What To Do When Your Child’s Personality Type Clashes With Your Own

Clinically Reviewed by Steven Melendy, PsyD. on August 08, 2016

You are the life and soul of the party and never miss a social engagement. Your son prefers to sit in his bedroom and read.

You love clothes, shoes and makeup and take care of your appearance. Your daughter is a slob who refuses to shower, won't brush her hair and has no interest in clothes.

You're an introvert who needs time alone every day. Your toddler follows you everywhere and never stops chattering. You can't even take a pee without this little firecracker hanging onto your ankles.

People are as unique as snowflakes and sometimes our children are completely different than us. They have different dreams, different motivations and different abilities. They don't care about the things you care about. And they certainly don't want to do things your way.

As a parent, this can be awfully hard to handle. We like it when our plantings are just like us. It's far easier to parent a child who has a certain fluency in our values than the family black sheep. So we try, often unconsciously, to cultivate the traits that may come less naturally to our children, to shape them into the kind of adult we want them to be.

Unsurprisingly, parenting can get tricky if you try to raise a mini-me. It's frustrating when your high-spirited, distractible daughter ignores your twentieth plea to "settle down." It's embarrassing when your shy, introspective son won't let go of your pant leg and jump into a crowd of kids, especially if you are naturally adventurous and strong-willed.

Creating an environment that better matches your child's unique temperament is the only way to decrease, or even end, such frustration. Here are some tips for dealing with personality clashes before they drive the both of you nuts.

1. Identify what your child is, and what she is not

It's difficult to personality type a young child - until the age of 14 or so, the motivations behind a child's observed behavior can be very confusing, even to the child herself. Much of what a child does, or does not do, is learned behavior from parents telling him to "do your homework" or "tidy your room." But it is possible to observe certain behaviors that will give you some clues as to what energizes and motivates your child.

Do her eyes dance with excitement as she waits for her friends to arrive? Probably an Extravert. Does he need praise about his performance and avoid confrontation like the plague? Probably a Feeler. Does she have an astonishing memory for details, love to plan out tasks and won't believe anything you say until you "prove it?" Almost certainly a Sensor.

Paying careful attention to your child's activity level, tolerance for routines and emotional intensity will really help you to focus down on the key traits that represent your child's natural temperament. Make sure to not jump to conclusions that may not be accurate, however. Sometimes, our own desires and prejudices cause us to pigeonhole our children and ignore their own special wiring. Instead, try to observe impartially or ask a friend to help you out if you are really struggling to recognize patterns in your child's behavior.

2. Talk with your child about the differences

If your child is old enough, talk to them about the differences between you. Don't just focus on the child's "otherness," though - tell your child how much you enjoy his unique strengths and responses.

For example, you could say; "I appreciate how dedicated and organized you are at playing your clarinet when you get home from school. Those are really great skills that will help you accomplish your goals in the future. I am different from you in that I like to go with the flow and do whatever I feel like doing when I get home. But that's OK, too."

3. Problem solve and compromise together

He leaves a trail of devastation behind him and plans things on the fly, you can't focus until the work is organized and the house is as shiny as a new pin. You've identified that your child is probably a Perceiver and that you have Judging tendencies. It's hardly the dream scenario. But it is possible to work out the differences.

For example, you could set a basic level of structure around household chores. Once a week, insist that your child's room is tidied and his sheets are washed. The rest of the time, give your child permission to organize his space as he pleases. Through compromise, your child will learn the need for some predictability and closure, and you will learn to be flexible with your priorities.

Obviously, the compromises you reach will depend on your individual pressure points. The important thing is that you problem solve together and support the other's preferences. This will help your child to understand that you are sacrificing just as much as he is in order to improve your relationship.

4. Appoint an advocate for your younger child

Younger children will not be able to problem solve and compromise effectively so it is important to identify a friend or family member who can advocate for your child, ideally one who shares many of the same personality traits. This person can act as a sounding board and suggest ways to support your child when they next catch you off guard.

Sometimes, just talking through the issues with a sympathetic adult is enough to restore a sense of perspective. And it would help tremendously if the competent adult could spend time with your child when you're emotionally exhausted and need time to recharge.

5. Focus on the positives

Parenting is tough at the best of times and it's easy to blow things out of proportion when you are feeling let down by your child's personality. When your child acts out, why not challenge yourself to look at their "annoying" traits in a new way?

For example, you may be frustrated when your child wanders off before he's completed his Lego tower. But think of the bright side - your child enjoyed the activity more than the result, and is probably very comfortable exploring new experiences.

You may be irritated when your slow-to-warm-up daughter stubbornly refuses to join group activities. But is she a pro at people watching? Introverted people reflect on the things they see and are generally non-threatening, attentive and thoughtful when they approach new situations. These attractive qualities could really help your child develop deeper and more fulfilling relationships as she transitions into adulthood.

