Are you wondering why your child seems to have a reality-distortion force field between them and “real life”? Well, we may have an answer for you from your child’s personality cues.
In April 2015, 938LIVE’s Parenting Made Easy presenter Susan Ng interviewed Dr Elizabeth Murphy, who co-created a test for kids that uses four pairs of terms to indicate personality preferences —Extrovert/Introvert; Perceiving/Judging; Sensing/Intuitive and Thinking/Feeling. Ng also spoke with Alison Lim, a mother of three now-grown children, who uses the same four pairs in work and with her kids as they grew up.
Dr Murphy works with the Murphy-Meisgeier Type Indicator for Children (MMTIC), which is related to the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) that Lim uses.
So what is the MMTIC/MBTI?
Dr Murphy: They are tools, they are assessment measures to help you discover what is your best path for success in life…a way to identify normal, good differences that exist in people and to increase your understanding of your personal path for that awareness.
They’re indications of…when I have an option I would more likely to go this way. But…if the situation requires quiet, all types can be quiet; if the situation requires interaction, all types can interact.
Extroverted, introverted and shy kids
Dr Murphy: Those with extroverted set of energy, tend to want to interact and do and be engaged; two extroverts can talk at the same time and hear each other because it’s just exciting and energising for them.
Introverts prefer to reflect… [They] don’t hesitate all the time, they only hesitate when a thought is new. If you asked them a question that they already know the answer to — it might be a very complicated question — if they have already pre-thought, they can answer immediately. The only hesitation comes when you’re asking them a brand new thought.
Shyness is a whole different concept and an extrovert can be shy and an introvert can be shy. But in this model, we are talking about the hesitancy that only happen in the newness of a thought or in a newness of an interaction and really has nothing to do with shyness.
Lim: If you look at my three children, two of them will think and talk at the same time. I try to make sure that I follow their train of thought and not jump into the first [idea] because their first thought may not be their last thought. [MBTI knowledge] helps me be more patient and not jump to the conclusion that they are fickle-minded, they’re showing their preference for extroversion.
Whereas, my second child has a preference for introversion. Whenever I ask him a question, he takes a while to answer. In my natural style, I would ask him another question, maybe he didn’t understand my first question so I have to paraphrase. But…being aware of the preferences, I let him think about it and then come back to me sometimes when he needs to.
Dr Murphy: I watched a commercial on TV in Atlanta, and it said, “At the end of the day, when your children get home, the first thing you should do is say to them, ‘Tell me about your school day.’” My eyes got so big, I was like, “Oh my goodness, that’s the perfect thing to do with all our extrovert children and the most…worst thing you could do for all our introverted children.”
If you have somebody who has spent all their energy all day interacting with teachers and friends, and they walk in to the door and you hit them with the question, “Tell me about your day!”
They would be like, “Oh please!”
“What did you do?”
“What did you have for lunch?”
And you think, “Oh my goodness, why aren’t they talking to me?”
I use reciprocity, so that if I asked them to share something about their day, I share something about my day. [It] helps them learn that MY respect for your time and what you do is equal to what YOUR respect for my time and what I do should be.
The funniest part about it is that if you ask the introvert the second question before they answer the first, you’re actually making them go back inside their head and think again — so instead of actually encouraging language, you are actually pushing language back further away.
Ng: And you are likely not to hear from them for a while?
Dr Murphy: Oh, you got a fake answer. You get an answer to make you go away.
Judging and perceiving — handling structure
Ng: The extrovert and the introvert preferences; are they easiest to spot in our children?
Dr Murphy: They are one of two of the easiest. Many parents feel that they can see this even in infants.
The other preference that is very easy to spot is judging and perceiving: When one child really appreciates a good plan and the other child is much more spontaneous and reacting to the moment; both can bring you joy and both can bring you stress. So if you are parenting a J-child, they get very, very upset if they have a lot of things to do and these aren’t completed...
Lim: The judging child is the one who’s organised externally; so… We’re supposed to go on a trip to visit [my J-son in London] in December and he’s already asking us for the time of arrival [note: This was in April] and he’s like, “Can you please tell me how long you’re gonna be here, what time… I need to plan! I need to plan!”
On the other hand, my daughter has a preference for perceiving and she is like, “How do I know? When I get there, I will tell you!” and he’s like, “If you don’t tell me, you know the prices are going up…” but she said, “I can’t!”
Ng: Right, so hearing what Lim said, that sometimes creates conflict, between parents and child even.
Dr Murphy: When a parent’s type doesn’t match their child’s but they still understand about differences, you can find the humour in the moment or you can negotiate.
J-children [will] hurry home and complete all their homework, not because they are wonderful children — or they might be — but because if they finish their homework they are free to play. Because for the judging child there needs to be closure to all their tasks before they feel the comfort to be able to play freely. Perceiving children come home and start playing and they don’t really like to begin working on assignments until the very last moment.
But if you have a judging parent, they are more or less nagging, “You need to get started. You are taking too long. You get your homework done first then you go play.”
A true parenting for a perceiving child would be to say…“I want to relax tonight, and I can’t relax until I check your homework. So I need you to finish all your homework by 7PM so I can check it and have my evening free.” That there is a compromise: The child can do it earlier to accommodate a parent’s J-style but the J-parent has to give clear deadlines because if they’re vague and say something like, “you have to get your homework done early”…
Ng: Early doesn’t mean anything.
The final four: Sensing/Intuition, Thinking/Feeling
Dr Murphy: [What] we haven’t mentioned are sensing, intuition, thinking and feeling.
