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NURTURE by NATURE
A Matter of Style
Lisa and Barry had always imagined their children would be small versions of themselves—talkative, friendly, and active. Practical and down-to-earth people, Lisa and Barry essentially took each day as it came. They were busy, responsible, and hardworking and had a variety of friends and interests, which they eagerly anticipated sharing with their children. But to their amazement, Claire, their first child, was quiet, pensive, and reserved. As she got older, she became clever and observant, capable of detecting the tiniest flaw in her parents and sending them reeling with questions about everything. Lisa and Barry felt they were out of their league with this child—she seemed so oddly independent. Then came baby Robbie. And the world shifted on its axis again. Whereas Claire was serious and self-contained, Robbie was an impulsive clown. Robbie cried for attention, while Claire played independently for hours. Claire questioned every rule and every limit, while Robbie was responsive and eager to please. Claire somehow seemed older than her years, an "old soul," some said to her parents. Robbie was boisterous, the life of the party, excitable, talkative, and funny. Lisa and Barry were mystified. Their kids were quite different from them and so nearly opposite from one another that Lisa and Barry were often at a loss as to how to parent them. Guidance that worked with one child only seemed to make matters worse in the same situation with the other child.
Lisa and Barry are hardly alone. As parents, most of us have expectations about the children wewill have. And then they arrive—like little mystery packages. We have no idea who they are and how best to love them. We are eager to do the right thing—even when we haven't a clue what that right thing is. There is probably no job more difficult, more rewarding, or more all-consuming than parenting. Children don't come with an instruction manual, nor as parents do we receive report cards along the way. Most of us don't even set out with a plan for how we will parent. We might have a vague sense of one approach being better or more effective than another, but ultimately, we all have to wait and see how our children turn out. And much of what we do is done because that was how we ourselves were parented—whether our parents' way was particularly effective or not. We parent our children often by unconscious rote—a sort of one-size fits- all strategy, without regard to the style of the child herself. And we do this, of course, with the best, most genuine, and loving of intentions.
As with Lisa and Barry, simply being born to us doesn't mean our children will be anything like us. Parents of adopted children know this, but those of us who have our own biological children seem to assume our children will be carbon copies of us. Then we're surprised to find ourselves baffled by them. More than a few parents have said to us, "I just don't know which planet this child came from!" Or "She and her sister are like night and day." Or "If I hadn't actually watched this child be delivered, I wouldn't believe we're related!" It's all very normal and understandable to feel confused, concerned, worried, and even scared when we don't understand our children. As parents, it's our job to know what's best for them. But if we don't really know what makes them tick, how will we be able to protect them, to guide them, to support them?
If only we could get into our child's mind, understand his impulses, drives, and desires; the way he processes information; and why he expresses himself as he does. What powerful insights those would be! Clearly, one of the hardest tasks of parenting is staying objective about our own children. It's so easy to get over involved in their successes, failures, struggles, and accomplishments. We come to see them 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. That jumbled thinking makes it virtually impossible to clearly accept the ways in which our children may actually be distinctly different from one another and from us, and then to accommodate their unique needs. What one child needs, another may not. What motivated and excited us as kids may be boring or downright stressful for our child.
But what if we did know, from early in our child's life, who she really was? What if we could figure out—by watching her interactions, her play, or word choices, her decision-making style—what kind of person she is and then know which motivation techniques, which limit-setting approaches, which supportive efforts, would really work for her? What parents wouldn't want a true picture of the inner workings of their child's mind and heart? Who wouldn't want that gift of insight about who our children really are?
Imagine a child growing up amid constant reassurance about the way she sees the world, interacts with others, likes to play, makes decisions, uses her time, organizes her room and toys, expresses her feelings—that all are perfectly fine, normal, and acceptable. Imagine a child encouraged to believe in himself, to express his true self, and to trust his perceptions and reactions. Imagine a child made to feel lovable, capable, and worthy just exactly the way she is. Such a child would grow up confident, secure, honest, independent, and loving, because she would have been raised by parents who respected, accepted, accommodated, and celebrated her unique individuality. Deep down, all of us just want to be understood and accepted for who we are. This understanding is the greatest gift we can give our children. It's the real essence of self- esteem.
