My youngest son and I have delved into Understood Betsy, a delightful novel written in 1916 about an overprotected orphan girl who suddenly finds herself relocated into the custody of her farming relatives where she learns to think for herself and become her own person. As my son and I were laying in bed reading one evening, the book took a narrative turn to discuss the concept of “personality.” I find it so remarkable how specifically God enters into our lives. A week ago I was inspired to start a series on personality and parenting. Within that week I came across this description in the most surprising of places, our nightly read-aloud:
… there’s a mystery [that] nobody has ever solved, not even the greatest scientists and philosophers, although, like all scientists and philosophers, they think they have gone a long way toward explaining something they don’t understand by calling it a long name. The long name is “personality,” and what it means nobody knows, but for all that, it is perhaps the very most important thing in the world. Yet, we know only one or two things about it. We know that anybody’s personality is made up of the sum total of all the actions and thoughts and desires of his life. And we know that though there aren’t any words or any figures in any languages to set down that sum total accurately, still it is on of the first things that everybody knows about anybody else. And that is really all we know!
Certainly personality is a mystery. When considering the uniqueness of each and every individual who ever lived or will live, we ought to be awestruck at the care and magnificence of God. No two humans are quite alike. That being said, we can sort ourselves into broad types and when we look at the traits common to a specific personality type as parents, we are better equipped to rear each of our children well.
Last week I started talking about personality by introducing the four primary personality types. Let’s look at our “leader” children today. You could also call this child a “driver” or “powerful.” The formal name is “Choleric” and the nickname coined by Gary Smalley describing this child is “Lion.”
Each personality type has strengths – aspects which are drawn out as we are shaped by God and walk in the Spirit. We also each have our weaknesses – those qualities which come out when we walk in the flesh. Marita Littauer has boiled these down into two simple lists. For the Choleric/Leader:
I just so happen to have a precious, strong, God-loving son who is part Choleric. I want to share from my personal parenting journey about this temperament. My leader son was born independent. He sets his mind on something and goes for it – with a single-minded devotion and focus that is unparalleled. Other mothers used to suggest fun ideas like trying to distract him when he wanted something he shouldn’t have as an infant or toddler. Um. no. Once his gaze is fixed and the object of his intention is in sight, he will pursue until he conquers. Nothing distracts this boy. I can’t count the number of times people have said, “Your son is a natural born leader.” He isn’t one to step out and make himself known, but when needed, you will see him rise up, take charge, direct the course of things and calm whatever was unruly. That is how God formed him. His strength reflects the Lion of Judah, our conquering King who rides in and takes charge. He has in him the passion and willingness to overturn tables in the temple if he sees injustice being done. That’s my lion son.
Have you ever watched a movie or even better, seen in person, the attempt to bridle and ride a wild horse? Under no circumstances is this animal going to give in easily or allow just anyone to tame him. If you want to ride a wild stallion, you have to earn his respect and go with his nature in order for him to submit. Children aren’t animals and I don’t subscribe to any parenting approach that likens rearing a child to raising an animal. What I can relate to is the need to engage the will and earn the respect of a child who was designed for strength. I cannot begin to tell you how helpful it has been to me to understand how my oldest son is wired.
What strengths he has – in leadership, independence, goal orientation, knowing his own mind – have led me to give him challenges, empower him to lead and allow him to pursue responsibilities which should be beyond his years. His weaknesses have been areas of prayer for me. Once he was old enough to hear about the underbelly of his character without taking these facts as insults, we talked openly so he could be aware of potential pitfalls. For me, knowing where he tends to “fall down” helps me have mercy and not expect him to be naturally merciful, patient or flexible. I don’t give him a pass in these areas. We work together to draw out what is good and to grow in self-control over areas which are potentially hurtful or selfish.
I remember the year, as we home educated, when I realized I was better off giving him a list of subjects to read, work to complete and narration required (the telling back of what he learned). By letting him run his own school day and check in with me I cut our difficult moments in half or more. Not every child is independent and purposeful in their learning style. The Lion child is just that. When we were included in a summer group of boys interested in developing a debate team, my son thrived. He loves to banter and discuss ideas. The idea of competing to determine pros/cons and decisions on issues gets his blood pumping. Some personalities cringe at the thought of conflict. Not the leader/choleric child. They thrive on a bit of a tete-a-tete.
If you have a Lion child, I suggest you remind yourself that strength is not a sin. God made your child with a power to lead and organize, to fix on a goal and achieve much, to gather people together for purpose. You also need to become a black belt in avoiding power struggles as this particular personality will engage in them for sport and unknowingly at that. Refresh yourself by reviewing the list I included above so you can find ways to draw out what is good in your leader child. Be prepared for the weaker aspects of his nature to come out when he is tired, discouraged or frustrated. Use times of habit training and bible study to help build in character traits which balance out the weaker areas. We have purposely involved my lion son in ministries which require mercy such as working with the homeless. We have conversations to highlight compassion and we encourage him to look for the good in others. By the time your leader child is ten or so, you can make him aware of the potential pitfalls of his personality so he can cooperate in working towards what is good. Most of all, pray. God formed this child of yours. He planned good to come through the strength in your child. God is powerful and persistent enough to shape the strongest of hearts into something beautiful.
I hope you found something here to help you as you shepherd your children. I’ll be talking about the sanguine (life-of-the-party) child in the next post in this series. I’d love to hear from you about your children’s personalities and how you parent them according to their unique strengths and weaknesses. Comment here or on the Hearts Homeward Facebook page.
Lion photo courtesy of Unsplash