"Do I see two?" my husband, Mike, asked. "Two heads?"
As my eyes adjusted to the murky image on the dim sonogram screen, Kelly, our ultrasound technician, laughed. "It's twins!"
Are they joking? I wondered. I'd long ago earned my mama-to-many badge. Surely, I'd have known if I had twins on board.
But there they were on the screen, two babies nestled together. Baby A, Merci, slumbered peacefully near the bottom, while Baby B, Jake, was stacked on top, kicking his sister in the face.
Throughout the pregnancy, I was constantly amazed by how differently the twins behaved. Merci would lazily roll and stretch, gently pushing against the confines, while Jake reminded me of a hamster careening about in one of those clear exercise balls. Those twinkles of personality held true after they were born. Merci liked things calm and predictable, often becoming unsettled when the chaos of big-family life swirled around her. But Jake was alert and always moving, joyfully craving social interactions with his siblings.
And those early glimpses of personality hold true today, 10 years later. Carrying two babies at once really drove home the uniqueness that God builds into people, the beautiful range of temperament and personality that He gives us.
There is tremendous value in discovering and developing the unique contours of a child's heart. We can demonstrate to our children that they are known and embraced for exactly who they are — what makes them tick, what makes them bold, what makes them scared, what touches them and what defines them.
Understanding our children's unique personalities informs our parenting, of course, but it does something even more important: It speaks love.
So how can we better understand our children's personalities? We need to first look at the traits each child exhibits. I've identified four main personality styles based on William Marston's foundational research and Walter Clarke's popular personality assessment system.
Of course, no child (or parent) is wholly one personality style; we're all a gorgeous blend of styles. But looking at these four personality styles can be helpful in distinguishing tendencies as well as revealing the strengths and challenges of our children's personalities. This process helps us adjust our parenting and better guide the children God has entrusted to us.
What Is My Child's Personality?
Take a look at the following descriptions. Which personality style best describes your child? Is your child noticeably strong in one area, or does he exhibit a blend of two or more styles?
Some personality styles are tricky to identify. Others, like the Director, are easy. Task-oriented, bold, decisive and strong, Directors like to be in charge. Directors will stand up for what they want, rallying the troops to get projects completed. They don't mind shaking up the status quo to secure a better outcome.
How to parent your Director
Strengths: Directors have boldness, candor, leadership, a can-do spirit, an ability to make quick and firm decisions, and an innate ability to organize people into effective teams. If you need all hands on deck for a project or event, turn to Directors, delegate authority to them and turn them loose. Directors are happy to barrel through the protesting and groaning of their siblings to reach the final goal. These are kids who delight in organizing a family activity and assigning everyone a task.
Challenges: Because of their appetite for achievement, Directors will need to be coached in listening to others and valuing others' thoughts and ideas. Directors are focused on outcomes, so you'll need to remind them that honoring and appreciating people is an important part of every project. And because others will naturally be drawn to them, you'll need to help them recognize that they are not always on center stage. Teach them that people are not commodities to be used, but relationships to be cultivated.
Sometimes similar to the Director, Inspirers take a slightly different tactic by inspiring others to participate in whatever new idea has caught their eye. Gifted at encouraging and engaging, Inspirers are people-oriented over task-oriented. Through humor, charm, fun and a good nature, Inspirers are influential among their peers.
How to parent your Inspirer
Strengths: Inspirers love to laugh and make others laugh. They are often very affectionate. They lead others by expanding their vision and motivating them through encouragement. Life is a vibrant, intense and generally enjoyable enterprise for them. Your Inspirers have a zeal for taking on new challenges, along with a willingness to throw themselves into fresh experiences. Give them opportunities to take on and share their latest inspirations. Encourage them to finish what they start.
Challenges: All that connection and their gourmet approach to life put Inspirers at risk of focusing too much on people pleasing and vigorously fearing rejection. Inspirers will need your coaching to not make entertaining the crowd their highest aim. You'll also need to guide your Inspirers toward paying attention to detail and recognizing the importance of tackling the mundane tasks of life.
Curators are conscientious, careful, compliant, cautious and concrete. Like the Director, they're task-oriented, but tend to enjoy working alone to solve problems. They also have a strong perfectionist streak. Curators want to get things right and will work hard toward that goal. Marking off checklists and following careful schedules are very rewarding for Curators.
