Sir George Frederic Still (1868-1941), one of the greatest figures of British pediatrics, wrote, in addition to his superb textbook, a largely unappreciated book entitled Common Happenings in Childhood (1938). In this charming book consisting of essays, studies and stray thoughts about everyday phenomena of a child's life, Still had this to say about temper as seen in children.
"This is not a homily, nor is it philosophic discourse de moribus, it is just a collection of stray thoughts upon temper, especially as seen in children.
When we speak of being ‘in a temper’ we usually mean a bad temper, but temper in itself has no such one-sided significance, there is good temper as well as bad temper. I am no psychologist and shall not attempt to define temper in terms of psychology, indeed a study of works upon that subject rather suggests that the psychologist knows nothing about temper. He makes great play with the emotions, e.g. anger, but he has nothing to say about that attitude of mind which we call bad-tempered or good-tempered. We all know what we mean by these terms: on the one hand, the sullen, irritable, contrary-minded, passionate; on the other, the bright, cheerful, responsive, ‘not easily provoked.’
A stray ebullition of anger or irritation is not necessarily an indication of bad temper, by which we mean rather an habitual tendency. We all have our flash-point of anger or irritation, but in some the flash-point of irritation is lower than the average: these are they whom we call bad-tempered.
- Copyright © 1973 by the American Academy of Pediatrics