Parenting according to your child’s personality

Nov 4, 2011 at 2:30 p.m. ET

Are you an extroverted parent with an introverted child? When you were young, did you join every school club and social circle -- yet your child spends most of her time alone and avoids the limelight?  

Mom and preteen daughter in conflict

Having a child with an opposite personality sometimes creates tension. Here are a few suggestions to help you embrace the differences.

Children not younger version of parents

Paul D. Tieger and Barbara Barron-Tieger, authors of Nurture by Nature: Understand Your Child's Personality Type - and Become a Better Parent, write that soon-to-be-parents often have certain expectations about their child's personality. While biological children do share mom and dad's DNA, this doesn't guarantee they'll share the same traits, interests or inclinations. In fact, they may be polar opposites.

While parents have the most loving intentions for their kids, they tend to view them as mini-me's -- as carbon copies of themselves. Yet, this one-size-fits-all parenting approach doesn't take into account that different people are motivated in vastly different ways.

It's natural for mom and dad to become deeply invested in their child's personality -- hoping their offspring's interests will mirror their own. "It's so easy to get over involved in their successes, failures, struggles, and accomplishments," write the Tiegers. "We come to see them (kids) as extensions of ourselves and their experiences as inextricably linked up with our own. We no longer see them as individuals, but rather as various expressions of us."

Personality traits remain stable: Myers-Briggs

The Myer-Briggs Type Indicator, a personality assessment that identifies sixteen distinct types, hails from famed Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung's theory that children are born or develop specific ways of thinking and acting, and that these traits remain essentially stable. Personality informs every aspect of a child's experience -- how they play, what they enjoy, how they make decisions and the frequency and manner in which they interact with others.

If parents can learn to observe their children from a slightly objective distance -- to understand their inner workings -- they can create a powerful "virtual road map" to more effectively discipline, motivate and build self-esteem in their children.

Learn how to discover your parenting personality >>

Customize your style of parenting

Adapting a parenting approach to a child's unique traits helps reduce power struggles and builds self-esteem. "You've got to be a chameleon," writes Dr. Phil in his book Family First. "You've got to change styles with different children."

For example, if mom is an authoritarian but her child acts out more with this approach, she can let her child come up with a few of her own solutions for whatever issue is going on.

Learn how your personality impacts parenting infants and toddlers  >>

Ignore parental peer pressure: honor child's authentic self

While it can be difficult for parents to ignore the mountains of advice from peers, parenting according to a child's unique traits rather than peer expectations offers positive messaging to kids and teaches them that their parents honor and value their genuine self.

Dr. Phil believes that while it's an admirable goal for moms and dads to want kids to grow up happy and feeling good about themselves, they should also "help their children discover their authentic self -- discovering that which is truly, uniquely theirs." In other words, learn to recognize a child's strengths and then parent in that direction.


Parenting according to a child's unique personality, even if it is entirely different than mom and dad's, is a positive and powerful approach to building self-esteem and teaching self-love.

More about parent-child personality

How to adjust your parenting style for your second child
Single parenting: Understand how your personality can benefit you and your child
Your child's birthstone and personality