Being Accepted for Who You Are - The Key to Real Self-esteem
Talking about self-esteem in the current political climate is difficult. These days, the term has come to be associated with social programs or attitudes that try to make excuses for poor or even outrageous behavior and then blame that behavior on difficult home circumstances. As a society, we're tired of hearing how a person's troubled home life is the cause of the high crime rate, the skyrocketing number of births to teenage mothers, and the brutal violence we see all around us. So when we hear anyone mention the offending person's lack of self-esteem, there is impatience and even outrage. We cry: "Of course the kid has no self-esteem! Look at his behavior! He should feel poorly about himself for doing what he's done!" But that attitude puts the proverbial cart before the horse.
The reality is that poor self-esteem is not caused by poor behavior. Poor behavior is caused by lack of self-esteem. Parents everywhere can easily spot the most obvious and dramatic causes of damaged self-worth—cases of nauseating physical, sexual, or emotional abuse or neglect. It's obvious to everyone how that kind of treatment of children results in troubled or ruined psyches. We all know that no one can really love another unless he or she can love himself or herself. Self-esteem is, at its core, self love and acceptance. A lack of self- worth creates a chasm of deprivation in people so profound that they never learn how to love others, never take responsibility for their own actions, and spend their lives trying to fill the void they feel with destructive behavior that gives them a temporary sense of power and a brief but superficial feeling of worth.
Happily, most children don't live in the kinds of horrible conditions that we have all seen so much of on the news. So why, then, do so many children become adults who feel lousy about themselves? Perhaps it's because the most common and pervasive assault on a child's self-esteem is the more subtle erosion of self- worth that goes on every day in most of our homes. As well-meaning but unaware parents, we all chip away at our child's sense of self in a multitude of little ways: the criticism and disparaging comments, our impatience, the times we hurry our children through tasks they are enjoying to do something we deem more important. It's the way we casually dismiss their interest or curiosity with things vaguely odd or seemingly inappropriate. It's when our children live through years of constant nagging, discouragement, or disrespect. Ironically, we often treat our children in ways we would never consider treating another adult and certainly wouldn't tolerate ourselves.
Those are the conditions that erode our children's sense of themselves as strong, capable, and resilient individuals. And the price they pay for our criticism is that they begin to see themselves as we keep telling them we see them—as inherently flawed and in need of major overhauling, rather than innately perfect, capable, and divine. When the measure of a child's worth is tied to how she compares to our estimation of what's good or valuable, we undermine her confidence. When we gauge a child's value by how he may meet our expectations, we cause him to doubt himself and doubt his true nature. Instead, as parents, we need to consciously accept and love our children for exactly who they are, naturally. That's how we encourage real self-esteem.
But how we do we really accomplish this? By tailoring our parenting to match our child, rather than expecting our child to match our parenting.
Individualized Parenting - a Return to the Garden
Every generation seems to have its own theory about parenting. Conventional wisdom has run the gamut from "Children should be seen but not heard" and "Spare the rod and spoil the child" to employing the more contemporary and more reasonable techniques of "time out" and "grounding." But the problem with simply adopting any popular or culturally endorsed method of parenting is that it ignores the most important variable in the equation: the uniqueness of your child. So, rather than insist that one style of parenting will work with every child, we might take a page from the gardener's handbook.
Just as the gardener accepts, without question or resistance, the plant's requirements and provides the right conditions each plant needs to grow and flourish, so, too, do we parents need to custom-design our parenting to fit the natural needs of each individual child. Although that may seem daunting, it is possible. Once we understand who OUI children really are, we can begin to figure out how to make changes in our parenting style to be more positive and accepting of each child we've been blessed to parent. We've seen this happen repeatedly. In the parenting workshops we've conducted, we've helped parents arrive at a new and more accepting view of their child. We've been gratified to watch as they develop new understanding, compassion, and optimism about their work as parents. The miraculous result is that they fall in love with their child all over again. Parents leave the workshops reenergized, better prepared, and eager to make the experience of parenting more rewarding for themselves and their children. It's possible for every parent to gain those same powerful insights and that same optimism.
