Thursday, April 11, 2013

Lecture Review: Working with Temperament, Debbie Weinstock-Savoy, Ph.D.

You're watching HGTV, and they're doing a backyard show.  A beaver, monkey, dolphin, and owl are standing on an empty lot discussing landscaping ideas.

Dolphin: This will be great!  We can have a gazebo, the neighbors can come over, maybe we can do a color theme for the flowers, focus on blues and purples....

Beaver: You'll need to plan the flowering plants so you have blooms in each season, and we should probably check the soil types before you consider planting anything, I'll make a list and draw up some diagrams...

Monkey: This is awesome, I can't wait to get started!  I'm going to go check out the gardening store, look at the plants, maybe pick out a couple to start with!  And I'll try out some of the furniture while I'm over there!

Owl: Are there any charts around here that show which plants grow the best in New England conditions?  What's the overall idea here, are you trying to have an outdoor dining space or a garden area or what?  

Ok, so maybe this is unrealistic, being that owls are nocturnal and the rest of these animals don't share a natural habitat.  What I'm really talking about is temperament.

Will sat quietly in his booster seat and made cards and crafted for over half an hour... Beaver?

One of the benefits of the local mother's group I'm part of is a great lecture series on parenting topics, the most recent of which was Debbie Weinstock-Savoy speaking about children's temperaments and how understanding our children's predispositions can help us as parents.

The lecture took the popular Myers Brigg's personality test, which identifies people's natural tendencies in four different areas, and created four groupings that can help us understand how people learn and interact.

You can read about Myer's Briggs at

If you're familiar with Myers Briggs, here's a brief review of the four identifiers:

At the end of a long day, how do you get your energy back? 
Introvert (re-energizes by being alone) vs. Extrovert (re-energizes by being around people)

How do you prefer receiving information?
Sensing (hands on, detail oriented) or Intuiting (observation, big picture, ideas and theories)

How do you make decisions?
Thinking (the facts, objective) or Feeling (relationships, how a decision affects people around you)

Do you prefer schedules and structure or new experiences and spontaneity?
Judging (structure and closure) or Perceiving (new experiences, spontaneous)

The four categories Debbie Weinstock-Savoy discussed:

Based on David Kiersey's categories, Dr. Savoy talked about four personality categories.

Two types of "sensors" who prefer things hands on and are detail oriented rather than abstract or big picture:

Beaver (SJ): The beaver is a detail oriented, sensory learner who prefers structure and closure over new experiences and spontaneity.  They make lists, they focus on tasks, they don't like it when people break the rules, they like plans.  They're so driven to accomplish things that they may need to make it a specific point to have fun.  (This is the Kiersey "Guardian")

Monkey (SP): The monkey is a hands on, sensory learner who loves new experiences and spontaneity and fun.  They're high energy, they love things to be new and exciting, and they are not necessarily well served by a classroom environment.  They'd rather do than memorize, and they can get bored without enough variety and excitement. They'd rather jump into a project and start playing around with materials than sit and plan.  Their work better be fun, or they're not doing it.  (This is the Kiersey "Artisan")

Two types of "Intuiters" who are big picture thinkers who learn from observations and ideas:

Dolphin (NF):  Creative, big picture thinkers who make decisions based on relationships and the impact something will have on those around them.  Relationships are really important to them, they're often idealistic and thinking about the potential of any situation, and they're naturally empathetic. (This is the Kiersey "Idealist")

Owl (NT): Observant, big picture thinkers who make decisions based on objective facts rather than relationships.  They're independent minded, love ideas and a good debate, sometimes have trouble relating to people because they prioritize facts over relationships and can be irritated by people who don't understand their point of view. (This is the Kiersey "Rational")

My experience:

Having taken the Myers Briggs test, I know that I'm halfway between a Beaver and an Owl (I test borderline in the receipt of information category, being halfway between preferring details and preferring patterns and ideas, with a slight preference into the Owl or big picture category). 

Looking at the strengths and vulnerabilities of those personalities makes me laugh, because they're right on with my own experiences.  I get nervous and upset when rules are broken.  I like structure and plans, and am not great at being spontaneous.  I love feeling productive and am task oriented and focused.  All Beaver qualities.  I make decisions based on objective facts like an Owl - even in raising my own children, I love to have research backed information based on a firm foundation of childhood psychology before I go ahead with my gut instinct anyway.  When we were looking for a family car for me to drive, I read consumer report after consumer report, made a decision, and was irritated when Greg wanted me to test drive something else, because darn it, I had the facts and I'd already made my decision.  This might sound insane to you, unless you're also an Owl, but it's very true to my personality type.

