Parenting: Understanding Your Child’s Nature

Brother and sister running outdoors smilingChildren have a core nature—a set of automatically triggered perceptions, priorities, values, and meanings that are present at birth, identifiable at an early age, and largely unchanging over time. Parents also have a nature, the one that they were born with. A parent’s nature might be the same as or quite different from that of their co-parent, child, or children.

This nature is determined by the degree to which a child is, naturally and normally;

  1. More extraverted or introverted as their primary source of life energy
  2. More literal or possibilities-oriented when processing information
  3. More thinking- or feelings-oriented when making decisions and experiencing emotions
  4. More structured or open-ended when dealing with life events

Like the degree to which a child proves to be left-, right-, or mixed-handed, a child’s degree of response orientation on these four dichotomies is innate, a genetic given with little room for intentional alteration. An extraverted child, for example, is energized more by ongoing verbal interactions with those around him or her. In contrast, introspective reflective processes provide more energy for an introverted child.

The nature of this difference is such that the longer the extraverted child is required to listen without responding, the greater the possibility that they will start to feel disconnected from their sense of self separate from others. If this happens, an extraverted child may interrupt the flow of conversation to speak, in order to get that sense of connection back.

Conversely, the longer an introverted child is required to engage in uninterrupted verbal interactions the greater the possibility they will start to feel disconnected from their sense of self separate from others. If this happens the child may attempt to disengage in order to get that sense of connection back. Contrary to common beliefs and dictionary definitions, most introverts are not shy, withdrawn, or antisocial, and they do not categorically have depression. They are simply wired to process information and come to conclusions through introspective reflective processes.

A child’s natural response orientation on these four dichotomies determines:

  1. Which of four possible natures, called temperaments, they are wired to respond with, and
  2. The manner in which they will express that temperament in action.

Elizabeth Murphy, EdD, author of The Developing Child and co-creator of the Murphy-Meisgeier Type Indicator for Children, has provided compelling evidence that supports these statements. In a longitudinal study of type development across the ages, Murphy identified, at a preconscious age of development (under 9 months of age), each child’s response orientation on the four dichotomies mentioned above. Each child was then retested during childhood, during adolescence, and into his or her adult life. The temperament-driven nature Murphy identified in each child at a preconscious age of development did not change across time.

The significance of these findings cannot be overstated. If the temperament-driven nature of adults can be identified at a preconscious age of development, then

  1. Nature, rather than nurture, is the key determinant of individual differences in personalities, and
  2. The key impact of parents on their child does not come from a role in personality development, but rather in how the child grows up feeling about the temperament-driven nature they already have.

As a child’s ability to express what they are thinking and feeling becomes more visible, parents can often identify their child’s nature.

One child will automatically tune in to standard rules of behavior. They will want to know what those rules are, will abide by them, and expect others to do the same. Approximately 45% of newborns are so wired. A thorough study of temperament percentages in the general population has yet to be made. The percentage estimates provided here are based on a few studies made in conjunction with the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator that need to be confirmed by a neutral examiner.  Well-known adults that came into the world with this response orientation include Harry Truman, Barbara Walters, Rosa Parks, and Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes.

Another child will automatically be sensitive to the tone of communication and how people are treating each other. For these children, if it is not said nicely, it is not nice. They are wired to facilitate harmony in human interactions and feel guilty and bad, out of proportion to objective reality, if they upset or disappoint someone. They may also experience disproportionate feelings of hurt and rejection when responded to in a neutral or blunt manner. Choice is not an option. This sensitivity is a natural given to children so wired. Approximately 18% of newborns will respond in this manner. Well-known individuals with this response orientation include Oprah Winfrey, Mohandas Gandhi, Isabel Briggs Meyers, and Carl Rogers. This is also the natural response orientation of approximately 70% of marriage and family therapists in private practice.

A third nature that a child may have is governed by objective criterion of cause and effect. For these children, what is said or done must make logical sense or it will be experienced as invalid.

Their natural manner of self-expression is emotionally neutral and direct. Approximately 15% of newborns will have this temperament-driven nature. Individuals born with this response orientation include Steve Jobs, Hilary Clinton, Albert Einstein, and Whoopi Goldberg.