If you really can't see an upside to a particular behavior, take a few minutes to remind yourself of all the great qualities your child has. If you could bottle your child's kindness, would you be a millionaire? What about their tenacity, their independence, their unrelenting joy of life? Everyone has at least one outstanding quality - keep that in focus, and the rest is merely details.

Summing it up

Differences are great and can really balance out the family dynamic. Imagine if everyone in your family were iron-willed - you'd butt heads like mountain goats. Or if all of you were flighty - your child would never remember her school books.

In fact, one of the great joys of parenting is seeing the world through different eyes. The more divergent your child's personality, the fresher that perspective. Take the time to really appreciate your child's personality and you'll learn to broaden your own horizons. Then you can really help your child to be the best she can be.

Molly Owens

Molly Owens is the founder and CEO of Truity. She is a graduate of UC Berkeley and holds a master's degree in counseling psychology. She began working with personality assessments in 2006, and in 2012 founded Truity with the goal of making robust, scientifically validated assessments more accessible and user-friendly.

Molly is an ENTP and lives in the San Francisco Bay Area, where she enjoys elaborate cooking projects, murder mysteries, and exploring with her husband and son.

More from this author...
About the Clinical Reviewer

Steven Melendy, PsyD., is a Clinical Psychologist who received his doctorate from The Wright Institute in Berkeley, California. He specializes in using evidence-based approaches in his work with individuals and groups. Steve has worked with diverse populations and in variety of a settings, from community clinics to SF General Hospital. He believes strongly in the importance of self-care, good friendships, and humor whenever possible.


Shinnunna (not verified) says...

I am thankful for the insight learnt in knowing who we are. Unfortunately, not many in Africa especially,have access to this knowledge. I feel that this knowledge opens up new frontiers of thinking and are a key to national and international development. At least I have now an idea of my personality and the challenges before me.

Rizky Syaiful (not verified) says...

So spot on! Yesterday I had a conflict with my mom. Due to personality difference. In the end we agreed that we have different expectations. Now we're okay and respect each other's boundaries.

Sophie413 (not verified) says...

I am an infp. Although I don't have kids yet, I clearly remember my relationship with my estj dad. I was always (and still am) sensitive, and I used to cry a lot, and I would always daydream and sort of live in my own world. I was always messy, and I loved writing poetry. This was very different from my dad, who was direct, practical, organized, dependable, and wasn't good with feelings. His favorite saying was "It is what it is". However, I think one key thing this article is missing is that parents should try to find similarities with their children. People have other traits besides what their mbti letters say about them. My dad and I did have a surprising amour of shared traits, and we were able to have a great relationship, despite our differences.
Although I will say this: when we did get in to conflict, my infj mom was extremely helpful.
Sorry that was so long lol

Liz McCall (not verified) says...

I need insight into the autistic personality.
My daughter is 30 years old and definitely an extrovert even though she likes her alone time, too.

Deedee Capozzi (not verified) says...

I have pulled up several personality types for myself...INFJ,INTP,ESTJ,INTJ,ENTJ,ENFT,ESFP...wow...fascinating! How does one know what others are? And what I like about this article is the open minded approach to tolerance of diversity. Perhaps we can all understand so much more than we might first think! My kids are grown or passed, and I wish I had been more knowledgable back then, but that is the past and it is now. I live with my sis. I don't know her type (types) but she often says "It is what it is" and brushes my point of view to the side, leaving me feeling rather unloved, although I'm sure she loves me...this always comes up for me and I wish I could reach her because as we come to understand others we end up with so much more than our individual selves.

Guest (not verified) says...

This is so interesting.

My mother and I were totally different personality types. She was an "old-school" Mom who lived for her children. I am forever grateful to her for never allowing me to realize that we had personality differences. Instead, my "Sweet Mommy" became the woman I needed to raise me!

She was the quiet one and I was the chatty, feisty and opinionated toddler. She applied the force that was needed to help me to learn to shut up and listen, to be kind to those not as bright or fearless and to stop trying to control everything and everyone around me!

My Mama was a quiet and peaceful introvert and I was the extrovert. She was content to be my Mom. She did not live through me - in fact she was totally herself but she was VERY Proud of her workmanship. I was her masterpiece! She shaped me into a loving, caring giving and compassionate individual.

WOW was she a craftswoman! She taught me to be a lady as I refused to back down form anything. There was no discussion - she just did what she needed to do to shape me into the person I am now.

Guest (not verified) says...

If only my extroverted dad would enjoy all his introverted children more. Sometimes I wish he'd let me be as I am than trying to changing me to an extrovert.

Cece1961 (not verified) says...

It's not as easy as you seem to think it is for us extroverts. We also wish our introvert children could just put themselves out there just every once and awhile. 

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