How Personality Type Determines How to Discipline
Part 2 of 2

Why the Difference?

Why is it that some children are stunningly self-directed and others need a more authoritarian approach? Why does John clean his room without being told, and Jane would rather waste the whole day avoiding the chore? Why does Mary want to talk all of the time while Sarah doesn’t say much at all? 

According to Dr. David Keirsey, an educational psychologist who wrote the book, Please Understand Me several decades ago, we are all “basically different.” Therefore, learning everything you can about your child’s personality type will help you determine the best approach to both discipline and encouragement.

In Part 1, we highlighted the personality types as first developed by Alexander Whyte in the 1850’s. Here we feature a more recent version by Dr. Keirsey. Keirsey developed a useful temperament sorter defining sixteen specific personality types based on four groupings. He named these Guardians, Idealists, Rationals, and Artisans. 


Guardians are called this because from this group come many of the people who keep a society running smoothly. They take duties and responsibilities very seriously from a young age and comprise about 40 percent of the population. They are the people who show up in a snowstorm and after a tornado. They don’t mind doing a job that no one notices, as long as it is important to the smooth operations of the organization.

Guardian children will keep things organized in their world naturally. They are happy to fold clothes and take out garbage. They resist disorder, however, and may be irritable when their routine is broken.


Artisans comprise about 30 percent of any population. They are the risk-takers, innovators, and craftspeople of the society.They are playful, spontaneous, and creative.

They are tuned into the material world more than others because of their heightened senses of touch, taste, and vision. They generally avoid doing anything that is not fun or new. They are the ones most likely to create beautiful things because they know how to enjoy beauty for it’s own sake.

If you have an artisan child you will know it because they are extremely creative and sensory-seeking. They get bored easily and are always on the move for new experiences. Rationalizing with them is a waste of energy. Better to set up a variegated reward system to get them to do things they resist. Rewards need to be immediate and engaging because they won’t work hard and long for anything unless the payoff appeals to their senses. The Artisan may need chores broken down into steps and rewards offered between steps until they are old enough to handle the whole job.


Rationals are the solution people. For rationals failure is not an option. They will fight with a problem through the night to discover a solution. They are sensible, reasonable and rarely operate from their emotions. Only about five to 10 percent of the population is made up of rationals, but they are often the inventors, researchers, and scientists.

If you have a rational child, they need to understand exactly why they need to follow your direction. You might be able to overwhelm them with strength when they are small, but you will lose their respect. Better to explain the choices they have and the outcomes of those choices. They will follow your direction more readily when they understand this. 


Idealists also comprise only a small percentage of the population, but they do big things in the area of changing social structures. They are the catalysts of society—on the ground at the moments of change. People like Nelson Mandela and Mohandas Gandhi are in this group.

Idealists see the ways that people in any organizational structure can all be treated fairly. They see how things could be if all was well and everyone got along. Peacemakers practically from birth, you see these Idealist kids negotiating and mediating schoolyard scuffles and sibling rivalries. They often become teachers, counselors, writers, and other agents of social change. 

Which Type of Parent Are You?

Rationals and Guardians tend to be the most authoritarian and directive parents, requiring their children to fulfill all their plans for the future no matter how unrealistic it is for the child. Usually they will argue that this was the way they were raised. Often they will be perplexed when these means do not produce the expected results.

Artisan and Idealist parents tend to let their children develop more freely and teach them to trust their own guts when making life decisions. These parents are often surprised to learn that they have a child that needs specific routines and stronger guidelines to thrive.

None of these parenting styles are wrong but they might be at odds with a child who is a vastly different type. When you are tempted to ask, “What’s wrong with you!” try to remember that your child’s worldview is unique and you may not be seeing things she or he sees. It’s not wrong, it’s different. 

Experiencing the World…Our Way

These four groups derive from four opposing worldviews: Introvert vs. Extrovert; Sensing vs. Intuition; Thinking vs. Feeling; and Judging vs. Perceiving. An Introverted-Sensing-Feeling-Perceiving child, for instance, would be ISFP. One of sixteen possibilities. These four areas determine the unique way the child experiences his world. 

The Basis for Many Conflicts

Here’s an example of the kind of problems that can come from a typical family interaction that should be fun. An SJ parent and an NP child go bowling.

This Intuitional-Perceiving child needs to learn how to bowl by spontaneous practice and watching others. The Sensing-Judging parent, however immediately begins directing the child and giving advice every time the child rolls the ball. For the SJ parent there is only one way to learn this skill properly. The NP child just wants to play the game. By the end of ten frames the child is in tears, the parent is frustrated because her child is un-teachable, and they both determine never to go bowling again. Unfortunately, these events will happen over and over again in a variety of circumstances because Mom doesn’t “get” the way her son experiences the world. 

It can be just as bad in the opposite direction. A child who requires order and planning can appear constantly ill-tempered with a parent who is fun-loving and spontaneous. This child doesn’t like surprises and prefers to have plenty of notice before events happen. These children often struggle with transitions when they like an activity they are involved in. A parent who understands them will be able to prepare them for transitions and be compassionate to their need to have some notice before plans change. 

While this article just covers the basics of personality possibility, it’s a lot of fun to discover your own type and try to figure out those types in your family system. Keirsey wrote a book, Please Understand Me, because he saw people struggling in families over personality differences. The personality information at can help parents get started on the important task of understanding their children.

Written by Heidi Densmore


Part 1:
Discovering Your Child's Type

Copyright 2014 / Good Choices Good Life, Inc. / All Rights Reserved.

At the end of the day, the most overwhelming key to a child's success is the positive involvement of parents. Jane D. Hull