The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), popularly known as Myers-Briggs test, has nothing directly to do with family or parenting. Still, I have found that learning about MBTI specifically—and personalities in general—has become a major tool in my parenting arsenal. I have used MBTI  to understand my kids, and to develop a common vocabulary for conversations about their strengths and weakness—and my own.

MBTI identifies four different ways people take in and process information about the world. It creates a total of 16 possible personality types. Since first being exposed to MBTI, I’ve spent a lot of time and effort translating these categories and understanding them in a way that makes sense in my everyday life.

This week I am sharing parenting tips from the first two categories: social interaction and information.

Social Interaction

You are no doubt familiar with the terms extroverted and introverted. Meyers-Briggs uses these terms to describe a person’s relationship with others. An introvert, designated by the letter I, recharges by spending time alone. An extrovert (E), in contrast, thrives on contact with others. It is a mistake to assume that I’s hate people and have no friends and E’s never have deep thoughts and can’t be alone. An I may enjoy herself at a party with friends but will eventually need to recharge with some time alone reading a book or taking a walk. An E may spend regular time alone but eventually will need to interact with others to fill their batteries.

As an E, the analogy of a battery has helped me understand my extremely introverted daughter. According to a therapist friend of mine, “just leaving the house is an extroverted activity for her.” First, I had to recognize that a room full of people, even ones she knows, doesn’t hold the same appeal for her that it does for me. Also, she can only spend a limited amount of time in a social situation before she runs out of steam and becomes irritable or unresponsive. Understanding that she is an introvert has enabled us  to have conversations about how to engage socially and make friends. She’s learned she can interact with people one on one or in the context of shared interests, and that she doesn’t have to be the life of the party to have friends.

Information

According to MBTI, people take in information through either Intuition (N) or Sensing (S). The easiest way for me to understand this is to think of drawing a picture. An N will quickly create a sketch and then fill in details as they go. An S will use concrete information to create a detailed picture from the start. An N may understand the big picture of a concept more quickly, and an S will understand the nuances and implications more fully.

This difference isn’t as obvious as the E/I distinction. It took me several months of feeling like my son and I spoke different languages at homework time to realize he is an S while I am an N. I had to remind myself to present information to him in a clear and concrete way. Usually, he responds well to manipulatives he can touch, a picture or chart, or a step-by-step break down of a process. When he first learned about multiplication he was  lost by the vocabulary of “groups” or “multiply by,” but when I used coins to show him that it was basically fast adding, he could solve almost any whole number multiplication problem within 10 minutes.

Remember that no quality is “better” than another, and make sure your kids understand this, too. The letters help describe an individual’s qualities; it’s how they use those qualities that matters. Understanding these concepts can help you, and your kids, make the best decisions possible.

Next week I will break down the last two categories that describe what we do with the information we receive.