Should Your Child Take a Personality Test?
Dear Parents – it will be okay. I know that all you want to do is do it right. Or maybe all you want to do is survive, to live long enough to usher your child into adulthood without completely losing your mind.
This whole family thing would be so much easier if we could understand why our child absolutely implodes if we have pineapple on our pizza. Why does he refuse to wear shoes? Why did she just declare she was dropping out of high school and joining the circus? Why won’t my kid share his day with me on the way home from soccer practice?
Why doesn’t she have more friends? Why does he have the wrong kind of friends? Why, if I’m a registered engineer, is my child a free-ranging artist who just painted an elephant mural on the living room wall? You know. The wall that took me three months to decide on the perfect color to paint it.
I don’t think I’ll ever recover from the fun fact that my children arrived with neither instructions nor warning labels. Not only that, but there were five children in the same home with the same parents and the same rules and let me tell you now—these were five radically unique humans.
As a parent, you may be decidedly interested in your child’s personality type. It seems like a logical step toward understanding some of the behaviors our children display. If the pediatrician can measure out an estimate of our two-year-old’s future and final height, and the fourth-grade teacher can make an assessment of our child’s IQ, and college-entry counselors can test for compatible career choices, it would be great if we could test for personality.
Preferably at two months old.
Because sometimes our child has us questioning everything. And we want answers. But there are many reasons why you won’t get those answers from a too-soon personality test.
Your child is still under construction
While it’s true that we are born with our basic personality package, each person unpacks their character traits at different times and in unexpected ways. Just as your child has been continuously evolving since conception, they continue to grow and mature into adulthood. They try out different social interactions, different clothing styles, different vocabularies, and, yes, different personality traits over those formative years.
Measuring your child’s personality is like measuring her for shoes. In the complex arena of childhood, it’s as impossible to chart, measure, and type a personality as it is to keep feet in shoes that fit. The results reflect today’s data. Not tomorrow’s.
And because personality test questions are based on behavioral decision-making, the results are going to be as mishmashed as the clothing choices your child makes. It could be taffeta today, denim tomorrow, and the dragon costume next. Kids don’t make commitments and they don’t worry about consequences. Like clothing choices, they might choose to wear shorts on a snowy day and an argument over why or why not will not change their still-developing mind.
You can’t get a permanent answer from temporary input.
Your child cannot differentiate yet
While your child is still becoming, they lean into your assessment of who they are, and for very good reasons. The adults in a child’s life are their world and your child will strive to become (or work around) the person you’ve consciously or unconsciously projected for them. Your presence and umbrella will overshadow their ideas of who they are and what they do.
Children have not grown into themselves. It requires a certain level of self-awareness before you can answer the questions of a personality test with any sort of authenticity. Adults can differentiate between themselves and others. Children feel interconnected with the many others in their world and could answer the questions based on what they think others would say or what others would expect them to say.
It's not to say we can’t use labels when describing our kids, but it’s smarter to label behaviors—which are temporary—instead of personality. A character who is still becoming.
You can't rush genius
The danger of applying personality test results to children lies in the temptation to rigidly classify humans who aren’t done growing. Administering a personality test is not for the child’s benefit, it’s for a parent looking for answers that don’t yet exist. There is no way to know what kind of confusion could happen if my child hears me tell her who she is before she knows herself. Will he stop trying new things? Will she spend years wondering why she isn’t measuring up to what I expect?
In other words, what if I’m wrong? And I will be, because the Myers-Briggs personality tests were designed for adults and not created with children in mind. Perhaps your child is very self-aware, but she can’t know what she might do in situations she’s never faced on her own two feet.
Our child is not an adult… yet.
While there is no hard and fast rule about age, you cannot type someone with any kind of accuracy until they are well into the teen years, and the further beyond them you go, the more accurate the tests will become.
A better way
Understanding our infant, toddler, or tween would go such a long way toward managing a happier household. Knowing what makes our child tick could help us tailor everything from discipline to after-school activities.
But just because my child would rather stay inside to read instead of going outside with friends doesn’t automatically make him Introverted. It could be that the highly anticipated book of the year dropped and once it’s been read cover to cover, he’ll be out sharing spoiler alerts during the baseball game.
You may be able to spot patterns of emerging personality in your child, and simple observations and thoughtful responses to her daily business of growing up will be more applicable (and accurate) than an adult version personality test.
While they grow
Introversion and extraversion may be the easiest to observe. Energy management may not be in their grasp yet, but the needs for stimulation or isolation could be signaled by their body language. Read helpful observations here.
Sensing and Intuition can look like so many other things. Children must explore their world, learning around the clock, and will cheerfully do so by mimicking others. Does your child tend to be practical or creative when learning new things?
Thinking or Feeling involves decision-making. Initially, you might assume a child has few decisions to make, but if a toddler’s first word is “no” or a tween chooses his own friends, they are practicing and developing this muscle. It takes years to develop and the reasons behind their decisions fluctuate wildly. It will be tricky to determine whether they make decisions with their heads or their hearts.
Judging or Perceiving appear much later in childhood, after a child has the opportunity to structure their lives for themselves. Most of childhood structure is dictated by others and the world around them. When they have the choice, are they planners or spontaneous?
Once your child has grown into emotional and physical maturity, personality tests like the Enneagram, Myers-Briggs, DISC, and others will reflect your child’s authentic place on the personality spectrum. Until then…you can only watch and wait.