How to Help Kids Deal with Difficult People

How to Help Kids Deal with Difficult People

One of the things I love about homeschooling is the opportunity to teach my kids things they wouldn’t learn in a traditional school. For example, I’ve done a podcast episode on how to teach kids to respond to others who are hurting or grieving. Today, I’m going to address how to help kids deal with difficult people.

My background in dealing with difficult people

I not only have professional experience in this area as a psychologist but also loads of personal experience. I haven’t enjoyed it at all, but I’m thankful that I can empathize with and counsel those who struggle to deal righteously with difficult people.

My talk on this topic at retreats has gotten excellent reviews. I do want to write a book on the subject when the Lord gives me a green light to do so. I have a different perspective on this topic than many Christian teachers do that comes from Scripture. In fact, I believe the traditional teaching on dealing with difficult people has caused considerable, unnecessary suffering.

Of course, I can’t tell you what to do in a particular relationship because I don’t know you or the situation. Even if I did, the fact is that people are unpredictable. And we simply don’t know what God has planned for your child and their difficult person. But I can share some biblical principles that I believe will serve your children well.

How do you define difficult person?

Before I share the principles, let’s discuss what it means to be a difficult person. We have all been difficult people by this definition. A difficult person is someone who repeatedly gets in the way of you achieving your goals. Let’s say your teen works at a restaurant and would like to move into a better-paying position. A difficult employee or even a frequent customer can get in the way of that goal by complaining about your teen or trying to one-up your teen.

A difficult person may be well-intentioned. She may not have any idea she is driving you crazy. In fact, this person may end up being a blessing at a later time. But a difficult person may also suffer from a mental illness or spiritual state that causes troubling behavior. In some cases, a difficult person poses a serious threat to others. God can also change this type of difficult person, but the way we approach them is different.

Principle #1 Get away from an abusive person if possible

That leads me to principle #1 for dealing with difficult people. If you can get away from an abusive person, do so. This notion runs counter to popular Christian advice. We are often told that we are to restore the relationship with such people if we are forgiving Christians. Yes, we are to turn the other cheek, but we don’t have to get close enough to let them have another slapfest at our expense.

In 1 Samuel, we read about David running from murderous, jealous Saul. In a scene where David doesn’t return evil for evil by sparing Saul’s life, Saul apologizes. David doesn’t hug him and return with him to “restore the relationship.” He travels far from him for his own safety. Yet David never stops caring about Saul and hoping he will obey the Lord. Jesus too avoids people who mean to do Him harm before His time. Like David, He never stopped loving those who persecuted him.

If you know someone is a threat to your mental or physical health, trust your gut. In David’s case, his friend Jonathan (Saul’s son) did not believe that his father would try to kill David. Only when his father tried to kill him too did he believe.

We all want to believe the best about people. So if you are dealing with someone who is abusive and dangerous, others may poo-poo your concerns. They may tell you that you need to forgive the person by restoring the relationship or meeting with them to talk things out. You don’t have to do that. In fact, in many cases, you are extending a kindness to someone by avoiding them. Saul was insanely jealous of David. Having David around made it worse. His absence allowed Saul to focus on the battles he was supposed to be fighting.

We want our kids to know that if they’re ever afraid of a difficult person and don’t know what to do, they should seek counsel. They should never agree to meet with an angry, controlling person alone. A college student from my neighborhood agreed to meet with her difficult ex-boyfriend by herself. He murdered her. We want our kids to understand that violence is unpredictable, but a history of verbal or physical abuse is a warning sign. They must pray for wisdom and protection.

Proverbs 22:24 says, “Do not associate with a man given to anger or go with a hot-tempered man.”

Principle #2: Don’t believe who a difficult person says you are

A healthy individual will talk to you about something you said or did that was a problem. You’ll be allowed to respond, explain, apologize, and commit to changing in the future if the situation requires it. A healthy person will forgive and/or apologize for their part in the problem. The incident, if it is not serious, will be forgotten.

But individuals who are psychopathic or narcissistic like to use your behavior to define your image and worth. You are what you do, and the worst possible assumption is made about why you behave the way you do. Your child may be labeled by this type of difficult person and told that many others agree with the label.

Saul labeled David a traitor who needed to be killed. This label was given, despite the fact that David had been loyal and obedient to a tee.

Obviously this type of behavior from a difficult person goes hand in hand with abuse. But sometimes we don’t recognize it as abusive. This is because what a difficult person says taps into an insecurity we have.

Some difficult people may engage in what’s called gaslighting. Gaslighting may cause your child to question her identity and her understanding of reality. A gaslighting friend of your teen’s may consistently say that your child isn’t friendly and that other people think she’s stuck-up, for example. Because your child does battle shyness at times, it’s easy to accept the difficult person’s assessment.

What’s interesting is that these difficult people intentionally target the most conscientious people with their gaslighting. They know you will question yourself because you don’t want to treat others poorly. They know they can cripple you with guilt, unlike more confident people who would tell the difficult person to get lost.

