Do you know your child’s personality type?
With Easter events behind us, I was again touched by how hard it must have been for our Father to hear the cries of a world dead in sin and ravished by evil, but also the cry of His only Son in agony, shame and abandonment on that cross. And to choose to heed our cry above His. What mercy; what strength!
Strength is also what each parent needs for the everyday cries that are so hard to ignore for our children’s good. And is it even really good for them when we do? Won’t a loving parent respond? We feel we ought to. Always. Yet we know we sometimes dare not give in.
Where is the line?
We hear cries for more playtime, and rationalize, “Well, I do keep them cooped up for most of the day. Perhaps I should just let them be for a bit longer.” Then we think, and rightly so, “Now they’ll know I don’t really ever mean it when I say that we’re leaving in 10 minutes!”
We hear nags to finish a game on the iPad, and we allow them to swing our vote with guilt trips like, “You finish your emails and your Facebook posts even when that moves bedtime out by five minutes. Why can’t I just finish this? It will only be four minutes!”
Maybe these are too easy. What about when a child cries after being told that a visit to granny has had to be cancelled, and the cry is starting to sound like something from a can – artificial and flavor enhanced. You know those cries! A tinge of drama, a pinch of shame on you. Should you let those slide or should you “find the off button”?
Our answers will vary, and not just based on principle, but often on personality.
Some of us are naturally able to put an imaginary hedge around the crying kid and see how the crying is really their problem (a normal, understandable immature reaction to not getting their way) and we’re able to stand our ground within the hedge that we’ve put up around the situation. We stick to our easy no.
A parent with the opposite personality will probably have a gentle hedge that always keeps them and their child snugly together on mutual ground. This parent has to find harmony by reaching a consensus and has to have those tears go away. They need the situation to end in a hug and smiles.
My kids wish I belonged to the second group.
Some of them do, and will likely raise my grandkids with fewer tears and more comfort that I raised them. And I’ll be okay with that unless their kids have the kind of personalities that need to have their “off switch flipped” – often and decisively.
Who needs to cry freely, and whose cry needs to be pruned a little? Situations will obviously vary, but temperament types do give us a firmer handle on the grey areas here.
Pine Tree Kids
Pine Tree kids are the kids who have a cool calmness and a stubborn stillness about them. They think more than they say or do, don’t mind being last in line and coined the phrase “Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.” They’re clearly not loud screamers or dramatic criers, so when they cry, I happily let the roast catch fire in the oven to attend to those cries. These cries are real. The “off button” is often just that simple act of listening, being there, hugging them close and being silent while they let it all out.
Some Pine Tree kids want to be alone when they cry. That should be okay too. Their cries are not aimed at manipulation. They have the silent treatment set aside to that end. They cry frowns, scowls or slammed doors when they want to send a message. Their keen people reading ability means they know exactly which heart string to pluck on. When they choose these avenues, it’s wise to respond a little slower. Let it be your sincere concern and not these manipulation techniques that draws you to have a conversation, once room temperature has settled back to normal.
Palm Tree Kids
The second temperament type, Palm Tree kids, don’t know about silence. They love breaking it. With burps and the like. Think coconuts, party music in Hawaii. That’s their world. When they’re not happy, you’ll know. Their mantra is, “The world is my stage”, and the performance they put on could be a well-crafted one. I intend to prove someday that their lashes are longer and that they blink in unfairly persuasive ways with those long lashes and that they have crocodile tear glands that can roll out winning waters like nobody else!
It’s not the crying itself that we should treat with suspicion, because crying is often justified. We should, however, keep an eye on the body language and an ear on the lyrics that go with the teary tune. Where a Pine Tree would simply cry, “I wanted to see Nana today!” the Palm Tree knows it’s a pathetic attempt at pathos, and would go for a much better appeal: “What if Nana dies tonight and this was the last time she could give me cookies and hold me?!” Bingo!
