Shy and thoughtful one day, rambunctious firecracker the next - toddlers are works in progress when it comes to developing their personality. While most parents will recognize distinct personality traits from the get-go, young children tend to defy classification by exhibiting behaviors that seem to come out of left field. Trying to label an egocentric, emotionally unpredictable, tantrum-throwing two-year old is a bit like trying to hiss and yawn at the same time - an impossible feat.
But you are not as helpless as you may sometimes feel.
Most experts agree that it is going to take some time for you to identify your child's "true" type, and clearly toddlers do not have enough self-awareness to take a personality test. But there will be clues. Between 12 and 18 months, children begin to lead with certain aspects of their personality type. Those traits become more apparent as your toddler becomes more verbal and social, and it's possible to spot those preferences through careful observation.
Introversion or extraversion?
Introverted toddlers are less likely to dominate play and typically will accept the rules set by their play partner. If your older toddler is the one taking the lead all the time, she probably has a preference for extraversion. Watch carefully, however. Some introverts, especially those with strong decision-making abilities, will also set the play agenda if there are no natural leaders within the group.
- Are slow to engage with new people, for example, reluctant to smile or wave bye-bye to a guest
- May cling to a parent in a new situation
- Need transition time from activity to activity
- Often study, with intensity, how something is done before jumping in
- Perceive time out as a reward rather than a punishment.
- Chatter a lot
- Will let you know loudly and clearly when they are sad, happy or frustrated
- Typically do not sit still for very long
- See time out as a massive punishment
- May have difficulty slowing down for example, before nap time.
Sensing or Intuition?
Sensors notice the details of the world around them. Intuitives are more interested in the possibilities of new information. These traits are extremely difficult to spot in young children and your child's preferences may not become clear until they reach their teenage years. If your toddler is particularly dominant in Sensing or Intuition, however, they may exhibit some or all of the following traits.
- Enjoy having their senses stimulated, for example, immersing themselves in the sand pit or in water, having their back rubbed or listening to music
- Memorize and remember details; a Sensor child may recall the pictures in a book with remarkable accuracy
- Appear steady and patient during play
- May be inflexible when faced with changes in their environment
- Go with the flow and adapt to situations as they arise
- Are often good at working around the word "no," for example, helping themselves to a cookie after you've told them to wait a few minutes
- Play in bursts and leaps
- May constantly look to you for new stimulation
Thinking or Feeling?
Since Feeling types value harmony, you may observe a Feeling child bowing to their friends or siblings during play. Toddlers who prefer projects, toys or things to playing with people are more likely to be Thinkers. As with Sensing/Intuition, it may be some years before you are able to identify your child's Thinking/Feeling preference with specificity.
- Get upset when someone is unhappy
- Like to talk or read about people
- Crave lots of attention and praise
- May appear naturally sensitive or dependent.
- Prioritize consistency
- Like to arrange objects in an orderly fashion
- Want praise for doing something right
- May seem uncomfortable with affection.
Judging or Perceiving?
In general terms, easy-going toddlers are more likely to be Perceivers. Children who respond to a structured and fairly predictable routine are more likely to be Judgers. Perceiving toddlers also have a tendency to move from play to play without finishing what they start. Be careful not to read too much into this, however, since all young children have relatively short attention spans.
- Respond well to routines and may feel lost when routines are changed, for example, with a new babysitter or during a vacation
- May stick with activities longer than expected and/or have the patience to wait for their needs to be met
- Want to be in charge and may appear bossy
- May try the same strategy over and over even if it is not working
- Can be defiant and stubborn in their opinions; expect temper tantrums if things don't go as planned.
- Easily tolerate change although their habits may be all over the place
- Don't anger easily
- Show a lot of playfulness and curiosity
- May lose attention quickly and flitter from activity to activity
- Have trouble making decisions and let others call the shots during play.
Putting the pieces together
As you read about these personality pairings, picture each one as a continuum. It is extremely rare to find a child who is entirely Introverted, or entirely Thinking. Most children will exhibit behaviors from each personality category and are capable of catching parents off guard in ways you might not expect.
If your toddler is proving difficult to type, it may help to set up a tally system. Every time your toddler thinks out loud, they get a tally in Extraversion. Every time they refuse a hug, they get a tally in Thinking. Over several weeks or months, you should start to spot patterns in your toddler's behavior.
Don't worry if your toddler defies classification. Parents have raised children for thousands of years without having the first clue about their child's personality preferences. And it can be dangerous to rigidly classify young children. Toddlers are right at the beginning of their development journey, so we need to give them space to grow and blossom rather than label them prematurely.
But if a child seems very different to other family members, and you are struggling to find the right way to respond to their needs, then typing can be helpful. It allows you to identify what is normal for your child, and see the bigger picture. Most parenting "failures" happen because parents are used to doing things a certain way, which may have worked in the past, but may not be right for your little one. Typing your toddler, even loosely, acknowledges that everyone is born a particular way and helps you anticipate your child's responses to certain stimuli. It helps you work with the gifts that are there.