The concept of the four classical temperaments arose from an ancient theory about human nature. According to this ancient and false system of classification, there are four basic human types. Each type — each "temperament" — is dominated by a particular bodily fluid, and each is characterized by a particular bodily size and shape. The system was dreamt up centuries ago by people who had little real knowledge of the human brain or body. But Steiner embraced these errors and Waldorf schools often structure their programs around them. [See "Humouresque".]

Here is some guidance Waldorf teacher Roy Wilkinson gave to his colleagues: how to treat students on the basis of “temperament.” Some readers may be surprised that Waldorf schools often subscribe to an outmoded system of categorizing human beings, and some may consider the system perverse because it discriminates among children for no good reason. But this system, believe it or not, is central to the Waldorf view of human nature; it is central to the way many Waldorf teachers think about, and deal with, their students.

Waldorf teachers may want to treat students as individuals, but sorting kids according to "temperament" — as is common in Waldorf practice — means stereotyping them. Here are the stereotypes, as described by Wilkinson (who thought he was presenting truths, not hurtful falsehoods):

THE CHOLERIC CHILD: Short, stocky; firm gait, on heels; alert, active eyes; given to abrupt gestures; speaks emphatically; friendly disposition, wanting to be recognized as the leader; feels the need to jolly others along; enjoys spicy foods; likes to wear individual, distinctive clothing; observes what is of interest, but tends to forget; focuses on the world, the self, and the future; strengths: dynamic, decisive, organizes well, risk-taker, must correct wrongs; weaknesses: bossy, impatient, quick-tempered, boastful; as a child, paints and draws volcanoes and precipices with self overcoming obstacles, uses strong colors

THE SANGUINE CHILD: Slim, well-balanced; walks lightly on the toes; lively, dancing eyes; makes graceful gestures; speaks with flowery language; friendly, doesn't hold grudges; starts things quickly but doesn't follow through; nibbles at food, tries new things; likes new, colorful clothing; notices everything but forgets most of it; interested in the immediate present; strengths: enthusiastic, cheerful, volunteers for tasks, good on stage; weaknesses: dwells on trivia, is naive, undisciplined, easily distracted; as a child, paints and draws with many bright colors, showing movement and details

THE PHLEGMATIC CHILD: Plump, comfortable body; ambles; quiet, sleepy eyes; makes deliberate gestures; speaks clearly, consistently; friendly but reserved, enjoys watching others; likes routines, has fixed habits; eats heartily, almost any kind of food; dresses conservatively; observant and retentive, when sufficiently interested; is interested in the present, standing back to observe; strengths: discerning, objective, faithful, stable, methodical, witty, fostering, relaxed; weaknesses: ducks responsibility, lacks self-motivation, indecisive, hard to energize; as a child, paints and draws pale, apparently unfinished images

THE MELANCHOLIC CHILD: Thin, with bowed head; slow gait; sad, serious eyes; makes languorous gestures; speaks hesitantly; slow to make friends, but is faithful and devoted; likes solitary occupations; likes sweets, has strong food preferences; dresses in muted colors, has strong style preferences; observant down to small details, good memory, good imitator; interested in the self and the past; strengths: deep, thoughtful, idealistic, talented, artistic, helpful, self-sacrificing, conscientious; weaknesses: moody, low self-esteem, needs approval, critical of others, skeptical of compliments; as a child, paints and draws with strong, harmonious colors, attempts to depict details

[THE TEMPERAMENTS IN EDUCATION (Rudolf Steiner College Press, 2005), pp. 42-43.]* 

[Rudolf Steiner College Press, 2005.

I bought my copy from 

the Rudolf Steiner College Bookstore 

in 2018.]

Obviously, some kids fit the stereotypes laid out by Wilkinson; but equally obviously, many kids do not. Wilkinson acknowledges the difficulty Waldorf teachers may have when trying to decide which kids fall into which category. Nonetheless, he insists this scheme of categorization is valid. His primary source is, of course, Rudolf Steiner — most of what Wilkinson says is based on Steiner’s teachings.

