When your child says that one particular phrase, why do the hairs go up on the back of your neck? Why does one particular child love to be the center of attention and the other avoid it like the plague? How do you motivate a child who doesn’t seem to be motivated like the others? And why do you react the way you do when your kids fight over something simple, such as clothes?

Personality. It’s what makes us all different, and yet so much alike. So much so, that it can be categorized. Once categorized it can be studied to find patterns; successful ones and not so successful ones. Here’s an interesting thought: I wonder if a tool used by 89 of the Fortune 100 companies can be used for parenting?

Myers-Briggs Type Indicator

The MBTI (sometimes just Myers-Briggs) is a personality typing system based on the work of Carl Jung. Isabel Briggs Myers and Katherine Cook Briggs originally developed the instrument to help women entering the industrial workforce find out which jobs they would best be suited for during WWII. It is built on the premise that what seems to be random in people’s behavior actually isn’t and is due to the differences in the way people prefer to use their perception and judgment. So this is about preference, not an effort to put a square peg in a round hole.

I first learned of the Myers-Briggs in college. It was a Sales Psychology course where we were taught how to figure out someone’s personality quickly and sell to that personality, not just from a script. Then in graduate school, I took a course in the Myers-Briggs and became fascinated with personality. When I took the test and read the results, they were so dead on in describing me that it kinda scared me. But at the same time it was relieving, and I’ve been hooked ever since.

With 16 distinct types, some being only 1-2% of the general population (such as mine, INTJ), there is plenty of variety among them. The following list of the 16 types comes from 16personalities.com (unless otherwise noted), and includes each type’s descriptive title, general population percentages, and a couple of examples.

INTJ – The Architect
(0.8% – Thomas Jefferson, “Gregory House” from House M.D.),

INTP – The Logician
(3% – Carl Jung, Albert Einstein),

INFP – The Mediator
(4% – William Shakespeare, Julia Roberts),

INFJ – The Advocate
(<1% – Martin Luther King, Mother Teresa),

ENTJ – The Commander
(3% – Steve jobs, Whoopi Goldberg),

ENTP – The Debater
(3% – Thomas Edison, “Jack Sparrow” from The Pirates of the Caribbean),

ENFP – The Campaigner
(7% – Andy Rooney, Robin Williams),

ENFJ – The Protagonist
(2% – Abraham Lincoln, Michael Jordan),

ISTP – The Virtuoso
(5% – Clint Eastwood, “Indiana Jones”),

ISFP – The Adventurer
(5-9%* – Michael Jackson, Donald Trump),

ISTJ – The Logistician
(13% – George Washington, “Hermione Granger” from Harry Potter),

ISFJ – The Defender
(13% – Halle Berry, “Samwise Gamgee” from The Lord of the Rings),

ESTP – The Entrepreneur
(4-5%* – Madonna, Ernest Hemingway),

ESTJ – The Executive
(11% – Alec Baldwin, George W. Bush),

ESFJ – The Consul
(12% – Bill Clinton, “Monica” from Friends),

ESFP – The Entertainer
(4-9%* – Marilyn Monroe, Leonardo DiCaprio)

* CAPT.org

Each of these types has different preferences (strengths and weaknesses) when it comes to relationships, emotions, innate people skills, work habits, home life, thought processes, and much more. Knowing these preferences will not only make certain things make more sense, they will show you where your blind spots are and how to compensate for them.

For instance, I never liked it when people told me things more than once. I perceived it as they thought I was stupid or couldn’t remember things. After learning that a typical irritation of an INTJ is that they do not like repetition, it made much more sense why I disliked that so much. Knowing that also allowed me to change my perception of when people do repeat themselves, and informed me that there are times when I need to repeat things to others for whatever reason.

Criticisms do exist for the MBTI. It is sensitive to your mood at the time you take the instrument, so depending on what is going on in your life that day you could get a different result. I can take the test and get one result based on how I do things at work versus another result based on how I do things at home. The more times I take the test, the more toward the center I get on introvert versus extrovert. And these are not mutually exclusive categories. You are not 100% of one type and none of the others. I can read about both INTP and INTJ and most of both will describe me. I recently read about ISTJ and I was surprised at how much of it sounded like me. Like I said, not trying to put a square peg in a round hole.

To find out what your type is for FREE, you can take the test at Quistic. There are also paid versions online ($99-$150) that may or may not give you more information. There really is a ton of information online about the Myers-Briggs and these types, but be careful of the source as all of them are not necessarily reputable.

Penelope Trunk

Penelope Trunk has founded four startups (Math.com, eCitydeals, Brazen Careerist). Her most recent startup and current position is CEO of Quistic which provides courses for people to understand their type, and how to use it effectively in various arenas of life. Penelope has published business advice in more than 200 newspapers and Inc. magazine called Penelope “the world’s most influential career coach.” She has also written a book, Brazen Careerist: The New Rules for Success. Her career advice blog attracts over 400,000 views per month.

penelope trunk - personality interview

She started out as a professional beach volleyballer in Los Angeles. Then she did the graduate school thing (English), dabbled in computers with a job here and there, and then decided to do things her own way. She wrote along the way, a lot. Now, she is married and lives on a farm in southwestern Wisconsin where she runs Quistic and homeschools her sons.

