Discovering Your Child’s Type
Part 1 of 2

Unique Little Things

One thing we quickly notice about our children are the unique characteristics the child displays even before she or he can talk. Temperament. Personality. Even their attitude.   

Although the child never met his late grandfather, we start to notice that he has that same smoldering, devil-may-care attitude that Dad had. Or that she has the cheerful temperament somewhat like the one Grandma had.

Not only do our children come fully formed as they enter the real world, but their personalities are pretty solid as well. This distinctiveness is drawn from a large pool of genetic characteristics, mixed together like spices in a soup…resulting in a unique individual, each and every one. They aren't likely to be like you in temperament or even your spouse’s. In other words, it’s a puzzle that you have to solve. As the parent, you are responsible for figuring them out and supporting their success as functional members of society. The better you understand them, the better that support can be.

For example, if you have a strong-willed child it may feel like every day is a battle, but there's an upside! If you teach your child how to harness this temperament and use it for good, you end up with a determined and resourceful child who knows how to get things done. They make stellar leaders, and usually arrange to be in charge when they become adults. So, the advantage of an early understanding of who your child is is that it better positions you to chart and manage their development.

Different Strokes for Different Folks

There are several temperament continuums to look at when assessing your child. One that is quickly answered is…are they extroverted or introverted? But this may be more complicated than it sounds. An introverted child may be bookish and self-isolated, but he or she might be fun and enjoyable to be around (depending on other temperament markers). The best identifying sign of an introvert is that no matter how well they socialize, they expend energy in social interaction and need to spend time alone to recuperate from the overstimulation. You may find this child having a meltdown every day after they come home from school, but, if you give them their space, introverts soon recover. The overstimulation of the school day requires a quiet time with no demands.

The extrovert, however, actually derives energy from social interaction. These people always find joy in the midst of activity even if they are quietly reading in a corner. Chaos doesn’t faze them; they thrive on it. So, when your extrovert comes home from school, he may actually be ready for bigger and better things when he walks in the door.

Four Basic Personality Types

Alexander Whyte was one of the first people of our time to investigate personality types, doing most of his work in the 1850s. He used the study of Hippocrates temperaments to identify the four types: Sanguine, Choleric, Phlegmatic and Melancholy. These are described in their ideal positive and in their negative behaviors.

  • The Sanguine is a fun-loving risk-taker, but may refuse to mature as an adult without learning self-discipline. However, as this individual does learn how to control things a bit better, they tend to have an entrepreneurial attitude that attracts other people and often leads to new developments or even a new business.
  • The Choleric might be described today as oppositional. This person tends toward quick anger and rigid judgment of others. Without self-control this person can become abusive and bully people. If taught self-control, the choleric can become a strong leader who is honored for their contributions to improving society.
  • The Phlegmatic reveals noble qualities of minding his own business and being slow to judge people. Almost the complete opposite to the Choleric, the Phlegmatic grows up to be a superior neutral. She or he might also be judged as lazy or slothful and may have to defy this urge, but often this judgment has to do with a slow nature and rational approach to the world. While this type can tend toward laziness, with self-discipline they make great judges and beloved leaders.
  • The Melancholic might be described today as a pessimist, but there’s more to them than that, according to Whyte. This type is opposite to the Sanguine, a deep and thoughtful child who sees the world without rose-colored glasses and is often heartbroken over injustices others overlook. As a parent of this type, it’s important to direct this child toward looking for solutions and seeing the good they can do in the world so they don’t slide into hopelessness. 

Parents Come In Types Too

There have been a variety of other ways to type personalities, but all types appear to fall into four categories similar to these first types suggested by Hippocrates. Even Whyte noticed in his studies that no person lacked characteristics of each of the other types, but one type generally dominated in each person. Later developments in characterizing personality outlined ways these types connect to vocation and career development. Dr. David Kiersey, an educational psychologist, developed a useful temperament sorter basing sixteen personality types on four groupings: Guardians, Idealists, Rationals, and Artisans. Understanding your own type will tell you a lot about how you will choose to handle your children’s types.

  • Rationals and Guardians tend to be the most directive parents, requiring their children to fulfill all their plans for the future no matter how unrealistic it is for the child.
  • Artisan and Idealist parents tend to let their children develop naturally, and teach them to trust their own guts when making life decisions.

That being said, according to Kiersey, there are at least fifteen different possibilities of the type your child is born to be. One possibility is that they are like you; however, that is very unlikely given the odds. This will take some time and a diligent research to make these determinations for you and your child (and don’t forget your spouse in this analysis). However, the sooner you discover your own type and your children’s type the sooner you will be able to understand and support them.

Our Goal as Parents

Hopefully, this information has been helpful to you…at least stimulated your thinking about your child’s personality type as well as your own. Further, you may want to consider how these two personality types (or three when you include your spouse in the mix) fit together, or, on many occasions, cause conflicts or disagreements.

As stated above and worth repeating here, this will require additional work on your part, but it will be well worth the time and effort.

That said, we should remind ourselves as parents that the real goal of these efforts is not simply to understand these types or differences, but to actually help our children develop and utilize the unique qualities that they possess. This is not an academic exercise, but rather a management one in that you need to understand these personality traits and tendencies in order to effectively help your child become the person he or she was meant to be. An individual, not like any other, who you're preparing to go out and make their mark on the world.

And what do we teach our children?  We teach them that two and two make four, and that Paris is the capital of France. When will we also teach them what they are?

We should say to each of them: Do you know what you are? You are a marvel. You are unique. In all the years that have passed, there has never been another child like you.

Your legs, your arms, your clever fingers, the way you move. You may become a Shakespeare, a Michelangelo, a Beethoven. You have the capacity for anything.

Henry David Thoreau

Written by Heidi Densmore


Part 2:
How Personality Type Determines How to Discipline

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We are all born originals - why is it so many of us die as copies? Edward Young