There we stood, toe-to-toe, arms crossed, eyes blazing. “You aren’t helping!” she yelled and turned away from me. I dropped to my knees on the floor of her room so she could look into my eyes.
“You’re right, and I’m sorry. I’d like to help you,” I said as gently as I could. She took one look at me and crumpled into my arms.
If you are a student of personality types, you’ll understand when I say that our entire family scores high on the Feelings scale. We are passionate people navigating emotional outbursts on a near-daily basis, usually from me (ISFJ) and one of our daughters (ESFJ).
Many years ago, I stumbled across a book at the library called Nurture By Nature, which introduces parents to the 16 different personality types. I knew I needed to own a copy when I read this quote on page 6:
Imagine a child made to feel lovable, capable, and worthy just exactly the way she is. Such a child would grow up confident, secure, honest, independent, and loving, because she would have been raised by parents who respected, accepted, accommodated, and celebrated her unique personality.
I was able to “type” our older daughter immediately. She is my “mini-me” with one major difference–that girl is as extroverted as I am introverted. From a young age, her first question to me each morning would be, “Are we going to see people today?” (As opposed to her little sister, whose first sentence–I kid you not–was, “I want to play alone.”)
From Nurture By Nature, p. 186:
[ESFJs] adore their families and are very connected to their parents. They are caring, sensitive children who are highly aware of and concerned about the opinions and feelings of others. They like to be included, reassured, and constantly reminded of how much they are liked and how much the people they care about are pleased by them.
Our girl is literally the kindest person I know. She is an exuberant includer–everyone is a (best) friend, even those she has just met. In fact, she reminds me of the character Joy from the movie Inside Out, to be completely honest. She is fun and affectionate and very sensitive to the feelings of others. Her tender heart hurts whenever she hears about somebody going through a hard time, and she is very hard on herself when something doesn’t come easily or work out the way she thought it might.
Every once in awhile, those sad, hurt feelings come out in a big, angry emotional outbursts. There might be yelling, stomping, and door-slamming. There will always be fiery eyes and a tear or two.
At that moment, I need to choose how I will respond to her outburst. I can either help her or I can alienate her by not taking her feelings seriously. For the longest time, I chose the second option. I didn’t understand that her struggle with a math problem was just a symptom of a deeper issue. I would minimize her frustration instead of listening, validating her feelings, and letting her know that she was not alone.
Over the past several months, we’ve been able to work through these emotional outbursts with three steps:
The anger is usually a mask for something else, but we reassure her that it’s okay to be angry as long as she is not hurting herself or someone else.
It’s okay to cry or get out the Wii boxing game. Sometimes adrenaline can be overwhelming for a little body.
We work through breathing exercises (smell the flower, blow out the candle is a favorite) until we feel calm again. At that point, the deeper feelings like hurt or fear usually come to the surface and we can talk through them. She is reassured of our love–no matter how she feels or what she does–and then we might talk through different ways of expressing our feelings in the future.
As I mentioned earlier, this precious daughter of mine is very similar to me. I am also prone to emotional outbursts when I don’t feel heard or understood. In our experience, the easiest way to avoid a meltdown is to prevent it–lots of quality one-on-one time and affection go a long way in our family. “I love you, Mom,” is a phrase that I hear often from my sweet girl. It’s usually a cue for me to drop whatever I’m doing in and pull her in for a long hug. She beams when I say, “I love you, too, sweetie.”
If you would like to learn more about parenting and personality types, I highly recommend these two books. (Reminder: Rolling Prairie Readers uses affiliate links at no additional cost to you. You can see our full disclosure policy here.)
In Nurture by Nature you’ll learn which of 16 distinctly different types best matches your child’s personality; how this personality type affects your child in each of the three stages of development – preschool, school age, and adolescence; and how you can adapt your parenting style to your child’s type – and get better results when communicating, supporting, motivating, and disciplining.
An antidote to our stressed-out mother culture, MotherStyles validates the notion that good mothering comes in many styles and explains how understanding how you most often react to your child and why is the most important step toward working through areas that have long given you trouble.