Now that you know a little about the Myers-Briggs, and a little about Penelope, let’s hear what she has to say about using it with parents and children.

1) You have quite a broad and storied career history, how did you get interested in using the Myers-Briggs?
I interviewed someone who was trained in personality type and I loved hearing about my own type – I was so struck by how accurate it was that I wanted to know about other people.

2) On your Quistic website, you make the statement that there is so much information out there on personality that is not being made readily available to parents. What would some of the most valuable nuggets be?
Your dreams for your child stem from your type. Those dreams are only appropriate if your child is your type. And type does not appear to be genetic, so it’s not likely that your child will be your type. So a better way to parent – better than pinning your hopes and dreams for a good life on your child – learn about your child’s type, and what will be a good life for that type, and make that the basis of your hopes and dreams for your child.

3) Most people who have heard of the Myers-Briggs know of its use in career counseling and within companies. How can it be used in parenting?
Once you know your child’s type, you can talk the way your child is best able to listen. And you can adjust your expectations to what would be appropriate for your child. For example, SPs don’t like to read, and NTs read all the time. This is totally independent of how smart someone is.

4) How does a parent knowing their own type help them be a better parent?
If you know your type you understand your strengths and weaknesses in terms of empathy, compassion, planning, judgement, all the skills that go into parenting. You can also understand the ways that your type and your child’s type relate. For example, an ESFP cares a lot about clothing, and an INTP doesn’t care at all. If you have a conflict between these two types about clothes, you’ll know that both people are probably being reasonable given their type.

5) For example, I am an INTJ. What are my strengths, and what are the blind spots I need to look out for in parenting my children?
You can solve problems your kids run into. And you can make good plans. And you’ll always have money. You are not good at having empathy and you’re not good at sitting around just enjoying your child’s company with no bigger purpose than that. Oh. And you’re not good at fun. You’re not fun.

6) Also on your Quistic website, you list a course titled “Understanding Your Child’s Personality Type.” How does knowing your child’s type help in parenting them?
I can’t believe parents are trying to take care of their kids without this information. It’s so so useful to know who you are and who your child is. You don’t have to wait until your child is a teen to find out who they are. Kids are their true personality type as young as three years old. Helping them get what they need in their life is your job, and knowing their type allows you to know what they need.

7) For example, my oldest daughter is very much like me (introverted, analytical, judgmental). Isn’t this enough, or it’s just not that easy?
If she’s an S she will not care about what you care about. She’ll care about details and she won’t like to plan, and she will be more action oriented. So you assume she’s similar to you because she matches three of your letters, but that last letter is a big one.

8) How has knowing your type or your children’s type helped you in parenting them? Example?
My youngest son tested three years above grade level in math in first grade. I largely ignored that data point. I know he’s smart, but he’s an ESFP. There is no way he’d ever want to do math for a living, so he doesn’t need to be a math prodigy as a kid — it wouldn’t get him anything he cares about. An ESFP is all about fun and sports and performing. And ESFP is usually the life of the party. The one with a million friends. The best dressed. This kid is not going to be on the math team.

9) Of the four core temperaments (NF, NT, SJ, SP), which one has the easiest time being a parent? And the hardest time being a parent?
An SJ follows all the rules. But that doesn’t mean they have a good adult life. It means they are easiest to get through the memorizing rule following life of a school kid. The NTs make all the money, so that’s the easiest kid to have as an adult — you don’t have to worry they’ll be destitute.

10) Are there things parents should look out for, like, which type or temperament struggles the most with transitioning to adulthood? Struggles in dating? Finding a job? Making and keeping friends?
ENFPs are least likely to graduate college. ESFPs are most likely to have a drug overdose.
But generally you just need to meet a kid where they are. There are genius, very kind, giving examples of every type.

11) When I initially learned about the Myers-Briggs in college, it was in a Business class. We learned that there is a way to structure a presentation in an order that catches each temperament before they check out. Is there a similar way to use the Myers-Briggs in parenting your children who likely have a variety of types?
You probably only have two or three types. Just become an expert in those.

But I have 7 kids, now what?
Becoming an expert in 7 types is way easier than becoming an expert in 16. The types that are not NTs will be the hardest for you to understand.

Thanks to Penelope for the interview and great insights. As you can see, there is plenty to talk about in regards to personality, for both parents and children. Finding out your type (or your child’s) is not difficult. Once you find your type, there is a lot to learn. And it just might begin to make a difference in your parenting.


Todd has been a therapist for over 20 years in a variety of settings. An unconventional therapist who tells the truth, Todd has taught undergraduate and graduate level courses, and authored his first book, Simply Relate.

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