There have been many articles written on how to motivate children or students using the punishment and reward system, which deals with “external” influences on behavior. In this article we will focus on the “internal” influences on behavior, namely the child’s/student’s temperament.
Temperament is something you are born with. It’s part of your nature, your make up – it’s part of who you are. Your child’s/student’s temperament will determine how they act or react to different people, ideas and situations. The idea of temperament has been around since 400 B.C. It has been modified over the years but is still used today by psychologists and educators all over the world. There are four temperaments: choleric, melancholic, sanguine, and phlegmatic. We will proceed to give a short description of each and then briefly discuss how each temperament is best motivated.
The choleric child is a “take charge” person who loves to be in control. They are born leaders, filled with energy, and are good at setting their own goals. Because of this, motivation is usually not a problem. If it is, one solution is to challenge them. Cholerics love a challenge and they love competition even more (against themselves but especially against others). Challenge them with something more difficult, give them a goal, or a new record to set. Another difficulty with motivating cholerics is that they like to be the ones in charge and will rebel against any type of authoritarian control. Make sure you let them keep their sense of autonomy within your structured bounds.
The melancholic has high ideals, is sensitive, a perfectionist, introverted, analytical and slow to react. When you are having trouble motivating a melancholic it is not usually because they do not want to act but because they want to do the required task perfectly. They will analyze and re-analyze a situation, aiming for their high ideal, and may never get started. The best way to motivate a melancholic is to help them focus on the most important things. Help them to set specific goals and to let the smaller things slide. Because they are analytical, melancholics also tend to think of and worry about all the things that could possibly go wrong. You can help them avoid obsessing about details by setting goals and getting them to take one step at a time.
Some of the traits of the sanguine include – optimist, extrovert, lives in the present, a people person, enthusiastic, fun loving, and will jump right in. Since they are on opposite poles from the melancholic you should not have much trouble getting them motivated…the problem will be keeping them motivated! Since the sanguine jumps right in they tend to skip over details and soon find themselves up against obstacles they had not thought about. Help them to focus on the details and not the whole picture (just the opposite of the melancholic). Another thing to consider is the fact that they are fun loving. Remove the fun from something and you remove their motivation. Take away doing things with other people (the social aspect) and again you will lose their motivation.
The phlegmatic is not easily angered, loyal, dependable, naturally cooperative, and calm under tremendous pressure. They do not like conflict or confrontation and will avoid them at all cost. If you want to motivate a phlegmatic never belittle or nag them. They will only withdraw into themselves and resist you even more. Since they are naturally cooperative and open to help or advice from others simply asking them nicely will be enough to motivate them. The only problem with this approach is that over time they will lose self-confidence. By always avoiding conflict and taking the path of least resistance they never learn to think for themselves or question anything – they just go along to get along. And if you take away the person helping or advising them they will be prone to laziness – not because they are lazy, but because the will lack self confidence. The best way to help a phlegmatic is to encourage them and point out their strengths.
In conclusion, we can see that each temperament is very different and needs to be motivated in different ways. Try to get to know your child/student better to discover which temperament they have. It will take some work but usually with some close observation over a period of time you will be able to tell. There are also many fine books written on the subject of temperament if you would like to go more in depth. One final note – temperaments usually come in combinations. Hardly anyone is 100% choleric. Most people have a primary and a secondary temperament. The secondary one is not as dominant but can still factor in to the equation. We hope that an understanding of your child’s/student’s temperament will help you to understand how to motivate them!