How I find this most helpful:

Even if you haven't taken the Myers Briggs, if you do some reading about temperament and personality types, you probably have some good guesses about how you or your child likes to learn and how you make your decisions.  Looking at these "types" is a great way to do some self-reflection about your own strengths and weaknesses, and how you can work with those to better interact with the world. 

As a Beaver/Owl combination, I tend to stick to the rules, be very objective and fact oriented, and make decisions based on truth or research.  This meant that when I was an RA in college, I was a great resource for my students when it came to details like scheduling, navigating the campus, and learning about University resources.  It also meant that for every rule violation, I looked up the policy and implemented it rather than thinking about relationships and what would best benefit my residents and our relationship.  My Owl side thought that teaching high school history would be fun, because I love nothing more than sitting around discussing ideas and talking about history.  Too bad that's not what teaching is about... maybe I should leave it to the Dolphins!

I know I need plans and get upset when plans change, that's helpful for me to know and for my family to know.  I know that I tend to make decisions based on objective facts rather than always thinking of how those decisions affect people, that's a good thing for me to be aware of so I can compensate for it.  I know that I will fold laundry and clean closets until I'm blue in the face unless I make myself stop and sit down for some "me" time.

Looking at personality types can be a fun conversation to have with your spouse, so you can have a good laugh about how when you decide to landscape the yard, you have all these ideas and a big vision of how it'll look, while they're entirely focused on soil types and exactly what needs to happen to get it done. 

As a friend:

One of my best friends growing up is a CLASSIC monkey, I mean, so stereotypical Monkey that it makes me laugh thinking about it.  I loved spending time with her, she always had the best ideas for how to have fun.  We would make pancakes with weird ingredients, have awesome adventures, make the coolest crafts I never would have thought of, she was fantastic.  She was always up for a good time and was somehow so much more fun than I was that I was always kind of amazed she was willing to hang out with me. 

That being said, we could NOT work on school projects together - I needed to have a plan, she wanted to dive right in.  I wanted to know exactly what our purpose was and the end result would look like before we started, she thought that was impossible because the process is the most important part of learning and if you know the end result before you start, you're not learning because you learn from doing it.  Owl vs. Monkey... not great compatibility on a school project!  But boy was she the best friend a girl could have.

As a parent:

It's way too early to tell with Andrew (14 months old) but I am wondering if Will might be a beaver.  He's very focused, very hands on (of course he's a toddler, and most of them want to hold and touch whatever you've got), and will sit for ages and work on crafts.  He definitely likes his routines and to know what's happening, I try to tell him every day when he comes down for breakfast what our plans are and what we're doing.

I think it's always good to be thinking about your child's preferences, whether or not it's within this framework, and trying to make things easier for them.  You don't have to do a Myers Briggs test for your five year old to know that they love hands on stuff and are super energetic and wish they could play outside all day (monkey?).  Or maybe they're incredibly imaginative, make up lots of stories, and are very sensitive to whether their teacher likes them and how many friends they have (dolphin?).  You know your kid - this is just a great way to get the conversations started, and help us think about what comes naturally or hard to us and our kids and how we can better compensate for it.

Some parenting examples Dr. Savoy gave during the lecture:

A mother of a dolphin altered their bedtime routine to include coming up with a dream that the mother and daughter would meet in while they were asleep.  This appealed greatly to the dolphin's very creative and imaginative side, as well as their emphasis on relationships.

An extroverted mother of an introvert got a notebook that her daughter could write in when she wanted to tell her mother something, and the mother would write back, so that the daughter had the processing time and alone time an introvert needs but could still communicate with and have a great relationship with her mother.

Parents of monkeys may want to think about how they can provide plenty of time for exuberant play in outdoor spaces or places where there are lots of fun materials to play with.  Turn work into play, make things fun, mix things up a lot.

If you have an owl child who is an independent thinker and doesn't do something unless they understand the reason for it, explain why sometimes going with the flow will benefit them - one parent had a child who was frustrated that their teacher wanted them to use punctuation when CLEARLY the ideas in the paper were the important part and all that should be graded.  (This sounds like me freshman year when I decided which homework assignments I thought were worth doing and only did those.)  The parents explained that since it was clearly too important to the teacher, maybe it'd be better to use the punctuation so that the teacher could focus on these important ideas the child had.

If you have a beaver child, give them a heads up of what you're planning for the day and if you think there's a chance plans might change, maybe let them know that, too.  "We're going to the park this afternoon to meet with your friends, but if it rains, we might have to go to the library instead."

Some resources Dr. Savoy suggested:

Raising Your Spirited Child by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka

Nurture by Nature: Understand Your Child's Personality Type and Become A Better Parent by Paul Tieger & Barbara Barron-Tieger

It looks as though Dr. Savoy is in the process of building her own website at

She is part of the Massachusetts School of Professional Psychology:

Probably a beaver.

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