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Understanding Children's Behavioral Styles

Written by  Peggy Jenkins

Children who make statements like these are usually encountering behavior styles that are different from theirs, and hence puzzling to them. Much joy is blocked when children don’t understand why people behave as they do.

“What a show-off! Why is she always the center of attention?” 
“He’s so laid back! Why can’t he make up his mind?”
“Why does she have to ask so many questions?”
“He’s always trying to control me! Why can’t he let me do things my way?”

Children who make statements like these are usually encountering behavior styles that are different from theirs, and hence puzzling to them. Much joy is blocked when children don’t understand why people behave as they do. Even more joy is blocked, when the adults in their life don’t understand or appreciate children’s behavior and learning styles.

The Greek physician Hippocrates was among the first to identify four basic temperaments. German author and lecturer Rudolph Steiner has added much to the literature of human temperament, as has Swiss psychologist Carl Jung, with his theory of psychological types––and the research continues. In January 1987, The New York Times reported a long-term study at the University of Minnesota on 350 pairs of twins. It concluded that the genetic makeup of a child is a stronger influence on personality than environment. It pointed to the importance of treating each child according to his temperament, instead of trying to treat them all the same.

It seems that we come into this world with a basic temperament or behavior style––a characteristic and habitual manner of thinking, behaving, and reacting. Our behavior style reflects an inner need or drive to express ourselves in a certain way. Our temperament or style proves ultimately to be exactly right for our life purpose––our path of service and the lessons we must learn.

The more teachers and parents know about a child’s behavior style, which is innate and need-driven, the more they’ll be able to validate the child, thus building self-esteem and releasing joy. If “Why can’t s/he be more like me?” is the unspoken plea, the child will feel the rejection behind it. With a “style” that aims to please, the child may deny the natural birth temperament, which is a strength in favor of emulating others. In essence, a mask will be used, hiding the natural style and, thus, joy.

It gives children great joy to learn there are basic behavior styles, each with its strengths and weaknesses, and that a weakness is only an overextension of a strength. Children discover they have strengths – often for the first time in their life. Their new feeling of self-worth is unmistakable...a joy to see. They come to realize the futility of trying to copy a popular child, whose natural behavior style is the opposite of theirs. With great self-acceptance they are able to direct energy into more positive channels.

Let’s look at examples of these four very different types of children––D, I, S, C children. The letters stand for Dominant, Influencing, Supportive, and Conscientious, words which help identify the four basic behavior styles, as described by some of today’s behavioral scientists. You may be familiar with the terms used by Hippocrates – choleric (Dominant), sanguine (Influencing), phlegmatic (Supportive), melancholic (Conscientious).

The ideal four-person team or committee will have one of each style. The D will generate ideas, the I will promote them, the S will follow through, and the C will watch the details and make sure everything is done right.

Keep in mind that temperament has nothing to do with character or morals. A person does certain things or reacts in certain ways, according to temperament, irrespective of upbringing, education, standards, or knowledge. Also, usually one or two temperaments predominate in each person.

D - Direct Others Children
Let’s meet Danny and Dora Dominator. These are the “bold ones.” They test the limits and appear fearless. They like action and challenge. They have a short attention span for fine motor activities. Running, jumping, climbing and action toys are more to their liking. These children are natural directors and tend to dominate the group, because of their leadership ability. They feel they have to lead because only they understand what is required and have the energy and insight. They are full of inner and outer activity, boisterous and impatient. As soon as they have thought of a plan, they want to put it into action, without allowing time for second thoughts.

Although good organizers, they have no patience for detail. They initiate things, but then get others to do the work. They feel they can do ten things at once. Basically “loners,” they dislike doing things by committee. Their “loner” status is often reinforced by rejection from children who are overwhelmed by their aggressive, risk-taking behavior. Without good communication and support from adults to help modify their behavior, D children become more and more alienated from a system where 80% of the others they meet are unlike them.

I - Influence Others Children
Ivan and Irene Influencer can be recognized by their talkativeness and need for attention and approval. They give all sorts of information, but their knowledge may be superficial or incorrect.

