Know Your Child’s Personality Type

Understanding differences in personality type can drastically reduce conflict and friction in relationships, and this is as true with our children as it is with anyone else.

How and why to determine your child's personality type

However, typing children is tricky. Personality preferences develop over time, as people exercise more and more decision-making and observation-making abilities. Children are developing, and so we need to give them space to grow and experiment and blossom rather than box them into labels prematurely. Though typing them can be helpful, we should be careful to not do so too soon and to still always treat them as an individual rather than as a type. Finding our children’s personality type should only be done as a means to understanding and shepherding them better, seeing how different responses to a given situation might not be a sin problem or even need to be a conflict if we understand that they see things and respond to things differently than we do.

Knowing their tendencies helps you understand their perspective, what they’re seeing, and how to respond to them so they understand you.

I didn’t really think too much about typing my kids until I was reading about my own type in Please Understand Me II. In the section on relationships, he made a comment about a certain problem INTJs have with another type and my jaw dropped. It sounded exactly like a certain scenario playing out between me and one of my children almost every morning. He interpreted my matter-of-fact approach as being in trouble and his way of coping is to outburst. Outbursts are the fastest way to get INTJs to shut down, and we shut down by simply slamming the door. Just identifying that this was the cycle playing itself out whenever I announced the agenda for the day helped me turn it around by paying attention to my tone and giving a more gentle introduction rather than going into “take care of business” mode which my son was interpreting as “you’re in trouble” mode.

So, knowing your own type and your kids type can really help, particularly if you have a repetitive misunderstanding you can’t figure out.

Download the free 1-page Personality in Homeschooling Cheat Sheet

However, typing kids is quite tricky. Tests are always prone to interpretation error, and kids don’t generally have enough self-awareness or experience to take personality tests and get an accurate result. Instead, you have to know what the MBTI letters mean, watch, think, and guess. Nurture By Nature is a great book to help get you started, and your library probably has it. I know in my first post I said that types tend toward the middle with age and experience, that moderation can be a sign of greater maturity, but that isn’t quite the case with children. Some children will be more extreme types than others, but less-extreme types are not necessarily the mature ones. It’s also possible the moderate types haven’t had enough self-direction, executive practice in life to develop preferences yet. And a person who has never developed preferences has no trusted, reliable pathways for taking in information and making decisions. Isabel Briggs, in Gifts Differing, specifies what balance refers to in personality types:
In type theory, balance does not refer to equality of two processes or of two attitudes; instead, it means superior skill in one, supplemented by a helpful but not competitive skill in the other. The need for such supplementing is obvious. Perception without judgment is spineless; judgment with no perception is blind. Introversion lacking any extraversion is impractical; extraversion with no introversion is superficial.
But, she reminds us:
Less obvious is the principle that for every person one skill must be subordinate to the other and that significant skill in any direction will not be developed until choice between opposites is made.
If one skill or attitude is not exercised more than another, neither will develop enough to be trustworthy
If people cannot concentrate either on thinking or on feeling, their decisions will be made and unmade by a shifting dispute between two kids of judgment, neither of which is expert enough to settle matters.
So, while children will be experimenting with all 8 skills and shouldn’t be pushed into a stereotype, good and proper development does mean they should eventually begin having preferences in the four areas. Isabel Briggs actually addresses childhood development quite a bit, saying,
The four processes are used almost at random by very young children until they begin to differentiate. Some children begin differentiating much later than others, and in the least-developed adults, the processes remain childish, so that nothing can be maturely perceived or maturely judged.
If you have less extreme kids, they’ll be harder to type and you might not get an accurate diagnosis. The less self-direction children are allowed, also, the longer it will take them to form their preferences and gain enough perceiving and judging skills to become mature. On the one hand, extreme personality types are those who can’t flex over to use other needed and valid options. However, on the other hand, those who never had the space and options to develop preferences in the first place are not mature for being in the middle, but rather stunted. Having a preference is a good thing, and not something we should sabotage by assuming our own way should be their way, too. Again, from Gifts Differing on how parenting affects personality development:
Spoiled children are conditioned to blame all their troubles on an outside cause. […] Everything bad that happens to them is no fault of their own. Seeing no reason to make an effort at development, they make no effort and do not develop.
On the other hand,
At the other extreme are children who are under indulged, unloved, repressed, and discouraged; they may not learn that satisfaction can be earned. If nothing they do is ever right or successful or applauded, they may take refuge in doing as little as possible.
Parents help their children develop and mature:
Essential to a fortunate childhood, therefore, is a just and easily understood relationship between children’s conduct and what happens to them. When youngsters follow simple rules (with large, merciful allowance for accidents, misunderstandings, and a reasonable amount of forgetting), the consequences should be approval, confidence, and the perceptive attitude from grown-ups. As an earned bonus, children should have the largest feasible measure of freedom to make their own decisions.
It is, in other words, our responsibility to make sure our children find “it is more profitable to find and do the right thing than the wrong” so that they “have incentive for discriminating between the right thing and the wrong thing in their own conduct and doing the right thing even thought it is less pleasant, less attractive, or less interesting in the moment.” This is common-sense parental guidance.
child-personality

