning drivers and two enhancers. The behavioral drivers are adaptability or ability to change, approach/withdrawal or the ability to accept new experiences, sensory threshold or the sensitivity to input from the five senses, and your body clock or regularity of body functions.


The learning drivers are activity or energy level, persistence and distractibility. The Enhancers are intensity and mood. Everyone has all nine traits. Each trait varies in strength.  


behavior symptoms


Everyone’s TTs are stable throughout life. Let’s use activity level to illustrate. If a child has an activity of 4-6 on a 10 scale, s/he will be in the middle of the curve and will have enough energy to complete tasks but not too much to be hyper or too little to complete the tasks. Children above 6 or below 4 will be at risk for issues. A child whose scores for all 9 traits are 4 to 6 would be an easy and resilient, 4 will be at risk for issues. A child whose scores for all 9 traits are 4 to 6 would be an easy and resilient child (40% of children).


The Not-So-Easy child (NSEC) has scores higher or lower and will have issues with that trait. The child who has one or two traits with high or low scores is Not-So-Easy. If a child has five or six traits out of mid-range s/he is very NSE and if the scores are 8 or 9 is a very, very NSE. The NSEC will struggle more and you will require more parenting skills to help that child. The temperament traits outside the middle range will determine exactly the type of problems.

Here is a chart of Temperament Trait Combinations and the Symptoms:

temperament trait combinations



Temperament traits determine a child’s first response to a situation and the executive functions complete the response.
Both Temperament Traits and Executive Functions are necessary.   


Executive Functions: The Brain’s Command and Control will be the next post.



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