Wise parents understand that the drama draws you into more talk and less action – Palm Tree territory – where you’re likely going to be at a distinct disadvantage unless you have Palm Tree sap in your limbs too. The “off button” here is to be a little less impressed at the tantrum than you are when they are in the school play. Act bored by the performance. Sigh and wait for a dip in the decibel level, to say, like a broken record, “I’m waiting…” until the message sinks in: “Drama doesn’t do it.”
Rose Bush Kids
Rose Bush kids are born half grown up, as far as they’re concerned. They love being in control of themselves, but also of circumstances, and of you. (You probably have noticed this already if you’re raising a child with many Rose Bush traits.) Crying when they’re sad shows weakness and they try not to; crying when they’re mad is a weapon of choice, and they wield it proudly. The goal of their cries (which can be amplified by growls, screams, bites, kicks or the like) is to gain control over a situation. The cancelled visit to their granny won’t be taken sitting down. “If you don’t take me to Nana, you’re not my mommy anymore!” Stab to the jugular.
I’ll jump right back to the earlier picture of invisible hedges. The “off button” for Rose Bushes who behave like this is located on the garden gate. When they cry to control your yes and no, the secret is to point out the boundaries very clearly. They’re about territory. In each situation they have a job to do and you have a job to do. When we don’t make that clear, they fight us for our job and start making all the calls, don’t they? They’re empowered by choices that gives them appropriate control. We flip the switch with something like, “My job now is to find the best time to go to Nana’s house. That is not today. Your job is to make a plan to love Nana even when we can’t go today. What would you like to do for her? Make her a card, or call her to say you love her?” They typically have a better plan than you!
I left the toughest challenge for last: handling the cries of a Boxwood Tree. In nature, they are fragile and moldable. Boxwood trees are pruned into topiaries and perfectly square or artfully rounded hedges. Their wood is soft and often used to make chess pieces. There is a hint. Their feelings are fragile. They cry easily, and don’t cheer up as easily as positive Palm Trees. We can’t snap or pluck them out. We have to walk them through it by getting into the sad space.
Yes, I mean that.
I know how unacceptable this sounds to all the rational Rose Bushes and optimistic Palm Trees. Pine Trees would really prefer to avoid coming closer to the drama too, but happen to be really good listeners. Fellow Boxwood Moms would know how far simple understanding goes to switching off the overwhelming flow of emotions. Here’s a script that may be helpful:
“You’re so, so sad that we can’t see Nana, aren’t you? You miss her. She always gives such great hugs…”
Pause (for more crying which you don’t ever try to limit to a certain duration. Boxwoods need a good, long cry sometimes. It switches their rational brain back on once the tears are out!)
“I get it. It’s hard to wait for another day when you thought it was going to be today!” (Empathy shown for the terrible impact of last minute changes on the Boxwood’s equilibrium…)
“You can cry. And you can stay here until you feel better. Let me know when you’re ready, and we can call Nana, or you can make her something pretty.”
Listen (Because Boxwood Trees often use whining in a whimpering voice to wear us out. They should not be allowed to hone this talent. If they employ that voice, gently nudge them away from the technique.)
“You are now using a whiny voice and words to nag a little. I understand, but you’ll have to use your kind voice to tell me what you want to tell me. So I’m going to let you come find me when you’re ready to be calm and kind, okay?”
Leave with a smile that shows support.
What are your kids personalities?
There are a few principles that are true for every tree in the jungle: When crying is an expression of true sadness, we need never be cold. Crying is allowed; manipulation through crying is discouraged. There are days, and today was one, when I cry because I can’t go to Nana’s house. It may be another year before she can give me cookies or a hug, because she is an 18 hour flight away. My three kids let me cry a bit (my Boxwood heart thanks them!), and then come and remind me that I can WhatsApp call my sweet mom in South Africa tomorrow (and my Palm Tree kicks in and cheers up). Being a Rose Bush too (yes, you can be three trees in one!) I’ll flip my own “off switch” soon. I’m a big girl, sometimes.
To find out what type of personalities your kids have read Growing Kids with Character. In this book I provide a free assessment to identify your child’s personality type and give you the personalized advice you need to cultivate your child’s unique way of encountering, following, and worshipping God.