Tips for typing children

You can’t administer a personality test to children and expect to get an accurate result. For example, one of mine wanted to take a personality test, and I watched him do so. When my very introverted son got to the question “At a party, would you rather be in the corner with one friend or in the center of the room?” He clicked “center of the room” because, he commented as he moved on, “Usually the food is in the middle of the room.” Brandy has an excellent method for using Nurture By Nature to determine your child’s type, check it out before you try it yourself: Personality Typing My Children As you think through the descriptions, though, keep these things in mind:
  • Generally, easy-going young ones are Ps, whereas the ones who have strong opinions about how things should be are Js.

  • How kids play is often a key to determining their types, but children are highly influenced by who they play with. If they frequently play with others (even a sibling), they might simply adapt to the rules or patterns set by who they’re playing with rather than their own personal preferences. Introverts are not likely to be assertive in social play and prefer to accept the terms of the group. Feeling types value harmony most, and so will also not only bow to consensus, but even apply that to their own personal play (reasoning: “my friend plays x, I like my friend, therefore I also like to play x”). If your child is the one setting the agenda and leading the pack all the time, he’s probably an ExTJ or ExFJ, though IxTJs will also take the lead if there aren’t other decision-makers in the group.

  • Kids who always make their emotions known could be only feeling, but are probably both extroverted & Feeling. Kids who don’t let on to what they’re thinking are probably introverts. Shyness or poor social skills are not indicators of introvertedness. Sociability and an outgoing, friendly nature is more a factor of Feeling than extroversion. Think of the F as standing for friendly, for a people-orientation. Think of E as also standing for exaggerated expression - Es need to talk to know what they think, they need to let it out before they can observe it. Introverts observe themselves internally, extroverts do so externally.

  • Kids who like projects, collections, or things more than playing with a large group of friends (introverts like playing with friends, too, we just prefer 1-3 at a time) are likely to be T.

What to do after you’ve typed your children

Once you’re fairly confident about your child’s type, make yourself a little checklist with the four descriptions of your child’s combination: I - reserved E - expressive S - prefers concrete facts N - prefers interesting ideas F - prioritizes relationships T - prioritizes consistency J - wants to make decisions P - wants to keep options open Then, I do also recommend looking up the type in Nurture by Nature and jotting down the suggestions for motivation and communication, as well as the final recap of the strengths of that type. So, for example, for an ISTJ child, you’d have:

Especially as you go into school-planning time, figuring out how best to work alongside your children can be a huge help in facilitating successful homeschool goals and days.

Knowing not only your own type, but also your kids type can help you more readily solve conflicts and often even avoid them altogether.

More on personality:

Download the free 1-page Personality in Homeschooling Cheat Sheet

11 Responses

  1. Missy
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    I have been thinking more about Myers Briggs recently and have really liked your posts. Another resource is MotherStyles it focuses on how your personality type impacts your mothering and your interactions with your kids. I am still waiting to borrow it from a friend but it looks pretty good and she liked it a lot.

  2. SarahD
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    I think I’m getting closer to typing my kids accurately. This really helped. I’m a P type and I think 3 out of 4 children are J types. Ugh. No wonder I often feel like I’m the rare one who doesn’t always want to be in charge. Gets tricky sometimes. I have to ask my kids aloud who’s in charge to remind them and me that I am indeed in charge. ?

    My husband’s type is elusive, unfortunately. Still trying to type him.

  3. Lena
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    I think I have my first three pretty well set. My eldest is a mini me of my ISTJ huband (although she might lean a little more E – as a girl she is more talkative.) The second I think is an ISFP. He is actually quite into toys and such, but I think it is a function of being a touchy-feely S type, not a T. This same child runs out of the room every time a book character is in the mildest of peril and comes up with detailed plans to rescue characters with his sword and his three-eyed octopus. Actually my husband came up with ISFP and it explains so much. Finding out that even though he is neither aggressive or loud he is still impulsive explains SO much. He has had almost every near death experience of the toddler/preschool (almost choked/drowned/ran in a street/pulled down a piece of furniture and he was so sweet that I couldn’t figure out why he was a disaster magnet.) Then I have my E! N! T! J. Thanks for the bit about telling F versus E. This guy is definitely E because he talks ALL THE TIME. But he is also quite shy. Which seemed weird. Except it makes sense since he is T – not particularly friendly, just E and thinks aloud. My baby is very friendly, alhtough at this stage who know what that means. But I almost have my fingers crossed for an NF – then I would have one from each quadrant (and finally one in my own quadrant!) I am an INFP and I am with Sarah, with a couple of strong J children, it is a challenge to stay in charge sometimes.

