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.
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 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 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 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.
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.
My daughter made no progress on cleaning her messy room until a friend came over.
My son said his computer class was fine.
My son quickly became a leader and earned a pay raise at work.
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.