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Go Ahead, Label Your Kid: Teri Jourgensen's Parenting by Temperament

No two kids are alike, so when it comes to parenting, why should it be one size fits all? Meet the Martinez researcher helping parents better understand—and parent—their children.


Photography by Marc Olivier Le BlancDo you ever wonder why your child Anna is the life of the birthday party while your child Kate clings to your leg, wailing, and would rather be anywhere but here? Or why little Harry is going into a complete meltdown because you can’t find his black soccer socks, and his black baseball socks absolutely won’t do—and the rest of the family is waiting in the car to leave?

On any given morning, it’s tempting to think that your children are behaving in unpredictable, wildly varying ways simply to drive you to drink. We’ve all been there. But chances are they’re being true to their inner selves and their emerging temperament type. And if you clue in to this temperament type for each child—and for yourself—you’ll gain key insights and strategic advantages to help you in the game of parenting.

“The interesting thing about temperament is that it’s something we don’t fully understand as parents,” says Martinez’s Teri Jourgensen, who adapted a system to help parents classify and understand their children. “Yes, we’re familiar with introverts versus extroverts, but for much of it, we don’t have a framework; we just know that Johnny is different from Jill. Once we see the definitions and descriptions, it clicks very quickly.”

Jourgensen first gave serious thought to children’s temperament types when she began volunteering in her son’s kindergarten classroom in Moraga 18 years ago. With a professional background as a trainer and using the famous Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, she realized she was seeing budding—but classic—temperament types in these little tykes.

“There were extroverts—quick to raise their hands but just formulating their answers as they spoke; there were introverts who had to be called on but had already formulated well-thought-out answers; there were sensers who, when asked to write about a snake, wrote with rich detail about snakes—whereas the intuitives wrote a vivid adventure story involving a snake,” she recalls.

Fascinated, Jourgensen partnered with her mother, a psychology professor specializing in childhood development at Cal Poly Pomona, to create child-centric questionnaires much like the Myers-Briggs program.

“We knew there wasn’t a good tool like a Myers-Briggs for predicting a child’s personality, and we said, ‘Let’s go for it; let’s develop a sorter for parents!’ ”

The duo leveraged Cal Poly resources to develop the questionnaires, which Jourgensen published in her book, Parenting by Temperament.

Now online, the sorter questionnaires cost $15 and take about 20 minutes to complete. The results will classify your child as having one preference from each of the following four pairs of traits: introversion versus extroversion; sensing versus intuition; thinking versus feeling; and judging versus perceiving.

In addition, your child might score one or two strong preferences, while other preferences may be only slightly dominant. A child who is a mild introvert may find it easy to behave in an extroverted way when the situation calls for it, but an extreme judger (who craves structure) will find it nearly impossible to change plans spontaneously—so going to the zoo instead of a movie as expected will bring on a tantrum.

“You need to understand what’s good about that child, then take baby steps to help her in the areas she has trouble,” says Jourgensen. “We can’t change who they are—and we wouldn’t want to—so we embrace the unique child we have, and where there are issues, we help.”

Such understanding can alleviate—or at least shed light on—some of family life’s trickiest problems, such as homework wars. Just how much you’re battling will have something to do with whether your child is a judger or a perceiver. “A judging child (the structure-loving child) is naturally into checklists and is more likely to be willing to do the homework,” says Jourgensen. “With a perceiving child (the spontaneous one), doing homework is a lot harder.”

Jourgensen suggests keeping your spontaneous child at the dinner table after supper to do his homework, and trying it in 15-minute segments. And knowing the type, Jourgensen counsels parents of perceivers to keep a bin filled with special-project supplies “because you won’t get any advance notice that there’s a volcano due the next day.”

But take all this information one step further and consider your own temperament, and the program gets even more powerful.

“When I taught seminars on this material, I would see parents coming in thinking, ‘My child is really different from me,’ ” says Jourgensen. “ ‘Why would my child rather read and write stories than play catch with me? Or ‘Why does my son dive right into his homework but my daughter needs constant pushing?’ And then, we identify the temperament types, and you see the parent just relax and say, ‘I have a wonderful child—he’s different from me—but a wonderful child.’ It allows parents to love the child they have and not the child they wish they had.”




Photography by Marc Olivier Le Blanc

Introvert: Enjoys working quietly, tentative.

