You never know what might be birthed while I’m standing at the sink doing dishes or by the stove stirring a pot of soup. I end up with sudsy hands, grasping at pen and paper from the basket that hangs on our kitchen wall to jot down some brainstorm of an idea so I can share it with you.
I got to thinking this week about the various personalities in our family. It occurred to me that many parents may not know how to specifically identify the personality type of their child and how to incorporate that information into their parenting approach. That’s how this series was birthed – sudsy hands and all. I’m going to spend a few weeks on Wednesdays talking about the four main personality types and some propensities of those types and then I’ll weave it all into how you parent your children based on what you discover.
All over the web you will see these charts on “Personality Type” and many of them are based on a well-known, widely-used test called the Myers Briggs. With this test you will discover your personality along four main determining factors. The test comes up with a letter combination describing your personality (such as ENFJ, which would describe yours truly). The Myers Briggs tests whether a person is either an E (extrovert) or I (introvert); either a N (intuitive) or S (sensing – basing the world on what they can see and measure); F (feeling – experiencing the world through emotions) or T (thinking – experiencing the world in a more cerebral way) and J (judging – giving a positive or negative value to everything) or P (perceiving – being more objective). From this we can come up with 16 varying personality types. It is fun to take this test and even more fun to discover which Hobbit or Downton Abbey character has the same personality as you or your family members.
I’m not going to go into the depth of the Myers Briggs here. I’m going to keep it a tad more simple The four personality types I am going to talk about are the Choleric, Sanguine, Melancholy and Phlegmatic. Before you choke on the terminology and run for the hills, let me break it down a bit. Gary Smalley has done us all the favor of assigning an animal to each type so that we can remember them more clearly. In his wording we have the Lion, the Otter, the Retriever and the Beaver.
Each personality has its strengths and weaknesses. Our weaknesses come out when we are walking in the flesh. Our strengths become refined when we walk in the Spirit. When we know our personality type and what we are prone to in our weaknesses, we are better equipped to grow into the strengths God has designed in us. When we understand our children’s personality types, we can help them to overcome areas that will naturally trip them up and we can help draw out what God built in.
Lions (Cholerics) are dominant personalities. They like to have things their way, can take on the world with one hand, are natural born leaders and tend to have a “get over it” attitude to most weakness.
Cholerics want it done “my way.”
Otters (Sanguines) are fun loving, people-oriented and usually the life of the party. They tend to be a bit disorganized and focus more on the big picture than the minute details.
Sanguines want it done “the fun way.”
Retrievers (Phlegmatics) are easy going, get-along people. They want to keep the peace and they often don’t care one way or the other about most decisions (really, they don’t care either way). They desire things to be smooth and comfortable.
Phlegmatics want it the “easy way.”
Beavers (Melancholics) are perfectionistic by nature. They thrive on details and order. They think things through and often see aspects others don’t because of their willingness to look closely and deeply into matters.
Melancholy people want it “the right way.”
You can have a blend of two personalities in one person, but never more than that. For example, it is common to meet a Choleric (Lion)/Sanguine (Otter). These people make great leaders as the sanguine side is charismatic and draws people in with passion and fun while the Lion is determined and natural at making decisions and getting things done. You can also find a Melancholy (Beaver)/Phlegmatic (Retriever) who is peaceful, but focuses on getting things right and tends to want all relationships to function as they should and all details in work and home to go smoothly. This person will be loyal as the day is long and will usually have a work ethic like none other.
As I am talking about these personalities, are you starting to see members of your family as they fit into one or the other of these descriptions? In our family we have a Choleric/Sanguine (me), a Phlegmatic/Melancholy (my husband), a Choleric/Melancholy (my oldest son – who has a bit of me in the Choleric and a bit of my husband in the Melancholy) and a pure Sanguine (my youngest son). As I have studied these personality types, I have come to see traits in my boys according to their personality type. I am better able to motivate them when I need to help them get something done. For example, with my sanguine child, it almost always works to make a task fun and turn work into a game. My oldest son (our melancholy choleric) isn’t motivated by fun and games. Give him a challenge and he’s on it. If I try to “race” my sanguine to see who can get ready first, he’s not interested. He doesn’t lean towards competition. If, however, I tell him, let’s get ready so we can play a game with our spare time when we finish, he’s off and running. It’s a matter of knowing how God wired my child so I can use those propensities to their advantage.
Knowing their personality types has also helped me choose well when thinking through habits of the heart I want to help them grow into. My sanguine son will naturally be less orderly. I want to help him learn to keep things in order and to follow a routine. These are not going to come naturally to him, so I need to be intentional to help him shore up in his weaker areas. My older son has a tender heart, but mercy isn’t his strong point. I work with him on looking at life from the other side and pausing to consider what others are feeling. We build in the aspects of character that are weak spots for his personality type. Knowing what comes naturally to him (a sense of justice) and what doesn’t (a sense of mercy) gives me and my husband a game plan for bible study as well as ways to guide the practical living out of his faith.
In the next post I’ll go specifically into the strengths and weaknesses of your natural born leader and some indications as to what this means for you as a parent. For this week I hope you observe your children and ask yourself about the way God formed them. Personality is a gift from God. When He fearfully and wonderfully made each of us, He planned in unique dispositions. As you think about personality type, consider what special needs your child has and what strengths they have based on their specific, individual traits.
I’m very interested to hear from any of you about what you learn about your children’s personalities and how it impacts your parenting.
Come back next Wednesday to learn more specifics about each personality type and some suggestions as to how we can parent each child according to their nature.
photos courtesy of morguefile.com