The fourth nature a child may have is governed by immediate sensory experience. Children with this response orientation have the highest level of in-the-moment perception and pragmatic responsiveness of the four natures. Conventional dictates that are not practical in attaining their immediate goals will tend to be ignored. Such children can appear to be impulsive, selfish or immature. However, this is usually not the case. In fact, children so wired are often found among the most gifted practitioners in both the fine as well as the martial arts. Approximately 22% of newborns will prove to be so wired. Well-known individuals with this response orientation include Amelia Earhart, George C. Patton, Barbara Streisand, and Andre Agassi.

A. A. Milne’s Winnie the Pooh fables include a wide range of memorable characters that provide concrete examples of these temperament-driven natures in action. Christopher Robin, Pooh, Eeyore, Tigger, Piglet, Rabbit, Owl, Kanga, Roo, and Gopher are found in various combinations, addressing situations from noticeably disparate perspectives that often lead to very different conclusions.

Time and again Rabbit, who is wired to abide by the rules and speak up when they are not being followed, and Pooh and Tigger, captured by the moment and what the moment might offer, clash over whose perspective is right and whose is not.

What follows is a morality play with Rabbit pointing out society’s rules of behavior based on consideration and respect for others, and Pooh or Tigger countering with their own reasoning for why those rules should not apply to the situation at hand. Episodes that include the eternal pessimist Eeyore often have a nurturing friend like Piglet or Christopher Robin trying to lift his spirits. And then there is Owl, always ready to point out when other inhabitants of The Hundred Acre Wood are not making logical sense.

The one constant in these wonderful stories involves each character’s temperament driven nature. It does not change across time.

Parenting episodes have Kanga, a by-the-rules mother, trying to get her child Roo to see beyond his natural in-the-moment responses to the consequences that those behaviors might have. The challenge for Kanga comes from finding a way to communicate important life lessons in a manner that Roo can understand—a manner that does not require Roo to respond in a way he is not wired to respond in, or feel bad about the way he naturally responds that differs from that of his mother.

In order for real-life parents to accomplish this goal, it is important that they first understand their own temperament-driven nature as well as that of their co-parent, if their co-parent’s nature differs from their own. This can be done by downloading and filling in the Natural Personality Questionnaire found at NaturalPersonalityInstitute.com.

This questionnaire uses the four-letter classification typology developed for use with the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, the most widely used personality assessment tool in the world today. Although type profiles are usually accurate, some are not. Errors in scoring choices may come from a lack of self-awareness, or from associating a meaning to the terms used that differs from that which the test designer intended. Consequently, no guarantee can be given regarding the accuracy of an individual’s scoring profile. If you have a 4-3 score on any of the four dichotomies, you can go to Ross Reinhold’s website, PersonalityPathways.com, and fill in the more comprehensive questionnaire found there to see if your 4-3 score or scores remain the same.

Within your four-letter personality type code is a two-letter code that identifies your temperament-driven nature. The first letter of your temperament code is found on the Sensing-iNtuition dichotomy. That is the second column from the left on the questionnaire.

  • If the first letter of your profile is S for Sensing, the second letter is found on the Judging-Perceiving dichotomy (the last, or fourth, column on the right). If your letter code on the Judging-Perceiving dichotomy is J for Judging, your temperament is SJ (Sensing-Judging). If your letter code is P for Perceiving, your temperament is SP (Sensing-Perceiving).
  • If the first letter of your two letters temperament code is N for iNtuition, the second letter is found on the Thinking-Feeling dichotomy (third column from left). If your letter code is T for Thinking, your temperament is NT (iNtuitive-Thinking). If your letter is F for Feeling, your temperament is NF (iNtuitive-Feeling).

The automatically triggered primary priority for each temperament is as follows;

  • SJs: Adherence to societies standard rules for acceptable behavior.
  • NFs: How individuals are treating each other. Thoughts and feelings that are not expressed nicely are not nice.
  • NTs: Logic. In order to be valid, what is said and done must make logical sense.
  • SPs: Freedom to respond in the moment as events unfold.