The way out of the mess for our kids is for them to recognize that only God gets to tell them who they are. While in the flesh they are a sinner guilty of much worse than what they’re being accused of, in Christ they are righteous. Have them read and reflect on Scriptures that remind them that they are chosen, redeemed, and holy in the Lord’s eyes.

Then have them take the advice of pastor Michael Wells. Have them tell the difficult person that if they are as bad as he says, he would do well to stay far from them.

1 Corinthians 6:11 says, “Some of you were once like that. But you were cleansed; you were made holy; you were made right with God by calling on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

Principle #3: Expect God to use the difficult person in your life for good

God had blessed David with many gifts. He was attractive, a superior warrior, a great writer, and even a skilled musician. Saul’s persecution humbled David and forced him to depend on God.

When our kids have to deal with difficult people, they will also grow in humility and faith. They will learn to choose supportive relationships and to establish healthy boundaries.

Rather than considering how we might retaliate or defend ourselves, we must ask how God is at work through our difficult person. When King David was on the run from his traitorous son, a man mocked him. David stopped his servant from harming the man, saying that God Himself may have been using the man’s words for good. When our children believe that God uses even difficult people for our good, they are truly free. They do not have to live in fear. Instead, they can ask God what lesson He is teaching them.

In some cases, God may call us to return kindness for evil to heap burning coals on our difficult person’s head. This is what David did for Saul in sparing his life.

Whether the Lord’s directive is for us to love or to leave a difficult person or both, we are always called to pray for difficult people. King Saul did not repent before he died. But there was another Saul in the Bible. The believers ran from him and rightly so be cause he sought to imprison them. He also approved of their execution.

But God changed that difficult person into the greatest evangelist the world has known. Saul, later known as Paul, authored most of the New Testament and established the Christian church throughout the Roman world.

The miraculous change in Paul’s life is not work that God has ceased doing. He is still in the business of transforming people through the Holy Spirit and faith in Jesus Christ.

Romans 8:28 says, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”


If our children know three basic principles for dealing with difficult people, they will do well. First, they should avoid abusive people, if possible, and never meet alone with them. Second, they should build their identity on who God says they are in Christ, not on what difficult people say. And finally, they should know that God is using the difficult person in their lives for good. They must pray for difficult people as God directs.

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How Understanding Personality Can Change Your Homeschool

How Understanding Personality Can Change Your Homeschool

I used to think my husband and kids were trying to drive me crazy. That’s before I understood personalities. You would think as a psychologist that I would know better, but I didn’t. Understanding basic concepts of personality can transform your homeschool and your other relationships, too.

Personality Typologies

There are a number of typologies that are popular now. You’ve likely heard of the Myers-Briggs, the Enneagram, or the DiSC. We can learn a lot about ourselves and the people we love with any of these typologies, but I don’t use them for simplicity’s sake. I can never remember what the acronyms and the numbers mean. If you’re a fan of the first two typologies, I can tell you that I’m an ENFP and a 7. I haven’t taken the DiSC.

Instead, I use an ancient typology made popular by Florence Littauer. The Eysenck Personality Inventory measures these types. You may have heard them described as animals by author Gary Smalley. There are four personality types that are easy to remember. There is the Sanguine (or the otter), the Choleric (or the lion), the Melancholy (or the beaver), and the Phlegmatic (or the golden retriever).

Simply knowing how social a personality is and its associated traits will not change your life. What changed mine is understanding what each personality wants most. So let’s start there.

The Sanguine

The Sanguine personality or the otter (my primary type) wants to have fun. If life isn’t fun, the Sanguine will quit. The brand new curriculum was fun at first, but now it’s boring. She doesn’t want to do it and will likely “forget” to do it.

Fun is also social. Being sent to her room to clean isn’t fun. Cleaning with someone and being able to show off all the accummulated treasures is. Fun means talking. Sitting quietly to work is tolerable only for short periods. The Sanguine wants to discuss, dramatize, and experience the learning. You may want the Sanguine to be content to stay home and do their schoolwork, but this socialite will never be happy with that. Relationships recharge them, and they’re unlikely to be content without friends.

Fun is redecorating your room, not maintaining organization by hanging clothes up every day. Fun is setting up a new planner, not checking off your work day after day after day. You can try to shame a Sanguine into being serious, but it won’t work for long. In fact, Sanguines will avoid anyone who criticizes them, spending the majority of their time with those who sing their praises and make them laugh. Sanguines may change their ways to become more organized and disciplined, but it will likely be because they are earning people’s approval by doing so.

Because fun is what a Sanguine wants, you will have to work to deliver it. Introduce humor into the lessons. Change things up regularly, avoid traditional textbooks, and sign your student up for activities. Help your child clean, praise your child for progress, and avoid criticism.

The Choleric

The Choleric personality or the lion (my secondary type) wants control. If life isn’t under his control, he will be angry and rebel. Sometimes control means a desire to control others, but it always means a desire for self-control.

Control means achievement, but only in ways it matters most. The Choleric has control when he gets good grades but doesn’t waste time doing things that he thinks are unnecessary. Control means deciding when to do school and chores. It doesn’t mean following a schedule to the minute, especially when he gets older. Control also means deciding when to go to sleep. A Choleric will listen to your arguments about getting enough sleep and will make his own decision on bedtime based on his goals. If it’s important that he not be tired the next day, he may go to bed even earlier than you recommend.

