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Parent & Child
Parenting with Style: Why You Might Clash with Your Child
By Caron B. Goode 
Mar 28, 2006, 20:41

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Every morning, six-year-old Josh and his mom clash. A daydreamer by nature, Josh moves through life at a slower pace than his task-oriented mom. This is most evident in the morning when meandering Josh and his highly organized mother are trying to get out the door. This daily struggle highlights their obviously different personal styles.

Personal style is a natural predisposition toward time, stress, people, tasks, and situations. It is also the foundation on which preferences, reactions, and life values are built. When parents understand their child s personal style, communication and interaction become easier and more effective. This can be instrumental in helping parents achieve the behavioral results they want, and the harmony they desire.

What is Your Child's Personal Style?

According to Terry Anderson, Ph.D., Canada Research Chair in Distance Education at Athabasca University, there are four personal style categories: behavioral, cognitive, interpersonal, and affective. There are bits and pieces of each personal style in all of us, but individuals typically exhibit one that is dominant.


Behavioral-style children need freedom and self-expression. They are often bold, willful, productive, competitive, unemotional, and self-reliant. These children rarely talk about their problems or emotions. Instead they set goals, and take action. They like to be leaders, and enjoy being recognized for their achievements. Behavioral-style children are independent learners, and prefer real-life examples rather than abstract thinking or discussion. They enjoy structure, dislike control, and will question authority if their parents appear incongruent.

Parenting Behavioral-Style Children

Parents of behavioral-style children should engage a no-blame, non-emotional approach to communication. Since these children are typically unemotional, demonstrative parents shouldn t take it personally if their child doesn t respond in kind. These children appreciate fairness, logic, honesty, and directness. When assigning tasks to your behavioral-style child, set the structure, but do not stand over or try to direct his or her activities. You should give your child the task, state the benefit or reward, and ask when and how it will be completed.


Cognitive-style children need affirmation and understanding. They are deep thinkers who like to thoroughly examine issues. They value intimacy, respect, and good relationships. Cognitive-style children take instruction well, and admire expertise and knowledge. They are organized, enjoy working with data, and can be perfectionists. Because their talents often lie in numbers and mathematics, they may spend hours at their computers.

Parenting Cognitive-Style Children

Showing a cognitive-style child appreciation and respect goes a long way towards developing a good relationship. When assigning these children a task, remember cognitive children are not competitive and might not respond to rewards or games. Instead, lay out the activity and provide the time and freedom necessary to complete it. If the task goes unfinished, do not argue with the child or make generalities. Cognitive-style children respond best to calmly stated facts such as, "You didn't clean your room today," as opposed to, "You never clean your room." In addition to calmly stating the facts, parents should offer only constructive suggestions, not criticism. As perfectionists, these children criticize themselves enough without any help.

Interpersonal-style children need appreciation and trust. They are highly perceptive, and require honesty in communication and relationships. These children are the family peacemakers. They worry if there are arguments or illnesses, and feel disharmony deeply, often internalizing it. Interpersonal-style children are sometimes shy, and value secure relationships and stable environments. Therefore, they do not fare well with transitions unless they are prepared beforehand.

Parenting Interpersonal-Style Children

Interpersonal-style children respond well to friendly non-threatening communication. They listen well and are observant. Therefore, modeling behavior for them is key. As peacemakers, they willingly join forces with parents to solve problems. When assigning tasks, interpersonal-style children prefer graduated stages of difficulty so they can easily mark their success. If the hardest problem is presented first, these children often feel overwhelmed and don t complete the tasks at hand. If parents show their appreciation for these children, they feel great about themselves.


Affective-style children are highly creative and artistic. As adults, they are often called visionaries or dreamers. They learn by doing, and need to feel through things before making decisions. They easily live in the world of ideas, and are drawn to expressive outlets like writing or organizing games around friends. They enjoy variety, like being the center of attention, and crave acknowledgement for their creativity. They also value their friendships and easily enjoy life.

Parenting Affective-Style Children

Affective-style children respond to affection, conversation, and personal attention. Allow them to be creative, and encourage them to participate in drama, group activities, and peer counseling. They are also excellent at fund raising, and rise to challenges when they are presented with excitement and fun. Be sure to offer them structure, as well as positive and enthusiastic discipline. And, good luck asking these kids to take out the garbage!

Dr. Caron B. Goode is the founder of the Academy for Coaching Parents International, a training and certification program for parent coaches. In addition to duties with the academy, Goode is the founding editor of the website, and the author of eleven books, the most recent of which is Help Kids Cope with Stress & Trauma, which includes several chapters on he use of storytelling strategies. For more information on The Academy for Coaching Parents International or to sign up for academy announcements, visit

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