Each child is born with a unique personality. A great deal is learned through circumstances and other people, but our specific preferences are believed to be inherent in us by the time we are born.
There are various ways of looking at personality, but one of the most popular and helpful is the Myers Briggs indicator, based on Jungian psychology, and now used widely in churches, job applications and training. This system looks at our preferences on four different scales, and can be observed in even very young children and toddlers. As parents it is important to respect our children’s personalities and help them develop a good self-image and understanding of who they are – while obviously not boxing them in, or expecting them always to behave in the same way!
Sensing or Intuiting
Perhaps the most significant set of preferences in education is the difference between Sensing and Intuiting. People who strongly prefer Sensing are those who feel very much at home in the concrete world, learning primarily through their senses, often in a step-by-step manner. They will generally take in information in single pieces, even if very rapidly, but won’t instantly spot links or patterns. Children who have a preference for Sensing tend to like facts and play based on everyday life, and are interested at an early age in what things are for.
By contrast, those who strongly prefer iNtuiting often learn by what is not actually seen: grasping the big picture, seeing patterns, and then getting to grips with concepts before grasping fine detail. Children who prefer iNtuition are often drawn to fantasy and imaginary worlds, and love hearing stories over and over again. Their favourite kind of game will tend to involve their imaginations, and they may be highly creative, wanting to write stories at a young age.
Keirseyan Temperament Theory tells us that there are basically four broad temperaments into which we can all be grouped, and two of them have preferences for Sensing. These are the people he calls Guardians (with a core need for security, a great sense of responsibility and loyalty) and those he calls Artisans (with a core need for impact and freedom, and generally an excellent ability with arts and crafts). Guardians tend to direct their Sensing inwardly, comparing what is with what has been, learning from the past. Artisans tend to direct their Sensing outwardly, concentrating on what is, what looks right, what is aesthetically pleasing.
Also according to Keirseyan Temperament Theory, the people who prefer iNtuiting are the Rationals (whose core need is for competence, with a great need for efficiency and understanding) and the Idealists (whose core need is for authenticity, with a great need for harmony and empathic relationships). People of either temperament may mainly use their iNtuition inwardly – focussing on what will be – or outwardly – focussing on what might be.
Learning styles and personality types
Whereas a child who strongly prefers Sensing may easily learn to read using phonics, gradually building up the ability to read from the details, those who prefer iNtuition are more likely to learn from a whole language approach, at a young age. They tend first to read sentences or long words, and then form their own idea of phonics as they observe patterns.
All children, whatever their learning style, should be encouraged to learn to read when they are ready and interested, not according to anyone’s predefined schedule. My younger son, who clearly preferred iNtuition, taught himself to read at the age of three without being able to hear any individual letter sounds within words. Had he not learned in his own way, he would have been completely mystified by phonic-type teaching in school. It was not until he was about seven that he could truly break down words into component parts and ‘hear’ the sounds. Yet by this stage he was reading fluently, with comprehension, at a 15-year-old level.
Of course everyone has access to both the concrete world and their imaginations. Nobody ‘is’ a type, they simply prefer one type of information processing to the other. Most people (and particularly children) learn in many ways, although a distinct preference for either Sensing or iNtuition is usually clear by the time the child is three or four, if not before. Encourage both preferences to develop by reading a wide range of books with your children, encouraging imaginative play, and also practical play using the senses, such as sand, water, playdough and finger-painting.
The next pair of preferences of the Myers-Briggs system is that of Feeling or Thinking. These are mainly related to how we make decisions. Clearly everyone is able to feel and to think, but we tend towards one or the other when making major decisions. Those with a preference for Feeling tend to trust their emotional reactions most, and make decisions based on what they (or others) would like. Those who prefer Thinking tend to trust logic above emotion, and make decisions based on what seems best. Both types of person are needed, and everyone should learn to use each function as appropriate, but one will always be the preferred.
Children with a clear preference for Thinking will usually be able to grasp reasonable arguments at a young age. They – and particularly those of Rational temperament – will often ask, ‘Why?’ when the parents tell them they may not do something, and usually respond well to a logical reason. On the other hand they may become very argumentative if they do not believe the parents are being logical, or if they are not given a good reason for something! If your child’s mind works this way, be prepared to back up your decisions with logic, and also to explain things thoroughly.
Respect your child’s arguments too: teach him to be respectful to others as he tries to argue, and he will learn the useful skill of reasoned discussion. Help him too to be aware of his emotions and free to express them when necessary, as he will be likely to repress them. Make sure you give lots of hugs and let them know they are loved: Children with a preference for Thinking tend to be undemanding emotionally, but this does not mean that they are unfeeling, or that they do not need cuddles.
Children whose preference is for Feeling tend to be more emotionally driven, sometimes laughing or crying for no apparent reason. Parents whose preference is for Thinking are often totally mystified by some children who declare in one instant that they hate something, but the following day declare the opposite. It’s important that children, whatever their preference, learn what their emotions are, and how they can express them without causing damage. They also need to learn to say what they are feeling with respect for others, and to realise that their emotions may change when circumstances change.
Children whose preference is clearly for Feeling need a great deal of overt affection and open expression of unconditional love, as they can be prone to hurt and taking offence more easily than children whose preference is for Feeling. Help them to enjoy logic puzzles, to exercise their Thinking skills in a situation where the emotions do not come into play. Help them too not to give up when things seem difficult, but to understand that making mistakes can be an important part of learning.
Introversion or Extraversion
The next pair of preferences is known as Introversion and Extraversion. These preferences are related to whether we are basically more comfortable in the world of other people, or by ourselves in our inner world. It’s perhaps most obviously expressed in the way we re-charge and relax. For an Extravert, other people are needed frequently whereas an Introvert needs significant time alone.
All of us have both needs, but one will be the preference. This does significantly not tend to affect the way we learn, so long as we have plenty of time for our main preferences. A strongly Introverted child may well be happier educated at home than being in a classroom all day, and a strongly Extraverted child may prefer being at school. An Extraverted child who is home educated will want other children to play with, and plenty of opportunity for social events and group activities, and an Introverted child who goes to school will probably need at least an hour by himself each day after school to unwind.
Introversion and Extraversion also relate to the way we use the first four functions – Sensing, iNtuiting, Thinking and Feeling. Those who use Feeling primarily in the outer world – more conscious of other people’s feelings than their own – tend to use Thinking inwardly, analysing the world and trying to make sense of it when on their own. By contrast, those who are most driven by their own Feelings, and tend to look inwardly in their emotions are those who more naturally organise the outer world. We all need to find how we best relate to others, and to find ways of expressing the preferences which we internalise.
Judging or Perceiving
The final scale used in Myers-Briggs theory, Judging or Perceiving, was not used by Jung but developed to make the system easier to understand. It refers to whether we prefer to extravert primarily our decision-making function (Feeling or Thinking) or the perceptive function (Sensing or Intuition). Those who primarily extravert their decision-making function will tend to like decisions, and often will be more organised and structured than those who prefer to extravert their perceptive function.
For more information about these preferences in children, I recommend the book ‘Nurture by Nature’ by Paul D Tieger and Barbara Barron-Tieger.
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