Personality type for kids — why it matters
“The days are long, but the years are short.” -Gretchen Rubin
That has to be one of the most spot-on clichés about parenthood I’ve ever heard. It seems like kids go from learning the alphabet to learning how to live on their own in an instant. But when you’re in the thick of raising little ones, navigating adolescence, or laboring through the teenage years, it’s . . . a lot. My five-year-old has asked me for three different things in the last 15 minutes, if that’s any indication.
Kids don’t come with an instruction manual. And just when you think have one phase of life down, a different phase (or kid) can come along and throw you for a loop all over again. Most of us are doing the best we can with what we have.
But what if there actually was an instruction manual of sorts – one that was tailored to your child’s specific personality type and temperament? That’s what Dr. Yvonne Nelson-Reid spoke about on a recent episode of The Myers-Briggs Company Podcast. She’s one of the leading experts on parenting and personality type, and is the Senior Development Associate at the Myers & Briggs Foundation®. She’s also the Editor and Lead Writer for the People Stripes® website, as well as the Lead on Development for the Murphy-Meisgeier Type Indicator for Children (MMTIC®) program.
Plus, Dr. Nelson-Reid raised five kids of her own. She says it was, “kind of like having my own research study right in my backyard.”
Host Melissa Summer interviewed Dr. Nelson-Reid and uncovered a proverbial gold mine of parenting epiphanies and personality type wisdom. No matter what kind of parent or caregiver you are, the entire episode is a must-listen. In future blog posts, I’ll dive into their full conversation. But this, by far, was the theme that resonated with me most:
It’s incredibly rewarding to parent a child who is different from you.
During the interview, Dr. Nelson-Reid spoke about how her Judging preference (that’s the J in her four-letter personality type) means that she thrives on structure. When her kids were young, she made sure everyone stuck to a pretty regimented schedule.
However, some of her children have a Perceiving preference (that’s the P in their four-letter personality type). This means they like to keep their day more open-ended. She mentioned that those children in particular may have felt stifled at times, especially if their schedule pulled them away from something they were enjoying at the moment.
Dr. Nelson-Reid said the bottom line is awareness. For her, it was about understanding and appreciating the personality differences between family members instead of constantly trying to make them fit her preferences. She recognized that while her schedule was helpful in many ways, it was also important for her kids to be more adventurous too. Like many things in life, balance is key.
Parent-child personality differences are relevant in my own life.
Just this week, my third grader practically begged me to go to an upcoming family spaghetti night at his elementary school. I had seen a few PTA flyers about the event over the last few weeks. But truth be told, I had ignored them. My husband wouldn’t be able to go that night, so only my kids and I could attend. The idea of sitting at a table full of strangers trying to make small talk sounds pretty daunting. In other words, life is busy and I’m an Introvert.
That said, I have a hunch my son is an Extravert. It’s no wonder why he wants us to go. One of his favorite foods will be served and his friends will be there? Sign him up. But yesterday, I found myself saying, “Nope, sorry buddy. We probably aren’t going to make it.” In that moment, I had defaulted to the comfort of my own preference for Introversion. When I saw the look in his eyes, I immediately felt disappointed in myself. After some introspection, I realized that I needed to spend more time respecting his preference for Extraversion instead of suppressing it for my own convenience. By yesterday evening, I had changed my mind.
We had a pretty meaningful chat about it too. I explained why I had said no in the first place – that my preference for Introversion means I tend to get drained when I’m around large groups of people. Then I explained that his apparent preference for Extraversion means that socializing seems to energize him. He agreed. This brought up the importance of being brave and learning to step outside our comfort zones every once in a while. His face lit up when I told him we could go to spaghetti night after all. It was a teachable moment for the both of us.
You can learn your child’s personality type when they’re about 7 years old
The podcast episode brought up another important point: you can start implementing personality type-based parenting from the very beginning. Even as toddlers, it’s often pretty apparent which of us are Introverts and which are Extraverts. Other facets of personality type can also be evident from an early age. To identify those, it takes awareness of your own preferences first. For that, the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator®(MBTI) assessment is your best bet. This will give you a framework to understand your preferences, strengths, and general outlook on life.
From there, Dr. Nelson-Reid says it’s important to present opportunities for your children to experience all the preferences so they can develop theirs naturally. Then, when your child is 7-8 years old, they can take the MMTIC, which is similar to the MBTI assessment, but it’s specifically aimed at kids. In fact, the MMTIC instrument is scientifically validated for ages 7 through 18.
I can’t tell you how helpful the MBTI and MMTIC assessments would have been in my own upbringing. I have preferences for INFP. And I’m fairly certain my dad has preferences for ESTJ, which is the complete opposite of my personality type.
As an adult, I usually find our differences to be interesting, enlightening, and even amusing. But growing up, that wasn’t always the case. I liked seclusion, whimsy, and big picture ideals. He liked togetherness, logic, and productivity. Now in adulthood, I see the need for (and the beauty in) all of those things. But our differences were often a point of contention.
I wonder what it would have been like if my parents had known more about my personality type when I was younger. And if I had known more about theirs.
Would I have still felt like an outsider?
Would I have better understood where they were coming from?
The answer is layered, but it’s easy to see how personality type insights could have helped us grow as individuals and as a family. Ultimately though, I’m grateful to know more about it now.
The next blog post will cover more helpful parenting highlights from Dr. Nelson-Reid’s interview. In the meantime, listen to the podcast episode.