The I temperament is people-oriented and seldom does anything without others. Irene’s solitary hours are spent having her dolls talk to one another and relate as people. Talking is very important to I children, and families that don’t have regular periods of talking may lose them to outside groups.

These children thrive on hugs, praise, and eye contact. They’ll work for good grades to impress the teacher, or get average ones because they’re too busy socializing to study. They have a short attention span and flit from one activity to another––interested in whatever is new. They promise anything and then forget it immediately. They are imaginative and have a lot of ideas that come and go. They notice everything and remember nothing.

As “act now-think later” children, their emotions are a combination of highs and lows. With their extreme optimism and enthusiasm about what people can or will do, they can easily be hurt. I children need help to set personal priorities and goals so their time is not taken up by trivialities or others. They need much help in learning how to organize and follow through. They’re without habits, living in the moment and adapting to the immediate situation. These children like to give pleasure and so will do things as personal favors. They respond to love, not bullying.

S - Support to Others Children
Sam and Sally Supporter are steady, reliable and amiable. They are naturally calm and quiet. They are kind, thoughtful, and concerned about others. A natural reserve holds them back, but they are well-liked because they are easy to get along with and willing to accommodate others.

These steady S children are creatures of habit. Security and routine are important to them: they want regulated hours and meals at set times. When there’s to be a major change, they need to know about it far enough in advance to get mentally prepared. They fear change and strive to keep things as they are.

Sally and Sam learn slowly, but remember everything. They don’t react quickly or give spontaneous answers, but the decisions they make are sensible. They are “think before they act” children, which is why adults find them so easy to live with. They stick to a task until it is done and are remarkably consistent.

S children may need to be pushed and ordered and, although they may grumble, they will obey. The challenge for adults working is not to take advantage of them. They need to be encouraged to stand up for their rights. Also, they need to learn to cope with anger or rejection from others when they say “no.”

C - Conscientious Children
Carol and Chuck Conscientious are logical and analytical thinkers. They are able to judge the importance of things, and like to be given reasons for doing things. They are serious and want to produce quality work. This style is driven by its value system.

These children are perfectionists and don’t do anything without a good chance of success. Even though they are the most gifted, they have a poor self-image and entertain feelings of failure and incompetence. They set high goals for themselves, and when these are not reached, they can get depressed. Because of their sensitive, artistic nature, it is easy for them to have their feelings hurt. They need an abundance of success.

This temperament tends to see the sad side of life. Those who attempt to jolly them may be looked upon as frivolous. When their sympathies are aroused, C children will be most helpful and self-sacrificing. They identify with the suffering of other people. These children have the potential to be geniuses, but need much help and understanding, so that they do not grow up to be pessimistic and self-pitying. The joy of the Spirit needs especially to be released in them.

C’s are apt to ask searching questions: “Why can’t we see God?” “Why did Grandpa have to die?” They have a great need to find out.

Reminders
Most of us have a unique combination of the four behaviour types, with one or two styles predominating. A behavior style classification means only that we tend to use that behavior a lot. It is not who we are. We are never our behavior or our actions. When we use the D I S C styles, we are labeling behavior only––not people. We use labels to describe people, because we don’t understand the different temperaments. When we gain that understanding, we tend not to label people anymore.

A Look at Five Areas
Area I. BASIC GOAL: Conscious or unconscious, the goal of the child’s behavior patterns is to reach the place where the child feels “right with the world.”
Four examples:

• D Dora and Danny Dominator want to take charge –to control a situation, to face a new challenge. They are risk-takers, willing to try, even if it means failing. These children are not concerned about being ridiculed. They dare to be different.

• I Ivan and Irene Influencer seek approval and popularity. Homework and household tasks wait, while they do extracurricular activities for contacts and visibility. In competitive activities, they are good winners and good losers.

• S Sam and Sally Supporter need to help others and wish to maintain the familiar status quo, even though it may be detrimental.

• C Carole and Chuck Conscientious strive to be correct, to avoid mistakes, particularly those that might antagonize others. These children like things in their proper places and set high standards for themselves.

Area II. INFLUENCE: Each temperament makes use of its particular strengths to influence others.

