By Caron B. Goode
Find Your Child’s Personal Style
Every morning, six-year-old Josh and his mom clash at breakfast just as Mom is ready to walk out the door. A daydreamer by nature, Josh moves through life at a slower pace than his task-oriented mom, who values organization. Their distinct ways of relating to the world reveal their obviously different personal styles.
A “personal style” is a natural predisposition toward time, stress, people, tasks and situations. Understanding a child’s style enables parents, caregivers and teachers to interact more effectively and get results. Researcher Terry Anderson, Ph.D., notes four style categories: behavioral, cognitive, interpersonal and affective.
When parents can communicate and interact in ways that fit their children’s unique styles, there is harmony in the home. Both parents and children develop confidence and self-esteem.
A constant through life
Personal style is only one of six factors that make up personality; it’s a foundation for one’s preferences, reactions and values. It remains a constant throughout life. The chart below provides an easy way to “picture” the differences in the four styles, followed by brief descriptions and suggestions for interacting with your children.
Source: Robinson, Everett, T., Why Aren’t You More Like Me? Styles & Skills for Leading and Living with Credibility, Seattle: Consulting Resource Group International, Inc. 1997, p. 30.
Your behavioral-focused child
Behaviorally focused children need freedom and self-expression; they enjoy structure but not controls. They prefer to learn by themselves rather in a group. They look to real-life examples rather than abstract thinking or discussions. Rising to their challenges as problem-solvers, they’re often bold, willful, productive, competitive, unemotional and self-reliant. They like to be leaders and recognized for their achievements. When they feel a parent’s incongruence, they question authority. These children rarely talk about their problems or emotions. Instead, they set goals and take the necessary actions to reach them.
These children need a no-blame, non-emotional approach. Be fair, open, logical, honest and direct. To get tasks done, give them the task, state the benefit or reward and ask them when and how they can do it. Don’t stand over them or try to direct their activities. Instead, set the structure for this child and expect it to be done without having to explain the “why” of it. If you’re an emotional or touchy-feely parent, don’t take it personally if this child doesn’t respond in kind.
The cognitive child
Cognitively oriented children need affirmation and understanding. They take instruction well, admiring expertise and knowledge. Yet they are deep thinkers and like to examine issues and relationships. Respectful of others, they appreciate respect in return. They value intimacy and good relationships. They work well with data, are organized and can be perfectionists. Because their talents lie in numbers and mathematics, they often spend hours at their computers.
Heart-to-heart appreciation and respect work best. State facts calmly (“You didn’t clean your room today.”) rather than argue or make generalities (“You never clean your room.”). Because cognitive children prefer not to compete and might not respond to rewards or games, lay out activities and then provide time and freedom for children to complete them. Make only constructive suggestions. As perfectionists, they’ll criticize themselves enough without a parent’s help.
The interpersonal approach
Interpersonally focused children need appreciation and trust. Highly perceptive, they require honesty in communication and relationships. They are the peacemakers in your family and will worry about you if there are arguments or illnesses. Sometimes shy, they like to feel included in the family. They value secure relationships and stable environments and don’t fare well with transitions unless prepared beforehand. These children feel disharmony deeply and might internalize it. They’re often employed in service businesses because they are people-focused.
Friendly conversations and clear communications that don’t threaten or punish are advised. These children listen well. Model behavior for them, as they’ll hear and watch you. Solve problems together, each contributing to the solution. Present tasks so that success can be measured easily before progressing to graduated stages of difficulty. Don’t present the hardest problem first, or children may feel overwhelmed and won’t finish it. Appreciate these children often, and they will feel great about themselves.
The affective child
Like Josh, these children are highly creative and artistic; later in life, they’re called visionaries or dreamers. They need to feel through things before making decisions. They easily live in the world of ideas as a writer does or find other expressive outlets like organizing games around friends. They enjoy variety and get bored easily. They crave acknowledgement for their creativity. They want to be the center of attention. They value friendships and easily enjoy life. They learn by doing.
Give these children affection, touch, conversation and personal attention. Share stories about life, and look at photo albums. Engage them in group activities; they’ll rise to challenges when presented with excitement and fun. These children love outings, family vacations and new experiences. Allow them to be creative, offer structure and discipline positively and enthusiastically. Encourage them in projects involving drama, theater, group activities, peer counseling and selling for fund raising. Good luck asking these kids to take out the garbage!
So how can Josh’s mom communicate better with her affective-style son? Applying her organization skills, she can develop a colored chart showing scheduled times for Josh’s activities. She sets a clown-face timer for 20 minutes, the amount of time it takes to share breakfast. When the buzzer sounds, she gets Josh to move by gently touching his arm. That urges him to get ready before leaving for school.
© Caron B. Goode
NFO Attachment Parenting Editor Caron B. Goode, Ed.D., is a parenting expert who speaks and writes about how parents can nurture their children’s gift. Go to Inspired Parenting to find out your parenting style, order Nurture Your Child’s Gift: Inspired Parenting and sign up for the online parenting magazine.