How to parent your Curator
Strengths: Curators have high standards and bring a steep degree of excellence to whatever they do. They care about the small details, about getting it right. Curators have a sense of how an ordered world should be, and anything short of that can make them uncomfortable. When you need things put right and set straight, put your Curators to work.
Challenges: Your Curators will require your coaching to see the bigger picture because they may become upset or grumpy when things aren't going perfectly or smoothly. They'll need your guidance in remembering to consider others' feelings, as they tend to discount others' emotions in the interest of undertaking the job at hand. Getting things right is of such high value to Curators that they'll need your guidance in seeing a healthy perspective on criticism.
Dependable. Conscientious. Friendly. Loyal. Steadfasts are the kind of people who do the job without drama. They are easygoing and like working alongside others. They're happy to shovel the detritus of enthusiastic vision casters and take the task to completion.
How to parent your Steadfast
Strengths: The great strength of Steadfasts is, of course, a calm demeanor and steadfast spirit. Steadfasts' genuine kindness and consideration are the stuff of committed and healthy relationships. They don't require a crowd, but they do like their friends. One-on-one time with a parent is of particular importance, as Steadfasts are wired for connection. And remember: Still waters run deep. It's crucial to ask thoughtful questions and then listen carefully to discover what might be tumbling around in the heart of a Steadfast.
Challenges: All that steadiness finds change difficult. As a parent, you'll need to help your Steadfasts navigate and adjust to change. Because feeling secure is of such high value to Steadfasts, any circumstances that feel shaky and precarious are difficult for them. They'll need your encouragement to try new things, to make modifications and to step out of their comfort zone.
How Your Personality Influences Your Parenting
Your understanding of your own personality in conjunction with your child's can help you sort through conflict and communication.
Let's say you're a strong Curator. And let's say God gave you a child who is a high Inspirer. Your strengths are your attention to detail and a desire for things to be done with excellence. When you send your Inspirer to clean his room, he hurries up the stairs, singing loudly. In the midst of cleaning, he calls down several times, excited to tell you something he thought of. Before long, he declares he's done.
When you go upstairs to review his work, there doesn't seem to be any improvement to the mess. You express irritation, but your child seems perplexed as he points out the nice path from the door to the bed and from the bed to the closet.
Is your Inspirer being obnoxiously disobedient or lazy? There might be some of both, but there's more going on here. For the Inspirer, his God-given bent is to find a creative, interesting solution to problems. A mundane chore isn't all that inspiring to him. His eagerness is for human connection, for negotiation and peacemaking. In carving that path around the room, he's created a solution that honors your request. Sort of. You, on the other hand, like the organization of a clean room with everything in its place.
How do you navigate this clash of styles? Remember, the Inspirer is highly people-oriented. He likes a stimulating, entertaining environment. If you make the experience more social, you're more likely to make progress toward what you want done.
An Inspirer may never clean a bedroom to a Curator's standards. But remember the goal: You want to help your Inspirer develop an ability to attend to details.
So help him try again. Put on some music. Make it a treasure hunt to find a lost toy. Divide the room, telling him the goal is to get one-quarter of the room picked up to see if the missing toy is there. You honor the bent in him that loves people and fun experiences. You satisfy your need for order. And you bend to each other, respecting your beautifully diverse, God-given personalities.
It's good for children to have their unique, God-given threads, but it's also wise for parents to help guide those powerful strands:
- Directors and Curators are powerfully motivated by tasks and by your entrusting them with projects they can handle confidently.
- Inspirers and Steadfasts thrive when motivated by relationship, when people are involved in the process.
- Directors and Inspirers respond well when they're allowed to lead, even in a small way.
- Steadfasts and Curators respond well with consistency and clearly communicated expectations.
If your personality seems to be the opposite of your child's, you're going to have to intentionally use what motivates and inspires him, not what works most comfortably for you. I'm not talking about allowing anarchy here. But we also shouldn't see the strengths of a child's personality as something to be conquered.
A child is not a problem to be fixed. She's a personality to be focused.Julie Lyles Carr is a popular author and speaker. Her most recent book is Raising an Original.