To date, no study has been conducted on the function and purpose of the four natures. It is the author’s belief that nature designed four distinctly different types of human beings to attend to four critical areas of need in a functioning human society, areas that are so disparate that differences in perceptual driven priorities and meanings were necessary to attend to them.

The stronger an individual’s response orientation is on the two dichotomies that determine their temperament, the greater the likelihood that they will respond in a manner that is consistent with their temperament type.

Once parents have identified their two-letter temperament code, they should see my previous article on using the four temperaments to resolve conflicts for additional information on each of the four temperament-driven natures.

When parents have different temperaments, it is important that they understand the following:

  1. The natural and normal perceptions, priorities, values, and meanings that each brings to the parenting process.
  2. That their areas of difference are not matters of choice but of nature.
  3. That accommodation and compromise are the best approach when natural differences become an issue in their parenting efforts. By so doing, parents eliminate debilitating debates over who is right and who is not from their efforts to resolve their natural differences in approach. They also provide their child with a helpful model for dealing with significant others in their life that naturally differ from them.

This manner of addressing natural differences helps parents distribute child-raising role responsibilities in a way that best utilizes their individual strengths and minimizes the possibility of unintentionally undermining each other’s parenting efforts.

The next step is to identify the temperament-driven nature of the child. Additional information on type in children can be found in

  1. Otto Kroeger and Janet M. Thuesen’s Type Talk: The 16 Personality Types That Determine How We Live, Love, and Work
  2. Paul D. & Barbara B. Tieger’s Nurture by Nature
  3. Michael Gurian’s Nurture the Nature: Understanding and Supporting Your Child’s Unique Core Personality

Once parents have a clear sense of their child’s temperament driven nature, they can

  1. Respond in a manner that validates their child’s perceptual reality when it differs from their own.
  2. Teach their child important life lessons in a manner that does not cause their child to feel bad about the way they are that naturally differs from those in their life that they are required to accommodate.

Parents who understand their own temperament-driven nature, as well as the nature of a child or children that naturally differ from them, can

  1. Provide validating responses that mirror the perceptual reality of their child when it differs from their own, and
  2. Communicate different temperament driven perceptions, priorities, values, or meanings, when necessary, in a manner that does not leave the child feeling that there is something wrong with them because they naturally differ from their parent or parents in that area.

Reference:

Siegel, Daniel J. An Interpersonal Neurobiology of the Developing Mind. 2001,The Infant Mental Health Journal, 22(1-2), 67-94.

© Copyright 2014 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Mike Jackson, MFT, therapist in South Pasadena, California

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Lorna

    Lorna

    May 28th, 2014 at 3:07 PM

    This is so bad but I can’t tell you how many times I have wondered how in the world these can be my kids, they are nothing like me, and I am only hoping that I did not inflict too much harm on them by even saying this aloud at times. I never really mean it as a criticism but reading this I can see how they could take it that way and then feel bad about themselves because of something that I have said. That makes me feel so far away from mom of the year that I always want to be but never seem to quite succeed at.

  • sheila

    sheila

    May 28th, 2014 at 5:14 PM

    for some parents they will completely ignore this because for them it is always going to be their way or the highway

  • Brennan

    Brennan

    May 29th, 2014 at 3:37 AM

    You have to get to know your children in the same way that you would anyone else that you are obviously going to spend a whole lot of time with. It is important to note though that while they are born with their own instinctual traist of how they will act and react in certain given situations, there are also things that you will teach them and they will mimic you as you are the main adult role model and authority figure in their lives. The point of all of this is that if you see them behaving in a way that you may not feel well equipped to handle or even if you just don’t like it, don’t be so quick to balme them- you may need to look at yourself and think about exactly what it is that you are modeling to them.

  • Justin

    Justin

    May 29th, 2014 at 10:42 AM

    Having become familiar with Mike Jackson’s work and using the insights discussed above in our daily lives, it has certainly opened our eyes into how each of us takes in, processes, and responds to situations differently. Those insights have helped us understand why each of us reacts the way we do, and allowed us to give each sincere grace for our differences and find genuine resolutions with less disconnecting conflict. We hope his work continues to reach and help families and couples as it has us.

