Understanding your child’s personality – and yours tooWritten by Catherine Wilson
What's inside this article
As parents, we like to think we know our own kids, but we don’t always have the full picture. Angela’s son1 was in grade 12 when she had an epiphany about his deeper inclinations – and it came just in time.
“I happened to come across a book about personality types, and randomly flipped it open to a list of traits. As I read the list I thought, Oh wow! That’s a perfect description of Joel! Even though I’d been his mom all those years, I hadn’t been able to put that all together myself. It gave me a whole new understanding of what was important to him.”
With an embarrassed chuckle, Angela explains why the revelation was so timely.
“Shortly after that, Joel pulled a foolish prank at high school, and the principal was threatening to suspend him. She was especially peeved that Joel wouldn’t name the other boys involved.
“In the principal’s eyes, Joel was being obstructive, but based on what I had just learned about his personality, I was able to explain to her that it was really about loyalty; loyalty to his friends is one of Joel’s highest values. Instead of the threatened suspension, the principal gave him a lecture on misplaced loyalty – and I gave thanks to the Lord!”
Like Angela, Lisa2 had her own flash of insight when she recognized specific personality traits in her preschooler.
“I was growing concerned about Allie’s resistance to instruction – she so often insisted on doing things her way. Once we took a close look at the personality types in our family, I could see that the way I gave her direction was triggering her resistance. I changed my approach, and Allie became much more compliant.”
Those Aha! moments are rewarding at any stage, but they’re so much more valuable if parents can clue into their child’s personality early on.
wish I’d had that deeper understanding of Joel years earlier,” says Angela, “I
would have been a better parent to him. I’d even done personality-type testing
as a team-building exercise in my workplace, but I never thought to apply the
same idea at home.”
Labels kids can relate to
One reason why parents hesitate to pursue personality-trait assessments is that they’re not sure which personality tests are appropriate for younger kids.
There are some good resources out there for teens, like the Teen Insights Profile from Ministry Insights International (available for a fee), or 16personalities.com – a secular website offering a free personality test. The results – a profile of personal strengths and weaknesses – can really boost a teen’s self-understanding.
Not many personality tests, however, are designed for kids under 12, in part because important secondary character traits only begin to develop during the teen years. So parents are left wresting with a comprehension gap. Just try explaining to an eight-year-old what it means when a (made-for-adults) assessment pegs them as a logician, campaigner or virtuoso!
How about labels like lion, otter, golden retriever, or beaver instead? Now they actually mean something to an elementary kid!
That’s the appeal of John Trent’s LOGB® Personality Test. There are only four animal labels to remember (although you may be a combination of two) and kids “get it” when you explain that their personality is strong like a lion, playful like an otter, friendly like a golden retriever or hardworking like a beaver.
To make it even easier for parents, Trent has a companion storybook called The Treasure Tree that helps kids identify their own broad personality type and also appreciate the strengths in siblings and classmates who are “not like them.”
“These are just tools,” says Trent, “but it’s a really fun tool to sit there and say, ‘Man, I can love my kid well by understanding how the Lord has uniquely created them.’ . . . By about 3-years-old, believe it or not, you can really begin to see a lot of these characteristics. And by 5 and 6, wow, you know.”3
Is Trent’s animal personalities tool really that fun and approachable? Yes, for sure. But that barely begins to describe what the LOGB® Personality Test really offers families.
As Trent explains in detail in his 2006 book Parenting From Your Strengths, the LOGB assessment also functions as a reality check for parents, helping us consider how our personality type rubs up against our kids’ personality types. To put it more pointedly, it gives clues to how we, as parents, may be stressing out our kids, or even crushing their spirits.
But first, what’s the makeup of your family? How many lions, otters, beavers or golden retrievers live under your roof? Here’s a simplified list of traits for each type. (For a fuller description of each type see Strongfamilies.com.)
Strengths: Bold, adventurous, determined and competitive, lions are “take charge” types who love solving big problems.
Challenges: Impulsive decision-making; can be too direct or impatient with others or doesn’t listen; may seem more interested in their goals than their relationships; bored by routine and chit-chat
Personal motto: “Let’s do it now!
Strengths: Energetic, fun-loving and optimistic, otters can chat for hours and are great at motivating and inspiring others.
Challenges: Energized by novelty and so avoids details or lacks follow-through; overly trusting; may set unrealistic goals or seem unconcerned about risks or meeting deadlines
Personal motto: “Trust me! It’ll work out!”
Strengths: Easygoing, empathetic and loyal, golden retrievers are patient listeners and peacemakers who highly value their relationships with others.
