From the Left



Why Your Child's Personality Should Determine How You Parent

Bonnie Jean Feldkamp on

I got a note from my son's teacher saying he was not "meeting classroom expectations." He's in the first grade. The offense? Talking out of turn. My husband gave me that all-too-familiar look when I told him. You know, the look that means, "He gets it from you."

Personality traits like talkativeness and adaptability are hard-wired, so my husband's accusations are rooted in truth. This is according to the study titled "On the Contextual Independence of Personality" conducted at the University of California, Riverside. Christopher Nave, the study's author, wrote: "personality resides within people, it is manifested through behavior in diverse ways across the varied settings of life."

It turns out that teaching any child how to be a good human starts with knowing their personality. Kimberly Bell, Ph.D., is the Clinical Director of the Hadden Clinic for Children and Families at the Hanna Perkins Center in Cleveland, Ohio. She told me when we spoke on the phone that the key to helping a child develop is "really about meeting a child where they are and moving them forward in bearable bits."

My daughter is by nature an introvert or "slower to warm up." She does not respond well to someone pushing her into social situations, or demanding that she look you in the eye, which is a mistake I often made when she was young. She's more of an observer, quiet and avoids certain social interactions.

To accommodate this, I tried giving her space. What I didn't realize was that many times she was struggling and probably could have used my help. The goal for parents of kids with either of these differing personalities is guiding 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. And the trouble with parenting books that focus on behavior modification is they don't often take the child's personality into account.


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 she may feel easily overlooked or disregarded. This can exacerbate a child's anxiety. This was exactly my error with my daughter.

Personality style impacts how your child will respond to you as a parent just like understanding your child's unique personality traits should help you adjust your parenting approach to meet your child's needs to help them succeed.

As for my son who keeps speaking out of turn in class, maybe it's time to teach him to write down his thoughts and ask questions when appropriate. We'll see if first grade can handle a boy carrying a reporter's notebook.


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