Here are specific recommendations Wilkinson made for Waldorf teachers, along with further observations concerning the kids in the four categories.


Teachers should tell choleric children stories in which rashness is shown to become dangerous or ridiculous. These students need lots of different things to do, tasks that present challenges for the kids to work through. Teachers should be firm, strong, direct.

Sanguines should be given lively stories full of exciting descriptions, pictures, and variations. These children need many varying activities. Teachers should be friendly but firm.

Phlegmatic kids should be given stories casually with messages of warmth and comfort. Assign a specific task and provide advice on getting on with it. Teachers should show calm strength.

Melancholic students need sad stories that lead to eventual triumph. Teachers should enter into these students’ sad moods and encourage the students to assist others who are less capable. Be sympathetic.

[Ibid., pp. 44-45.]


When telling stories to the entire class, the teacher should make sure each story has passages that will appeal to each temperament. Cholerics like boisterous action; for melancholics, there should be a note of sadness and a drop in tone; for sanguines, include descriptions of quick, changing events; and for phlegmatics, include slow passages told in an indifferent tone.

[Ibid., pp. 26-27.]


Children with different temperaments have affinities for different mathematical processes and rules. By starting each child with the proper math activity for her/his temperament, a teacher can lead the child to learn all other parts of arithmetic. Cholerics have a feeling for division, sanguines for multiplication, phlegmatics for addition, and melancholics for subtraction.

[Ibid., pp. 12, 15, 19, 23, and 27-30.]


Cholerics are suited to percussion instruments, and when using other instruments, they want to play solo. Sanguines are adapted to brass and reed instruments, and they enjoy being part of an orchestra. Phlegmatics are drawn to the piano; they enjoy choral singing. Melancholics have an affinity from stringed instruments; they want to sing solo.

[Ibid., pp. 12, 15, 19, 23.]


The pictures children create offer clues to temperament. Choleric kids make pictures of volcanoes, also precipices with the self overcoming obstacles; they use strong colors. Sanguine kids use bright colors, depicting movements and details. Phlegmatic children make bland, uninteresting pictures, unfinished in appearance. Melancholic kids jam too many details into their pictures; they use strong, harmonious colors.

[Ibid., pp. 44-45.]


Pattern drawing or form drawing is the repetitive delineation of curved and angular geometric shapes; it is often a required activity in Waldorf schools.

Certain forms appeal to various temperaments, and they have a therapeutic effect. Drawing the appropriate forms will help children of each temperament to learn to write.

Cholerics should progress from simple angular shapes to controlled, involved, rounded shapes. Sanguines make repetitive forms, rhythmic pictures. Phlegmatic children will start with passive forms; they should be led to more active shapes. Melancholics should be encouraged to create shapes that require thought and observation, leading to metamorphoses or changes.

[Ibid., pp. 30-31.]


Motivate cholerics by giving them challenges. Get sanguines to act by asking it as a personal favor. Show calm strength to phlegmatics. Be sympathetic with melancholics.

[Ibid., pp. 44-45.]


“Following the principle of ‘like cures like’, the children should be seated according to their temperaments. It will be found, for instance, that the phlegmatics get so bored with one another that they wake up; the cholerics will calm one another down since no-one [sic] will be allowed to be the leader.”

In general, phlegmatics should sit toward the rear of the classroom, where they can observe but not participate. Melancholics need a quiet corner. “The cholerics, best able to cope with any disturbance, should perhaps have a place near the door and the sanguines will not really mind where they. The center might be a good place for them.”

[Ibid., pp. 25-26.]


For cholerics, punishment should not come immediately. “The cholerics must get the red flag removed from in front of their eyes before they can be reasonable.” Remind the choleric child of the misdeed later, and discuss it with him/her.