Challenges: Easily hurt or holds a grudge; needs routine and time to process change or major decisions; ignores their own needs to keep the peace; explanations meander
Personal motto: “Let’s keep things the way they are.”
Strengths: Analytical and detail oriented, beavers like to do a job well and to ponder all the implications before making a decision.
Challenges: Can frustrate others with their precision and desire for details; their impulse to troubleshoot new ideas can make them seem like a “wet blanket”; too critical of self and others.
Personal motto: “How was it done in the past?”
Eye-openers for parents
From the descriptions above, it’s not hard to pinpoint areas where our kids may struggle and need special attention.
- A lion child may resent being micro-managed, and may need to learn to respect other people’s opinions and feelings.
- An otter child may need help establishing the self-discipline to complete homework and “boring” tasks; because they crave approval, they may have trouble accepting criticism.
- A golden retriever may have trouble taking risks and facing new settings; because they’re typically undemanding, they may feel invisible in the family.
- A beaver child may fret too much over mistakes or imperfections in schoolwork, or let details hinder their progress; they need help to realize their value isn’t connected to their performance.
But what about us, as parents? What are we doing that creates struggles for our kids? Plenty, it seems.
Here are a few cautions from Trent for each personality type.
For lion parents
“Gentle words and soft-spoken answers might not come easily for the lion,” warns Trent, “but they might be necessary to avoid hurting the children God has entrusted to their care.” Beware of your tendency to be domineering and to jump to conclusions: don’t discipline your kids before you’ve heard their side of the story. Seek out your kids’ opinions and perspectives before you make a decision.
- For your lion child, model recovering from anger.
- Remember that your otter child really craves your affirmation and encouragement.
- Make sure your golden retriever child has a chance to express their opinions or desires, and is not just giving the answer that makes you or others happy.
- Remember that your beaver child is not necessarily challenging your ideas, they just need time to think through the ramifications.
For otter parents
Remember that not all your kids enjoy rushing from one fun activity to the next. Your routine-loving golden retriever or beaver child may be stressed out by your busy agenda. Following through on your good intentions is important too: it can hurt your children when you forget your promise to arrange a play date, or to pick up the supplies they need for a project.
- When your lion child shows resistance, don’t be tempted to relax the rules – they need consistency.
- Remember that your otter child sometimes can get down in the dumps, so don’t be flippant or minimize it.
- Slow down and be patient with your golden retriever child; unlike you, they need lots of down time and find comfort in that “same old routine” that bores you so. Work hard at spending deep, one-on-one time with them.
- Be careful to keep your promises to your beaver child and respect any obvious need for tidiness and adherence to a schedule.
For golden retriever parents
Though you’re a compassionate, sensitive parent who wants to make everyone happy, there are times when you need to stand your ground instead of bending the rules to avoid conflict. Remember that conflict in families is normal and you can demonstrate how to work things out.
- Model compassion and kindness for your lion child; don’t be tempted to relax the rules when they resist you; give them opportunities to lead.
- Make sure your otter child always feels loved and accepted by you, even when they wear you out.
- Try not to favour your golden retriever child over your other children, even though you both bond so well.
- Don’t panic when your beaver child throws down the gauntlet and insists on having things done their way.
For beaver parents
“As children grow older,” warns Trent, “they can see in the beaver parent a list of rules and regulations which can draw out that ‘wet paint’ response at times. Children test limits.” Focus on all the things your kids are doing right, not the few things they’re doing wrong.
- Respect your lion child’s need to control some things in their life and do them their way; when things must be done your way, take care to fully explain why.
- Recognize that, for your otter child, long conversations and fun times with friends are not frivolous but essential, so balance learning responsibility with fun.
- Your golden retriever child needs you to be warm and approachable, and to put your tasks on hold each day long enough to draw out your child’s thoughts and feelings in conversation.
- Model for your beaver child that not everything has to be done perfectly: sometimes “good enough” is good enough.
Because parents get so used to being the authority figure, we can get duped into thinking our way – our personality – is the one right way to be, and so we try to mould our kids into replicas of ourselves. We may be the parent, but that doesn’t make us perfect. We need God’s coaching to find balance, and sometimes the attributes in our kids that drive us crazy are the very things we are lacking ourselves.
“[God] places us with people,” reminds Trent, “even kids that are different than us, not to frustrate us, but to really build into our life and to complete us – not defeat us.”4
1 Names changed to protect privacy.
3 Quoted from the Focus on the Family broadcast, "Understanding Personality Types."
Recommended resource: The Two Sides of Love
Catherine Wilson is an associate editor at Focus on the Family Canada.
© 2017 Focus on the Family (Canada) Association. All rights reserved.
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