The Choleric would like to teach more than be taught. He is social and wants to be respected for his contribution rather than being the subject of the empty praise that pleases the Sanguine. Winning a competition, making money, or achieving a rank is evidence of contribution.

Control for the Choleric means reading the books he wants to read, exploring philosophies outside of what he’s been taught, and asking people in authority challenging questions. He will not respect you if you aren’t ambitious and self-controlled as he is.

To homeschool a Choleric, you will have to choose your battles and then fight to win. A Choleric who can talk you out of anything will try to talk you out of everything, just to see if he can. Give your Choleric student control over curriculum and schedule within boundaries you set. Hand him this control; don’t wait for him to demand it.

Because it can be draining to deal with a Choleric’s desire for control, be conscious about communicating your love and respect for him. Make it clear that your love is not conditional on his agreeing with you. Affirm his strong will as a gift from God that can be used for His purposes.

The Melancholy

The Melancholy or beaver personality wants perfection in herself and her environment. Without that perfection, the Melancholy may become depressed. Perfection means getting all the answers correct, arriving on time, and putting things in their place.

Many Melancholies are musical and will embrace the practice-makes-perfect philosophy. They are sensitive to jokes at their expense, but feel free to criticize Sanguines who do not embrace their desire for perfection.

The Melancholy, unlike the Sanguine and Choleric, is an introvert. She wants quality time with immediate family and a close friend or two. But she would prefer to avoid large groups and gatherings as they drain her. Solitary pursuits recharge her.

To homeschool a Melancholy, provide opportunities for completion, if not perfection. This student wants to finish the whole book. Allowing these students to go back and correct mistakes to earn 100% will please them.

Give your Melancholy student a sense of order. Leave earlier for appointments, devote a short time to cleaning up after projects, and give this student the chance to organize her room, your school space, and other parts of your home. But teach her to praise others for progress made instead of criticizing them.

Protect your Melancholy’s quiet time. Keep social requirements to a minimum. A small space of her own where belongings are undisturbed will also help improve her mood.

The Phlegmatic

Finally, the Phlegmatic or golden retriever personality wants peace. He will work the hardest to avoid conflict. He does not want to argue with you, and he avoids making decisions for fear you’ll be unhappy with his choice. He is easygoing, likable, and unlikely to openly defy you. He is more likely to be passive aggressive and will claim to have forgotten what you asked him to do. Phlegmatics can be successful, but are attracted to easy work and careers that afford them lots of free time.

Like the Choleric, the Phlegmatic wants respect but in his case, in spite of a lack of ambition. Where the Choleric wants to climb the corporate ladder, the Phlegmatic looks forward to climbing onto the couch. Peace, for the Phlegmatic, means guilt-free leisure time. He wants to enjoy watching shows, playing video games, or reading for pleasure without criticism. He’s less concerned with the future than with the ease of the moment. However, if he enjoys something, he can be very committed to it.

Because he is so easygoing, it’s easy to ask him to do the lion’s share of the chores (pun intended). But avoid this habit as the Phlegmatic may eventually erupt out of the lack of respect paid to him and his thwarted desire to be left in peace.

Phlegmatics are unlikely to use the colorful language of the Sanguine to describe activities. The Sanguine will say that the class was amazing! The Phlegmatic is more likely to say things are fine or good without being negative.

To homeschool a Phlegmatic, use free time as a reward. Choose curriculum that is quick to complete with no busywork. Break long lessons up into shorter sessions to motivate him. Although the Phlegmatic is an introvert, he will work more diligently around others. Consider doing family schoolwork at set times, allowing your Phlegmatic the chance to do as he pleases with any extra time he has. A visual timer can be useful for Phlegmatic students. Consider adjusting school hours for Phlegmatic teens who tend to like to sleep in.

Give your Phlegmatic student options. Ask which of three curricula he prefers, for example. Ask which of two excurricular activities he wants to pursue. Affirm that you don’t have a preference or the Phlegmatic will try to guess to please you.

Never shame a Phlegmatic for his desire to have free time as this attempt to motivate is likely to backfire. Instead, praise him for work well done and for his agreeableness. Express your confidence that God will use these character traits for His purposes.


To summarize, the Sanguine wants fun, the Choleric wants control, the Melancholy wants perfection, and the Phlegmatic wants peace. Now that I’ve explained how to homeschool each of these four personality types, I’m going to give you a quiz. These are things my kids have said or done. Which personality type are they?

My son spends hours learning new songs on the guitar.

Yes, Melancholy.

My daughter made no progress on cleaning her messy room until a friend came over.

Yes, Sanguine.

My son said his computer class was fine.

Yes, Phlegmatic.

My son quickly became a leader and earned a pay raise at work.

Yes, Choleric.

You and your kids can be a combination of these personalities, but not the opposite pairings. You are not going to be a Sanguine/Melancholy or a Choleric/Phlegmatic.

If you are interested in learning more, I recommend the book Personality Plus for Parents by Florence Littauer.