• D Rely on themselves to find answers. When Danny challenges his coach’s decision, other children become aware of adult fallibility and begin to think for themselves. Dora dares to try a new hairstyle first.


• I Influence others by praise and favors. “I wish I could draw as well as you.” “I will help you rake the lawn, so we can go swimming.”

• S Influence others by their consistency of performance and their willingness to be accommodating--an ability to stick to a task and adapt themselves to a diverse group of people.

• C Influence others by their store of logical information and factual arguments. Their friends come to them when they need answers or explanations.

Area III. UNIQUE CONTRIBUTION TO THE GROUP: Those who have a clear idea of their abilities are better able to develop their sense of role and worth within the group.

• D They avoid passing the buck and get other children off the hook. They seek new and innovative methods of problem solving.

• I Valuable to the group because of their gift for relieving tension. They do this by sharing how they are feeling and by volunteering. They are the promoters of other children’s skills.

• S Easy to be around, they maintain a steady pace that gets the work accomplished. Their value to the group lies in bringing cohesiveness to the group.

• C They obtain needed information, but also define, clarify, analyze, and test it out. They work well on planning committees and with quality control.

Area IV. OVERUSED BEHAVIOR: The strengths of a behavioral pattern, when overused, become
weaknesses. Adults can help children use their strengths appropriately.

• D Self-confident, these children tend to think their way is best. They can boss others around to get their own way.

• I These children need help in giving praise that is deserved – not just saying what they think the other person wants to hear.

• S Modesty and over-conservatism tend to be overused. They become stuck in the familiar and need to be pushed to try something new.

• C A tendency to over-concentrate on doing the “right” thing. They can become wet blankets because of this, by being too conscientious.

Area V. HOW TO INCREASE EFFECTIVENESS: Offer suggestions to help the child strengthen weaker areas and use stronger ones more productively.

• D Individualists who must live in an interdependent world. They can become more effective by learning patience and empathy through participation with others. Participation is easier for them if they are given the most challenging task in the group.

• I Need to learn to manage their time and balance emotions. Plus, develop a sense of urgency and learn the consequences of dallying. Their tendency to see everything as either fantastic or terrible could be offset by learning to be more objective.

• S These children are more effective and happier when they receive sincere appreciation and learn to make sure they are not taken for granted. They need to develop shortcuts, instead of sticking to steps that are no longer necessary. Taking more risks would be appropriate for them.

• C Need to gain confidence in themselves and appreciation of others. They must learn to cope with conflict and stick up for their rights. Also, they can learn to be more flexible and willing to move ahead without every detail in place.

Learning Styles and Stress
A wonderful way to help children discover their joy is to offer them instructions and activities that are compatible with their learning style.

Behavior styles can easily be translated into learning styles. The challenge of the adult is to create an atmosphere that will meet the needs of the child’s temperament. Then the child will be self-motivated.

If comfort motivates the S children, recognition the I children, authority the D children, and “getting it right” the C children, we clearly need different buttons for different kids.

When adults do not take into consideration a child’s learning style, they may encounter style-related stress.* This stressing is most severe when the child has two conflicting styles, such as D/C or I/C or S/D. Remember, we’re not just one style. Environmental stressing occurs when the demands of the environment are mismatched to the behavior style of the child. What is a comfortable experience to one child may be most stressful to another. Such stress drains away children’s energy and blocks the joy of achieving their potential.

*Butler, Kathleen A. “Stressing Style.” In Challenge: Reaching and Teaching the Gifted Child. (Carthage, IL: Good Apple, 1984.)

The above excerpt is taken from The Joyful Child: A Sourcebook of Activities for Releasing Children’s Natural Joy by PEGGY JENKINS, PH.D.

PEGGY JOY JENKINS is author of parent/teacher education books and Founder of Joyful Child, Inc., a non-profit educational service organization. As an educator, she has presented corporate and church seminars as well as general public workshops. To find out more about Peggy’s books, seminars and The Joyful Child Facilitator Training, visit www.joy4u.org - email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. . 928-282-1311 - PO Box 3808, Sedona AZ 86340.

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