The upside:  Quiet and calm; enjoys playing alone; a good listener; loyal and has close friendships; not easily distracted.
The downside:  Reluctant to join in groups; slow to make friends; gets tired and cranky from socializing; hesitant and cautious about new experiences.
Love the trait: Admire your introvert’s ability to make strong, deep friendships: Introverts will be especially devoted to their friends. Understand that a big birthday party is not what your child wants. Instead, assure yourself that it’s OK if he only wants one friend there—but still make a really big cake.
Stretch the trait: Every day, help your child toward becoming a moderate and well-rounded version of an introvert. Preschoolers will show a preference for one favorite friend, but gently include another from time to time. Or teach social etiquette, such as greeting guests at the door, making eye contact, and shaking hands properly.


If You Are … an Introvert Parent

Your challenge is to recognize when you are over-sympathizing and shielding your introvert from stressful situations that would help him or her grow. For instance, when your child agrees to go to a birthday party and then changes her mind at the last minute, don’t let her off the hook. Confidently say, “I know you’re scared but you’re going to be fine.” It’s ok if she then chooses to stay quietly with you and observe the action rather than join in; it’s all about baby steps.

Also, watch for the ways that you are reinforcing the trait’s downsides. If you’re a loner yourself, you may have to get out of your own comfort zone and host social events to set a balanced example.


If You Are… an Extrovert Parent

You may feel quite worried that your child is tentative and shy, and you may fail to notice the strengths that go along with introversion. It’s important to realize that your child is just as happy as an outgoing child.

The biggest gift you give this child is to listen: As an extrovert you want to jump in and give your thoughts. Instead, bite your tongue, and listen more than talk. Also, don’t be afraid of your child’s silences. Your introvert is processing silently and in depth, thinking through what he experienced that day and how he feels about it. When he’s ready, he’ll speak. And when an introvert shares something, it’s really a treasure.


Extrovert: Energized by people, talkative.

The upside: Makes friends easily; enthusiastic and often good-humored; likes to communicate.
The downside: May lack close and lasting friendships; may be impulsive or overly risk taking; may seem too noisy or too active for the situation; can get bored easily.
Love the trait: When your child tells you about her day or about something exciting, be enthusiastic. But keep in mind that extroverts are processing while they talk, so don’t worry too much about the content. Think of it as a data dump. Your job is then to ask questions to help your child make sense of it.
Stretch the trait: Consider balancing extroversion with a healthy dose of getting comfortable working and playing alone.

Encourage depth in relationships by inviting one friend at a time, but keep them active to keep it stimulating for your extrovert. And protect family time to further build deep relationships with high-energy activities, such as camping or bike riding.


If You Are… an Extrovert Parent

You will probably delight in seeing your child thrive in a busy and rich social life. But it may surprise you that your child does not have a best friend or sometimes finds herself with no one to play with. That’s a common part of having many casual friendships. Reassure yourself that your child is simply exploring her social world.

You will also enjoy his or her communicativeness and generally positive attitude to life. But an Extrovert can require a lot of energy. No matter how tiring your day has been, try to be “on” when your child is “on,” and reflect all that enthusiastic chatter with active listening and enthusiasm of your own.


If You Are … an Introvert Parent

You will find your little charmer charming—up to a point. The endless chatter and need for company can become taxing on a quiet parent, so be mindful of scheduling your own recharging moments.

You may also be concerned that your child’s friendships are too shallow. Remember that your extrovert child’s friendship style will be different than yours, and that’s ok.


Photography by Marc Olivier Le Blanc

Sensing: Focused on the real and practical.

The upside: Focused on the present and what is real, practical, and useful; good memory for facts and detail; rarely makes careless mistakes; loves developing and practicing skills.
The downside: May be impatient with theories and abstract ideas; not very interested in thinking about the past and the future; has trouble with general instructions; can be resistant to change.
Love the trait: This child will be your family time-, record, and memory keeper. When your senser asks you, “What time is it?” tell her the specific time: “It’s 10:35.”
Stretch the trait: The idea is to move beyond just the facts and teach your senser to also wonder about the why and the “what if”—a useful skill in today’s academic and career worlds. Ask questions with no definitive answers; brainstorm ideas for wild inventions; or play the adventure story game, where one person starts a story and each person adds the next part.


If You Are … a Sensing Parent

You will relate well to your mini-me. But be alert for academic red flags that can occur around high school when subject matter gets more theoretical and the Sensing child often loses interest and motivation.

Similarly, the sensing child may need some guidance with planning for his future. He may be quick to zero in on academic paths that capitalize on his obvious strengths. While that’s not wrong, you may need to encourage him to keep the doors open a little longer on subjects that are less black and white.


