Personality traits like talkativeness and adaptability are hardwired. This is according to the study titled “On the Contextual Independence of Personality,” conducted at the University of California at Riverside. Christopher Nave, the study’s author, wrote, “personality resides within people, it is manifest through behavior in diverse ways across the varied settings of life.”
Parents recognize these hardwired tendencies because they are reflected in their child’s behavior — and teaching children appropriate behavior is about knowing their personalities.
Kimberly Bell, Ph.D., is the clinical director of the Hadden Clinic for Children & Families at The Hanna Perkins Center. She says the key is “really about meeting a child where they are and moving them forward in bearable bits.”
For example, a child who is by nature an introvert or “slower to warm up” is a child who would not respond well to someone pushing her into social situations, or demanding that she look you in the eye. Just like an extroverted or more social child would not fare well to be expected to play on his own all day. Parents should guide each child to a balanced middle ground through small steps — “bearable bits.”
Many discipline strategies focus on the strong-willed child — the child who acts out — but parents also need to have their antennae up for the quiet child who seems to cope well on her own. A strong-willed child may act out in an obvious way, but the quiet child may suffer in silence while acting in. If the parents’ personality doesn’t mirror their child’s, then he may feel easily overlooked or disregarded. This can exacerbate a child’s anxiety.
“Knowing your children and learning what works for them is important,” says Bell, who adds that since it’s an ongoing learning process, start by “taking a step back to appreciate the uniqueness of your child, rather than assuming they are going to be like you.”
Many parents struggle if they feel they are different from their child. They don’t know how to invest in those differences.
“Most of the time, when we push too hard or force kids to do something, it’s because we are afraid we are failing,” Bell says.
Parents need to take a deep breath and understand that their child is separate from them. They are their own person.
“If you focus on the natural strengths of your child and celebrate those, then the child will have self motivation, self agency, and a sense of mastery rather than a feeling of ‘I’m trying to be something for my parents,’” Bell explains.
When it comes to behavior issues, parents must take a child’s personality into account when they are looking for an effective discipline strategy. There are many behavior modification books on the market, but Bell cautions, “None take into account that a child’s personality has to mesh with the book’s approach in order for it to work.”
Personality style impacts how your child will respond to you as a parent and understanding your child’s unique personality traits will help you adjust your parenting approach to meet their needs and help them succeed.