  4. Lena
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    I am curious, how much variety do others see one their children? I was really surprised to find my first three in three different quadrants. Estj, is fp, entj. I mean those last two are polar opposites! I expected more uniformity from my gene pool. After all, my family of birth is all Ns and more Introverted than not. Yes, I married an ISTJ, but I still expected more apples close to the tree. Wat are other people’s experience with this?

  5. Courtney
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    So, I am reading Nurture by Nature right now and loving all the insight. I am an ENFP and my husband is an ISTJ. We have three kiddos – our eldest was pretty easy to type as an ESTJ (the STJ part we’ve had pegged for quite a while), the youngest is still too little (17 months), but my middle has proven tricky. She is 5, and I have always assumed her an extrovert based upon her ease and friendliness in social situations. While she isn’t as bold and “leader-of-the-packish” as her older sister, in a lot of ways, making friends or playing (once the group and/or friends has been established by someone else), just seems easier for her. Like she’s more comfortable in her skin, and doesn’t feel the need to try and make people like her (if that makes sense). She is a strong NFP, and probably strongest preference on F. Sensitive, and high-feeling, strong desire for affection. Reading this from your post above:

    Sociability and an outgoing, friendly nature is more a factor of Feeling than extroversion. Think of the F as standing for friendly, for a people-orientation. Think of E as also standing for exaggerated expression – Es need to talk to know what they think, they need to let it out before they can observe it. Introverts observe themselves internally, extroverts do so externally.

    Gave me an “ah-ha” regarding my confusion with her E/I distinction. After reading this, and then reading the specific through-the-years in-depth descriptions in Nurture by Nature, I am leaning towards an INFP for her, even though I think she’s closer to the middle on the E/I distinction.

    We are a homeschooling family, so gaining some new insight has helped tremendously in teaching my girls concurrently. Thanks for your wisdom and words!

    • Mystie Winckler
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      Yes, that sounds like INFP to me, especially because you said you think F is her dominant function. The ‘P’ means that the N is what she extroverts (making her perceptive and able to be very kind and understanding and think about others first). An E would mean that extroverted function is also their strongest, while an I would mean that the F (the introverted function) is the primary preference.

      I have a couple INFP siblings and one INFP son – they are always the nice ones and are usually very good with and comfortable around small children (though at 5 you may not see that yet!).

      • Courtney
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        Mystie,

        Yes! That makes so much sense and sounds just like her. She is a very gentle spirit, loving with her little brother, and usually the sibling to acquiesce in sibling standoffs. My husband and I have often discussed how her kindness and willingness to acquiesce often results in her being “trampled.”‘ We’ve been brainstorming ways to arm her with some tools to help minimize that. This will also be an interesting dynamic as my INFP joins us (her ESTJ older sister and I) for full-time for schooling later this summer.

        I’m glad to have seemingly solved the mystery of why she seemed an “I” (before I began to learn more about MBTI) but yet so “friendly” and at ease with social groupings.

        Great series; thanks for taking the time to respond!

  6. SarahD
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    Can a T child also be very emotionally sensitive?

    I think I have an ISTJ. He’s always working on projects, thinking about the next best course of action, and being rather assertive in directing others what they should do, but he is also very sensitive to correction or mistreatment by a sibling and can become rather grumpy, stormy, or kind of shut down in those circumstances saying that everyone doesn’t like him, etc.

  7. […] Know Your Child’s Personality Type […]

  8. Marla Swofer
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    I love that you’re discussing personality typing – it’s one of my passions (back in the day, I used to have a blogroll classified by bloggers’ personality types!). There is actually a version of the Myers-Briggs (MBTI) for children – it’s called MMTIC – ages 7-17. I recently got certified to administer to it (I’m also a certified MBTI practitioner), so it was fun and eye opening giving it to my kids (after years of reading Nurture by Nature and other books). My oldest finally made sense (she’s an INTJ, lol), but the description in Nurture by Nature was pretty far off in her case – it made it sound like INTJs bucked the system and were very unemotional practically from birth, so that was part of why I didn’t think she was that type. I also think it’s different when kids grow up in a Christian home and are homeschooled. Btw, I’m an INFJ and run the Facebook page, INFJ Christians, which is up to almost 2000 likes :)

    • Marla Swoffer
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      Can’t believe I mistyped my own name – the previous comment should say Marla Swoffer!