If You Are … an Intuitive Parent

You may miss the flair of imagination that you value in yourself. But you’re about to be introduced to a completely different way of seeing the world. As an intuitive, be sure to really hear what your child is asking and be very specific in your answers. For example, while at the zoo, comment on the details of what you are seeing together, such as the smells or the way a tiger is pacing. Your senser will notice marvelous details you might not.


Intuitive: Imaginative, big-picture thinker.

The upside: Has a vivid imagination—likes make-believe and pretend games; good at thinking about why things happen; loves to learn new ideas and new ways of doing things.
The downside: Gets bored with the details, facts, and routines; not a fan of practicing skills to improve them; can have trouble following detailed instructions and may make careless errors.
Love the trait: Intuitive toddlers are the ones asking you, “Why?” with every breath. Intuitives grow up to be visionaries, big thinkers, and pie-in-the-sky envisioners. How fun to have one in your midst!
Stretch the trait: Look for fun ways to stretch this child’s appreciation for facts and information: At story time, talk about the meaning of the story, then ask, “What do you see that makes you think that?” This encourages intuitives to use their senses to back up claims and ideas.  

Be alert to trouble taking tests because of a tendency to overthink questions, or reading too fast and jumping to the wrong interpretation—their intuitive brains move so fast making creative associations that they forget to pay attention to the exact wording. Consider spending time practicing reading instructions.


If You Are … an Intuitive Parent

Embrace your fellow creative spirit, but don’t overlook early opportunities to instill good discipline habits, such as tidying up or remembering details. Help your intuitive child with homework and test taking by helping them avoid overthinking in response to questions that are often straightforward. Faced with a multiple-choice question, an intuitive child reads into it and looks for nuances; teach them to focus on the obvious answer and look for what’s factual.


If You Are … a Sensing Parent

This child’s head in the clouds may seem tortuously impractical to you and ill-suited for the real world. However, recognize your frustration and then look for ways that this child’s creativity can bring color, zest, and humor to the family dynamic. The intuitive kid is going to dabble in interests and activities. Still, once your intuitive child makes a commitment, like signing up for baseball, teach them that they have to complete it. As the child gets older, the same applies to talk of careers. Sensing parents get nervous that their child will never be practical. Resist the urge to be critical, but understand that this child’s path might not look like yours.


Photography by Marc Olivier Le Blanc

Thinking: Task-oriented.

The upside: Great problem solver and logical thinker; makes reasoned decisions.
The downside: Can be insensitive to other’s feelings; can be blunt or outspoken.
Love the trait: This child finds good solutions to everyday problems and loves the satisfaction of accomplishment. Thinkers have their feet on the ground and ultimately, they are almost always fair and respectful.
Stretch the trait: The young thinker needs to learn that there is a whole feeling world around him that feels somewhat foreign but is very real. Your child will genuinely not understand why a feeling friend is upset after a conflict; exploring this with logic can make each incident an interesting and nonjudgmental case study, harnessing thinkers’ analytical skills to help stretch them toward feeling.


If You Are … a Thinking Parent

You will treasure this child’s ability to reason clearly and your freedom to speak your mind with each other. But even though you can handle bluntness and even insensitivity, do your child the favor of tempering that edge. Remind them of gracious behaviors—saying thank you and sorry. A young thinker may have trouble really feeling sorry. If a thinking child hurts someone’s feelings or needs to apologize, the thinker should do something nice or thoughtful for that person. It helps soften the conflict and makes up for the thinkers lack of empathy.


If You Are … a Feeling Parent

This child’s frankness is going to strike you as lack of sensitivity, and this will probably always be a source of discomfort for you. Look to love his or her honesty and fairness, and seek ways to drill home social graces.


Feeling: People-oriented.

The upside: Warm and considerate; agreeable by nature and willing to compromise.
The downside: Difficulty asserting oneself; needs to be well-liked; can be emotionally manipulative, especially as she gets older.
Love the trait: This child’s agreeableness is easy to be around. Early on, feelers want to please everyone, especially their parents, and they’re more cooperative than most. But listen closely and read between the lines because your feeler may be telling you what you want to hear.
Stretch the trait: Feelers’ strong need for approval puts them at risk. Help your child get comfortable with conflict. If your feeler is about to comply with a request but you can tell she’s doing it with deep disappointment, seize the teachable moment: Encourage your pleaser to express her disagreement and to articulate what she wants.

Feelers understand people’s emotions so well that adolescence can also bring out a manipulative streak. Teach your young feeler that using people’s feelings to get them to do what you want often backfires.


