When ‘D’ Meets ‘S’: The Role of Personality in Parenting

By Rita Brhel, managing editor and attachment parenting resource leader (API)

Mother and sonThrough Attachment Parenting, we learn how truly powerful a close emotional relationship with our children can be. But even with the strongest of bonds, conflict will arise between parents and their children. As children grow, AP focuses more and more on how we, as parents, resolve conflict — in a gentle, positive manner that promotes influence, guidance, and teaching rather than control.

Much of the root of conflict resolution resides in our own selves – in dealing with our own unresolved hurts and biases, as well as finding personal balance, so that we can control the urge to jump to conclusions and react without thinking. And so that we can have the courage to stop in the moment, take a deep breath, and think about how to control our default thinking to be able to react with compassion instead of anger and defensiveness.

Another important piece of this puzzle is understanding how personality differences play into both conflict and conflict resolution. Think about what is most likely to create conflict between you and your spouse or partner: Often, isn’t it because you two do the same thing in different ways? My husband and I encounter this all the time. I am much more detail-oriented than my husband and sometimes don’t understand why he doesn’t see the crumbs on the table, while he wonders why I care so much about the crumbs. The same situation can happen between you and a child who doesn’t see the world in the same way.

Personality Assessments as a Way to Get to Know Your Child Better

The point of discovering your child’s personality traits is not to put a label on him, or to try to compartmentalize the reason behind his actions. Instead, it is another way for parents to get to know their child more — to discover what makes him tick.

My children, the oldest being two years old, are a little young yet to be able to identify all of their personality tendencies. Still, they are certainly different children, each requiring a unique approach. My oldest is quite sensitive to actions that cause another person to feel hurt. She shares her toys well and will give away her snack if she senses her sister or I am hungry. My youngest likes things to be done “just so” and is persistent, and can get very upset if something is not done the way she wants it. I have learned not to be forceful in disciplining my two year old, and to give my youngest child choices in how to solve a problem. Even at their tender ages, tailoring my parenting techniques according to personality traits has helped, particularly during challenging moments.

A Sample Personality Profile

There are a lot of personality profiles available, but one of my favorites is “DISC,” which was developed by Mels Carbonell, PhD. He focuses on four major personality traits:

  • D – dominating, directing, driving, demanding, determined, decisive, doing;
  • C – cautious, competent, calculating, compliant, careful, contemplative;
  • I – inspiring, influencing, inducing, impressing, interactive, interested in people;
  • S – steady, stable, shy, security-oriented, servant, submissive, specialist.

Personality Assessments – Help or Hindrance in Parenting?

The purpose of this article to remind parents that they need take the time to get to know the ins and outs of their child’s personality, in order to be better able to relate to him. What do you think about the role of personality assessment in parenting? Do you think personality profiles are mostly helpful, or can they encourage unnecessary labeling? Discuss this article on the API Publications Forum by clicking here.

Carbonell has developed a self-assessment for people to determine their specific blend of these personality traits, although by being honest with yourself on what you see as your strengths and weaknesses, you can take a good guess at what your personality might be. For example, I have quite a few of the S traits, many of the C traits, and a few of the I and D traits. After taking the test, it was determined I have a C-S blend: I’m an exact person who notices all the details, and someone who enjoys helping others.

How a Personality Profile Can Be Used

There is good and not-so-good with this personality blend. I like things to be done “right.” This works well in the professional world, but can cause bumps in my personal relationships. My husband, who is a very strong S — so strong that he doesn’t even have a blend with another trait — has taught me a lot, and continues to, about tempering this tendency. As an S, he is easily intimidated by a domineering personality. After seven years of marriage, I have learned to when to use and when not to use different personality tendencies — although I have to admit that the biggest impetus for this self-recognition and change was parenting itself.

The key is to learn to how to work with our own personality traits, not to try to control others. And this includes that of our children. Depending on your and your children’s personality differences, the way you choose to parent your child can either help or hurt your child, according to Carbonell. While not all of his ideas are AP-oriented, Carbonell does have some interesting points related to the concept of discipline: The key to discipline is being able to motivate your child by knowing your child’s “hot” and “cold” buttons — cold being those personality tendencies that, when triggered, demotivate your child and hot being those that do motivate.

According to Carbonell, “Motivation is actually creating the climate and environment that makes children decide for themselves to do ‘right.’ Unfortunately, many parents discipline and motivate through intimidation or manipulation. Effective parenting involves wise discipline and creates the climate to motivate each child individually. …Remember, what motivates you may not motivate the child.”

While gentle discipline techniques, like problem-solving and time-ins, can be used with every child, the way parents choose to use these techniques should depend on our child’s specific hot and cold buttons. For example, using the information below, while a C child may need to hear explanations of why a certain behavior is undesired, too much talking to a S child will come off as criticism. Or, an I child may be motivated by knowing how a certain behavior affects other people, the D child likely won’t be motivated by this type of information.

DISC – Child Personality Traits & How This Can Affect Parenting

Under pressure — becomes resistant, rebellious, strong-willed, angry, stubborn, demanding, controlling
Sources of irritation — weakness, losing, indecisiveness, laziness, lack of leadership, lack of discipline, lack of challenge
To motivate — give opportunity to lead, give choices

Under pressure — becomes uptight, fault-finding, pessimistic, critical, worrisome, overly cautious, technical, picky, “goes by the book”
Sources of irritation — uncertainty, incompetence, disorganization, simplicity, dishonesty, inaccuracy
To motivate — explain reasons for desired actions, ask questions, problem-solve on suggestions to improve, give opportunity to research and evaluate

Under pressure — becomes active, impatient, loud, attention-seeking, overly excited, “wants to please the crowd”
Sources of irritation — boredom, routine, being overlooked, criticism, time constraints, organizational demands
To motivate — recognize desired behavior, give opportunity to express thoughts, show displeasure of undesired behavior, explain how undesired behavior can affect other people.

Under pressure — becomes submissive or stubborn depending on the threat to security, stability- and friendship-seeking, “peace at all costs”
Sources of irritation — intimidation, inflexibility, turmoil, disloyalty, insincerity, pride, discrimination, unfairness
To motivate — establish close relationship, emphasize need for help, appreciate loyalty, give time to prepare and adjust, show heartfelt hurt from undesired behavior, show silent disapproval rather than pointing out undesired behavior

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