[All the preferences] are actually the core pieces of the personality that developed over the lifetime. We start out with…our first preference, then develop the second, then the third and then the fourth. So by adulthood, we have access to using all of them. But the younger the child, the more they are “under development”…
The first might be sensing which is very specific, information and experience-oriented. These children want to do an experience; they don’t wanna just hear about it. The intuitive is the one who loves finding new innovative ways of doing things. So if the teachers give them an assignment to create a box, they want to make a box that nobody else is going to make. It has to be something very unique and we see it in very young ages even.
The thinking and feeling difference; those with a thinking preference tend to look at things in terms of fairness, objectivity, what seems right thing to do at the moment. Those with the feeling preference tend to have very caring hearts, they’ll want to say, “What is everybody’s needs?” or “How can I help everybody?” Those with thinking preference will also a bit competitive.
Once I was playing a game with my grandchild, who is a T, [his sister], my son-in-law and my daughter. And all of a sudden, the T-child sees that he’s going to lose the game, it makes him very upset because he really wanted to win. So he starts crying and the granddaughter with an F preference, starts crying.
The mother looks at me and then she looks at the children, and she says, “I know why he’s crying, because he’s losing, but why are you crying?” My granddaughter says, “Because my brother is going to be really sad when he loses and I want him to have fun with us. I didn’t want him to be sad.”
The way you deal with it, is you say, “You care about your brother, you wanted him to win, but this was his turn to learn how to lose… But it’s nice that you care about how your brother feels.” We weren’t going to make him win, just because he didn’t want to lose. That’s not teaching them fairness, so we have to teach him how to lose...
Ng: That’s an important point because most times, we will give in to the younger child, and say, “Oh okay, let him win this time around.”
And this kind of personality that you are talking about, you can see in children from the time they are really young right?
Dr Murphy: That is correct, but because we see evidence of it in the young child, doesn’t mean it’s developed in the young child. The development of the personality is not an absence-presence model, they aren’t under their conscious control…so we can’t ask to change who they are.
By adulthood when they have conscious control, then you can say to them, “You might be a very feeling and caring person but you have to allow that person to own their own problem and you need to go ahead and you need to go ahead and take care of what you need to take care of.” And they can do that shift, but the very young child cannot.
And for some young [Feeling] children, mum or dad getting mad at them is just like cutting off their heart. They are just devastated that you’re upset with them. Even if they are yelling back at you, they are still very devastated that you are upset with them. And other [Thinking] children will be like, “It was an argument.”
What these traits show us about guiding children
Ng: So how does knowing our children’s different personality types help us to motivate them…in the future?
Dr Murphy: I believe the wisdom of the parent is being able to know what are reasonable choices. So instead of telling them, “Oh you should do this, this is good career for you!” we could say, “Are you interested in the kind of career that is going to have you working with a very specific kind of information? Are you more interested working in a career that draws you to working directly with people?”
In every job you get, there are elements that you totally enjoy and there will be elements that are stretching for you…which allows you to say, “Hmm, that does have a lot of information but I really would still like to do [for example] animations, but to do animations I have to learn a whole lots of specific skills; but because I love creating the idea the animation expresses, I would like to learn this skill.”
So now, we can sit with them and say, “So what is your plan for acquiring them now?”
Getting each person to recognise what are the pieces of work fields that “I would really enjoy” and which ones are a stretch and “how can I blend those successfully?”… I do not know of a single job out there that is ALWAYS “your favourite part”. Every job has a part that is a “work” part.
So I think the parents who can help to take them in the direction rather than looking at the salary and the prestige that goes with it. They may choose a career that is also prestigious but they may not.
Lim: It’s so much easier to GIVE them our answers, our advice. I think that’s something that we as parents really need to learn, be patient and teach them how to think through facilitative questions. And sometimes we are so fast in saying, “Oh during our time, we were like this, we had to work hard to support our family. You kids are so fortunate, you have everything…” and you know we just start imposing our past world to them. And the moment we say that, it just builds a wall between us and them.
When we say that we are listening, are we truly listening? Or are we listening to reply, to give them our views? If we are really listening, we can empathise with them, help understand where they’re coming from, catch their vision and guide them through effective questioning, to get them to where they want to go instead of just imposing our values on them. I think that’s really one of the keys in helping our kids to grow.
Ng: Right. If you had parents in front of you now, and you had to say something to them about parenting their kids…what would that be?
Lim: My basic premise is… They are not difficult, they are just different… I’m also not suggesting you stereotype them based on MBTI — it is a tool to help you understand them better, and every preference has got their good points. How do we then actually begin to see that this is something that they can work towards and help them develop the different functions? The more developed their functions are, the more versatile they are and they have many more choices and they can live a fuller life.
Dr Murphy: What I would suggest to the parent is, besides enjoying them tremendously, hold the standard…you can’t expect the same behaviour. My son would be playful and singing…music…and active — while he was doing the dishes. My daughter would go in and do the dishes and done and get out of there. Each got them done, that’s the critical part.
But more [important] is the respect that you as a parent show your child when you allow them to do it their way. You say, “I trust you to be able to manage that element of your life.” And over time, that trust builds so they feel confident in handling those more critical issues that are gonna face them.
So, recognising the differences, enjoying the differences, and when you don’t understand them, just say to your child, “I would’ve never done that that way, but you made it work because you still got the job done. So okay, that works for you.”
This story was edited from an interview by Susan Ng broadcast on 938LIVE in April 2015. For more parenting tips and advice, tune in to Parenting Made Easy, Friday at 9.33pm and 10.33pm (encores on Saturday at 8.33am and 9.33am, and Sunday at 2.33pm and 3.33pm), only on 938LIVE!