If You Are … a Feeling Parent

This combo becomes one big love-fest, so enjoy it, but also keep your wits about you and help your little love-bug grow in his or her areas of weakness. It’s going to be hard to teach self-assertion if you’re not good at it yourself, but try to remember your own challenges in setting boundaries. If a friend is dominating or being unkind to your little feeler, spend time talking about what it is to be a good friend. And avoid projecting your own social anxieties on your child.


If You Are … a Thinking Parent

A thinking parent often worries that a feeling child’s emotions are a weakness. Understand the power that comes from having a high emotional IQ. This child has a leg up on the skills that spell success in adulthood—both personal and professional, because of his or her ability to connect and create relationships. As a thinker, you may be puzzled by what could seem to be a lack of a central core, and conflict may come if your little feeler keeps the peace by manipulating the truth in difficult situations.


Photography by Marc Olivier Le Blanc

Judging: Structured.

The upside: Organized and neat; is dependable and follows through on tasks; is prompt and decisive; loves rituals and familiarity.
The downside:  Resistant to change, sometimes even rigid; fussy over neatness and may get bossy about it; may make hasty decisions; may be driven to succeed and suffer from stress and worry.
Love the trait: This child will be your chief helper: Embrace, enjoy, praise, and reward him. As your child grows, he will crave and embrace rituals such as family gatherings and family traditions. Provide some, and let your growing judger create some of his own. These rituals are a vital way for the judging child to connect with others.

Also, the judging child’s drive to succeed can lead to overscheduling and stress, so don’t overbook this one.
Stretch the trait: Tempering this child’s rigidity is a good goal. Teach her to understand and tolerate others’ lack of neatness; help her bite her tongue when she starts getting bossy (and help her understand why that’s important); and introduce last-minute replanning of leisure activities to help a young judger experience the discomfort of change followed by a pleasant outcome.

Throughout childhood, it will be important to help your child prepare for change, and using his love of rituals is key: Precede each new school year with a quiet visit to the campus a month early, followed by a shopping trip to buy supplies and clothes, and a stop for ice cream—all while paying attention to forming traditions and rituals.


If You Are … a Judging Parent

You’ve struck it lucky with this child! Most of the topics for parent-child battles are eliminated in a judging-judging combo: chores, homework, toothbrushing, bed-making—done, done, done, and done. But be aware that you both have strong expectations for how things should happen, and you may not agree. Try not to impose your vision on your child. Instead, teach negotiation and compromise to achieve a shared goal, and avoid locking into a power struggle over the exact method.


If You Are … a Perceiving Parent

You will marvel at the efficiency and high competence of this child. But watch that you don’t look at this child through your own perceiving lenses and therefore worry that he or she can’t possibly be enjoying life while being this earnest and diligent.

Remember to acknowledge accomplishments in very specific and tangible ways. This is something you would not need yourself, but this child is visual and wants stickers on a chart, notes on the calendar, checks on the checklist.


Perceiving: Spontaneous.

The upside: Easygoing, enjoys the moment; flexible and welcomes change; not critical of others; can work heroically at the last minute.
The downside: Easily bored by routine; procrastinates; likes to start new things, hates to finish them; may hate to make firm decisions.
Love the trait:  This child is curious about nearly everything, is open to new adventures, and is warm and accepting of others. What’s not to love?
Stretch the trait:  For the sake of this child’s future teachers, employers, and spouses, start small—but start immediately—with organizational skills. Make it manageable: Pick up toys once at the end of the day or just in one zone, or have your perceiver bring just her own dishes to the sink. Help perceivers stay engaged by participating yourself rather than leaving them to work in private. Perceivers don’t need to love organizing and getting things done—they probably never will—but they do need to practice both as useful life skills.


If You Are … a Perceiving Parent

If as a perceiver you’ve been able to get by successfully in life, pulling it all together at the last minute as perceivers often do, then you will be able to feel relaxed and appreciative of your clone and all his charms. If you have struggled as a perceiver, you may find his tendencies more worrisome. Even if making lists and timetables is not in your nature, force yourself to teach your little perceiver how to do these things.


If You Are … a Judging Parent

You will enjoy the adaptability and easy-going good nature of this child. But this child’s relaxed style is going to be anxiety-provoking for you. Your desire to maintain order on all fronts is going to clash with a strong perceiver child. Only demand what is absolutely necessary and important: Getting homework done is both, but making the bed may not be. Check your expectations and make them realistic. Try adding fun to chores and homework—help them learn to count by running in the garden and counting flowers, or do chores with their favorite music playing.


Adapted from Parenting by Temperament, Nancy Harkey, Ph.D., and Teri Jourgensen, M.P.A., 2012, CreateSpace.

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