Consider Jason, age nine, and Rachel, age seven, the children of two parents in one of our workshops. A trip to Toys R Us to spend their Christmas money presents a striking contrast. Rachel loves the experience, easily and quickly selects three toys she can afford, and delights in the power she feels making decisions. For her brother, Jason, the experience is completely different. He agonizes over the countless choices in front of him and wanders distractedly down aisle after aisle. He can't seem to isolate any options from the thousands of possibilities and continually asks his parents: "If I get this, can I still get that?" and worries over every conceivable combination of purchases. After nearly an hour, his family is growing impatient.
Now Jason feels additional pressure to hurry and make up his mind. Eventually, with the threat of simply leaving without buying anything, Jason chooses a superhero action figure set. When they finally leave the store, Rachel skips contentedly to the car, while Jason is worn out from the conflict he felt trying to make a decision and is not altogether happy with his purchase. The family is exhausted and irritated, and Jason feels incompetent, stupid, and plagued with fear that he made a bad choice. And this was supposed to be a fun outing!
During the workshop we discussed ways to make shopping a more pleasant experience for Jason. Given their new perspective on Jason's style, his parents realized how much better he might have felt about himself if they had instead suggested he look through one of the many toy catalogs at home or shop at a specialty hobby or science shop. Because Jason generally finds decision making difficult, Toys R Us simply presented too many options. Had his parents known how to tailor the shopping expedition to meet his needs as an individual, rather than expecting him to adapt to the most common way of buying toys, Jason's self- esteem wouldn't have taken such an unnecessary beating.
Personality Type—A Way to Understand Every Child
Sometimes, seeing our children in a fresh, new way is the first step to changing old and ineffective ways of relating to them. Personality Type is a powerful and respected method of identifying and understanding a person's true, inherent nature. Based on the work of Carl Jung and the American mother-daughter team of Katharine Briggs and Isabel Briggs Myers, we can now identify sixteen distinctly different personality types into which we all fit. Children are born with a type and remain that type their entire lives; parents are the same type they were as children. Our personality type affects all aspects of our lives, from the way in which we play as toddlers to the subjects or activities in school that interest or bore us to the occupations we find satisfying as adults. Our natural type is reflected in the kind and amount of interaction with people we like, the kinds of information we notice and remember, the way we make decisions, and how much and what kind of structure and control we prefer. By understanding your type and the type of your child, you will be able to identify ways of adapting your parenting techniques to emphasize the positive and constructive aspects of your child's individual nature. Personality Type gives us a powerful and enlightening way of altering our parenting styles and methods to be more positive. The result is fewer struggles and happier, healthier children. Knowing your child's type offers a virtual road map to the parenting style to which the child will respond best. And once we know what our children need to really thrive, we can find ways of giving it to them.
How This Book Works and What It Does for You
Reading this book is going to be an interactive process. Clearly, it is not our job to prescribe the values you wish to model and teach your child. That is perhaps one of the most personal choices any parent makes. But we do have some exciting insights to offer about children like yours and about the parents who have raised them. In hundreds of in-depth interviews, parents have shared their experiences—the good and the difficult, the enlightening and the embarrassing— and we're excited about sharing them with you.
In Part 1 of Nurture by Nature, you will be introduced to the truly miraculous effect understanding Type can have on your effectiveness as parents and on your child's well-being. You'll learn the basic principles of Personality Type. You'll discover your own type and that of your child by reading engaging and recognizable descriptions of the sixteen personality types. Numerous examples, real-life case studies, and checklists of behaviors will help you identify your child's true type, and you will learn through the Verifying Type Profiles the inborn strengths and possible weaknesses of children and adults of each type.