Sanguines may not need punishment: “[A] friendly word...will probably be sufficient.” Give this friendly word immediately.

Phlegmatics: “[I]f punishment is necessary, it should be immediate.” 

Melancholics: Be sympathetic but firm. "Correcting or admonishment should be given privately with empathy — soon, but not so soon as to shock."

[Ibid., pp. 12, 15, 19, 23, and 44-45.]


Kids with different temperaments will react differently to events. Here are examples:

A child falls in the playground: A choleric will blame others and takes pride in any injuries. A sanguine cries for a moment and then forgets it. A phlegmatic is stoical; s/he continues as if nothing happened. A melancholic is plunged into unbearable misery, as if the world is ending.

A class outing is canceled: A choleric calls a protest meeting. A sanguine enjoys the change and thinks of alternative activities. A phlegmatic doesn’t care, but s/he will also not forget. A melancholic knew this would happen, and s/he thinks it was done on purpose.

The class has a new teacher: The choleric sees the new teacher as a possible rival. The sanguine enjoys the situation. The phlegmatic doesn’t notice the change for several weeks — calls the new teacher by the old teacher’s name. The melancholic suffers deeply, considering the new teacher an enemy.

A task is assigned: The choleric charges in and completes it fast. The sanguine likes it and finds it interesting, but gives up if problems arise. The phlegmatic delays, ponders, plans, and has trouble completing the assignment. The melancholic sees the assignment as another great burden to bear.

[Ibid., pp. 44-45.]


Sanguines and melancholics are opposites; so are cholerics and phlegmatics. Any child may have a predominant temperament with, perhaps, traces of the other temperaments EXCEPT for the opposite temperament. So, for instance, a sanguine may have traces of phlegm and choler, but not of melancholy.

[Ibid., pp. 5-8.]

— Compilation and commentary by Roger Rawlings

* Wilkinson presents much of his material in tabular form, which makes ordinary quotation almost impossible. For this reason, on this page I have used Wilkinson’s own words as much as possible, but without inserting quotation marks except around complete sentences.

“The melancholic children are 
as a rule tall and slender;
the sanguine are the most normal; 
those with more protruding shoulders
 are the phlegmatic children; 
and those with a short stout build 
so that the head almost sinks down 
into the body are choleric.” 
— Rudolf Steiner, 
(Anthroposophic Press, 1997), p. 34. 

[R.R. sketch, 2010.]

"Most people who become involved with 

a Steiner school through their children, 

are drawn into the school after a while, 

not only in a physical way, but also spiritually. 

What happens at school is so fascinating that 

they want to know whether it is inspired 

by God of the Devil." 

— Waldorf teacher Marieke Anschütz, 


(Floris Books, 2005), p. 9.

This chart appears in an earlier edition of Wilkson's booklet.


(Wilkinson, 1983), pp. 22-23.]

The older chart differs in some details from the one  

presented in the 2005 Rudolf Steiner College edition


“The melancholic children are as a rule tall and slender; the sanguine are the most normal; those with more protruding shoulders are the phlegmatic children; and those with a short stout build so that the head almost sinks down into the body are choleric.” — Rudolf Steiner, DISCUSSIONS WITH TEACHERS (Anthroposophic Press, 1997), p. 34. 

To visit other pages in the sections of Waldorf Watch
that include "Temperaments", use the underlined links, below.


A look back, plus

Mystical thinking, realistic thinking


Reports and advice from parents whose children attended Waldorf schools

A report by a mother who was drawn to a Waldorf school but left disillusioned

Talking it over

Had enough?

Describing the near-collapse of the Waldorf school I attended

Deprogramming myself after Waldorf

Who the heck am I?

Doom and deliverance

Short and sweet

Can you trust me?

also see "Human Nature, Human Potential"

ABNORMAL : what's normal and what isn't

AURAS : Steiner on
BLOOD : and race

DECAY : Attila and leprosy

OUR PARTS : human constitution


WILL : and self-hypnosis