by Nicholeen Peck
Discerning between when a child should be corrected and when a child’s personality should simply be understood can be difficult for many parents, because personalities and behaviors are different, but can sometimes seem similar. So what is the difference between personality and behavior, and how can parents prepare for meaningful interactions to discuss personality differences and behavior problems?
My husband, Spencer, is generally happy, confident, disconnected from other’s emotions and most stress, extroverted, adaptable, openminded, friendly, direct, focused on truth, hardworking, organized, highly motivated, conscientious, free-spirited, detail-oriented, spontaneous, and a bit of a procrastinator. Even though these personality traits just scratch the surface of understanding Spencer, they do help me appreciate how he processes his world, as well as decrease any frustrations that I may have with his differences.
Just because my husband has unique personality traits doesn’t mean that he can’t change his habits, behaviors, and shortcomings. Recognizing personality traits should not give way to excuses for bad behavior. Instead, acknowledging personality traits should lead to appreciation of differences and shed light on actual behavior problems
Understanding what a personality trait is and what it is not can make a big difference in a parent’s stress level and parenting approach. Parents sometimes mistakenly think that a bad behavior is just a personality trait, and that it cannot really change. Similarly, some parents also think that every difference in their child’s behavior must have been learned, instead of being ingrained through personality.
A woman once said to me, “Nicholeen, with what you do, you probably think that everything comes from training, but I’ve noticed that some things are just personality.” This statement took me aback. I do speak about behavior, habits, training, teaching, and correcting a lot. However, when parenting and communicating, I do factor in personality traits too. In fact, the beginning of my parenting book, Parenting: A House United, has a whole section about understanding personality traits and characteristics in order to improve relationships through understanding.
There are so many personality tests and books that give valuable insight into how people process and live; like The Color Code, the Myers Briggs test, the Clifton Strengths test, The Four Tendencies, The Five Love Languages, and others. We all think and see people (including ourselves) uniquely, and act and communicate according to our personality preferences.
Do You Correct a Child’s Personality?
Personality is generally considered to be something that doesn’t change, or is very slow to change, so correcting personality can often be frustrating for the parent and the child. Discussing personality, and differences in personality in the family, with a non-biased view can be very helpful in creating understanding and increasing connection, and respect for others. However, trying to make a child’s personality change to match the parent’s or another child’s personality, leads to the child feeling like they are not understood, respected, or even belong.
While correction of personality, the person’s processing style, or general human characteristics isn’t a good way to parent, correcting behavior and training a child socially, morally, emotionally, and practically are vital to the overall success and happiness for the child’s life. It’s worth noting that occasionally a child could have personality flaws that could make life difficult for them, so a parent could attempt to help the child choose to work on adjusting processing habits associated with their unique personality in order to help them become more successful and happier.
Behavior can sometimes stem from personality and processing, for better or for worse. However, the word behavior, which comes from the word behave, means “to govern, restrain, conduct, or subdue.” Webster’s 1828 dictionary says, “for one to behave one’s self, is really, to govern one’s self; to have in command.” When a person has self-government, they understand that they have choices, and that their choices have consequences, then they adjust their actions to accomplish their desired outcomes.
Behavior is always a work in progress that depends upon constant correction and feedback in order to adjust and improve. Since that is the case, good correction from parents is a healthy and productive means to success for the child.
The following examples highlight the difference in approach that parents can take when addressing personalities and misbehavior.
- A child talks back to a parent with an attitude problem. (Behavior)
Solution: Do a calm correction that gives the child instruction on how to calmly disagree appropriately and give them the opportunity to accept a consequence and practice the correct behavior.
- A child gets overwhelmed because of a change in plans. (Personality)
Solution: Have an effective parent counseling session. Connect with the child to create a stable environment. Then talk about the principle of “no” answers, which means that sometimes life doesn’t go our way. Empower the child to drop the subject and stay calm. Talk about healthy self-talk in difficult situations.
- A child doesn’t do what a parent instructs them to do. (Behavior)
Solution: Do a calm correction that gives the child instruction on how to follow instructions and give them the opportunity to accept a consequence and practice the correct behavior.
- A child starts to cry when her sister starts to cry. (Personality)
Solution: Calmly connect with the child by hugging and expressing that you understand that it’s hard to see someone else sad, and that it’s a good thing for your daughter to care about her sister. Tell her that a kind heart is a good thing. Help her take steps to get calm.
Parents shouldn’t shy away from discussing any situation with their children, whether it’s related to personality or behavior. After all, it’s the parent’s duty to provide an example of understanding and direction to the child. I suggest taking some time to analyze the personality traits of your child as well as list the behaviors that they need help with, so that you can be ready to handle interactions about personality traits differently than interactions related to behavior.
Whether you are doing an effective correction or offering insight to help guide your child’s personality, incorporate productive, positive discussions. When parents discuss openly with their children about the child’s thinking patterns and how they choose to behave in situations, then the child is blessed with an increased understanding of themselves so that they can not only better self-govern, but also better understand the uniqueness in themselves and in others.
Learn to do effective corrections and parent counseling sessions with these resources.