After identifying your child's type, you will turn to Part 2 of Nurture by Nature and read the appropriate in-depth type chapter for your child. Each of the sixteen type chapters describes children of that type at three different stages of development: preschool, school age, and adolescence. Then, each chapter provides guidelines on how to adapt your natural style of parenting when communicating, supporting, motivating, and disciplining your child as you reinforce his or her innate personality. We will share with you the many practical suggestions we've gained from all our parenting workshops, seminars, and interviews, and working with Type on a daily basis for over fifteen years. Using an understanding of Personality Type, you'll be able to view your child's personality characteristics as assets, not liabilities. The tools and insights you gain will help you begin to anticipate, rather than just react in an emergency mode. And we will explain how to use your new knowledge of the Type differences between you and your child to navigate around common sources of conflict with less tension, stress, and guilt for both parent and child. Finally, we'll offer you an exciting peek into your child's future—a profile of the self-confident adult of your child's type. Each type chapter concludes with a special "Crystal Ball" section in which we describe the kind of happy, well- adjusted adult a child of each type can become. By reading what works with other children like your own, you will be reassured, energized, and armed with powerful and accurate new insights about your child, and the tools to help you implement them.
One important caveat. This book is written for parents of healthy children, those without serious learning disabilities, or physical, emotional, or mental- health challenges that require special attention and services. Just as one's genetics, life experiences, and culture overlie our type, so do those special needs and challenges. For practical reasons, those concerns are beyond the scope of this book.*
So Who Are We, Anyway? About the Authors
Nobody is really an expert at parenting. After all, every parent-child relationship is unique and complicated. But we do bring unique qualifications to the writing of Nurture by Nature. As co-authors of the successful Do What You Are, we introduced hundreds of thousands of career searchers to the benefits of understanding one's type in identifying and finding satisfying work. Having pioneered the application of Type in career development, we've gone on to apply our expertise in Personality Type to child rearing through our various workshops and seminars. Now we are ready to share our experiences and discoveries with you
We have established ourselves as experts in the study and application of Psychological Type with our professional training programs, presentations at national and international conferences, speaking engagements, and numerous radio and television appearances. We also, not incidentally, have two children, aged eleven and seven, and regularly experience firsthand the benefits of applying Type to parenting dilemmas.
If you are anything like us, you'll agree that parenting is the most challenging, complex, and sometimes intimidating responsibility you've ever taken on—and undoubtedly the most important. Using the anecdotes from our workshop experiences and interviews with parents and children that will resonate for all parents, we will show how so many of the common conflicts between parent and child are very frequently the result of a clash of different personality types. In reading this book, we believe, you will come to know your child in a deeper and clearer way. We believe you will learn that adapting even slightly to your child's personality type can help you better manage conflict and communicate a strong message of acceptance and unconditional love that will last a lifetime.
*Perhaps more than any other condition, we are aware of the struggle parents with children with ADHD (Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder) face. Throughout our research, we looked for connections between a child's type and that confounding condition. We found nothing conclusive about which types are most commonly afflicted, or what strategies might be most helpful for ADHD children of different types. What research we did find is listed in the Resources section at the back of this book. The Association for Psychological Type (also described there) is the organization we expect to be at the leading edge of research on this issue as it relates to Personality Type.
Posted January 4, 2008
I originally bought this book as a gift for my sister, who has two toddlers. But after reading a few pages, I decided I had to have a copy for myself as well, even though I'm not a parent. Reading the description of my personality type was eerie, bringing back memories - sometimes painful - of how I felt as a child. It also gave me some insight into my husband. It's important to remember that the Myers-Briggs types are 'predispositions,' as David Keirsey calls them - a child's personality isn't cast in stone from birth. But parents can benefit from understanding the different personality traits and types even while their child is a toddler. A strategy that works with one child may not work with another, and this book offers creative solutions that can benefit both parent and child.
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Posted June 25, 2010
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Posted February 14, 2011
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