  • Mike Jackson

    Mike Jackson

    May 29th, 2014 at 10:53 AM

    In response to Lorna
    Hopefully not too bad. Parents do not yet have this information. It is why I wrote it.

    It is strange really. The Myers-Briggs Psychological Type questionnaire has been used for over 40 years in work place settings to help management and employees better understand the presence of naturally occurring differences among them to better utilize the skill sets that individuals who differ bring to the task at hand as well as more effectively resolve issues that can arise when task group members differ on how to proceed.

    And yet, in spite of the proven accuracy and effectiveness of this information my profession continues to use a model for making sense out of individual differences based on an assumption that natural differences do not exist; that these differences are a manifestation of post-birth interactive phenomena between infant and primary care giver. In other words learned rather than innate. And since it is learned, it can be changed.

    The end result is that we are all going around responding in what is a natural and normal way for us while assuming that others, including our children, could change to our way of thinking when, in terms of typological response orientations, they can’t and neither can we!

    My mother was a by-the-book SJ and I, a Don Quijote like NF, very sensitive to the tone of communication. When my mom was a still very sharp thinking 93 year old I got up the courage to tell her how her blunt manner when criticizing my behavior (which certainly often warranted it!) made me feel. She was perplexed and said, ‘Michael, I do not understand this guilt thing you are talking about. I never intended you to feel bad about yourself, I just wanted you to do it right!’ That comment helped me better understand the extraordinary difference in how those that naturally differ on the Thinking-Feeling dichotomy experience emotions. (see https://www.goodtherapy.org/blog/conflict-and-jungs-thinker-feeler-struggle-in-relationships-0220144)

    Cheers, Mike Jackson.

  • Todd

    Todd

    May 29th, 2014 at 2:09 PM

    Were we analyzed like this? They are kids, treat them that way and they will probably turn out just fine.

  • Karen Adair

    Karen Adair

    May 29th, 2014 at 7:56 PM

    This is really valuable information for parents who are struggling with their child’s individuality.

    Isn’t the point of having children to raise them to thrive on their own? Being open to their uniqueness and giving them grace for seeing things and reacting to things differently gives us the ability to help them discover themselves and what they love. It increases our effectiveness in supporting, guiding and nurturing them so they grow up to be confident, happy and productive.

    And in return, we not only enjoy them more, we grow and thrive, too.

  • Chadd

    Chadd

    May 30th, 2014 at 2:18 PM

    So well said Karen that I wish that I had said it myself! Do we want our kids to be little “mini me’s” or do we want them to be who they want to be? I think that most of us, no matter how hard it is sometimes, want our children to grow up to be unique and individual, and not some carbon copy of us or their friends. This can be hard because I know that it can lead to a whole lot of butting heads, but it is important to let them learn who they are and what they want to be without you hovering over them all the time and trying to tell them what they are doing wrong when all they are trying to do is learn and become a great well rounded child.

  • natalie S

    natalie S

    May 31st, 2014 at 7:11 AM

    I grew up always feeling inferior at home becasue I never gelt like I could live up the expectations that my parents had for me. I don’t think that they ever said this outright but there always seemed to be this underlying tone in the house, at least for me, that I would never quite measure up to what they had dreamed of for me. Did that hurt me? Of course it did, you are a kid and the thing that you wnat the most in the world is to have parents who love you unconditionally. I never really felt like I had that and that I wasn’t good enough and it is something that I still struggle with even as an adult. I don’t have children yet but I often think about it and wonder even if I have these dreams for them that I will treat them. Will I encourage them to pursue their own heart or to follow mine?

  • Jay Beichman

    Jay Beichman

    September 22nd, 2014 at 12:17 AM

    I think that you need to bear in mind is that Myers-Briggs may not be a ‘psychiatric’ diagnosis but it is still diagnosis with the anti-holistic tendencies that diagnostic ‘certainty’ entails – I also find the assertion that once you’re a RG or whatever there’s nothing you can do about it you just are an incredibly pessimistic view of human potential…

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