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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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:
Reserved, prefers concrete facts, prioritizes consistency, wants to make decisions
Motivation: Reward him with increasing amounts of personal control; keep routines in place as much as possible; ask him to research things for your and then listen to his advice.
Communication: Give him plenty of time to adjust to new things; respect his need for quiet, uninterrupted time to think; be clear, explicit, consistent, and logical in all discipline and directions.
Self-confident ISTJs are careful with all the details of their lives and can be counted on to work hard and steadily toward meeting their goals. They grow up to be successful, hard-working, and valued members of their communities and dependable and earnest traditional family people.
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.