It has always been the case that children often have temperaments different from their parents. This is often a major source of trauma in development. Having more families in which parents differ significantly in temperament will help alleviate some of this trauma by increasing the relationship options. But it will also increase the percentage of such “mixed temperament” parent/child relationships.

In times ahead, greater sophistication in our understanding of personality differences will thus be increasingly important to healthy families. It will also be that case that families should serve as increasingly rich crucibles/laboratories for learning first-hand about temperament differences.


A favorite parenting vignette involves a dear colleague who taught communications skills and conflict resolution. She was parent to two daughters, one quite Late-Axis the other Early/Inner. She was Middle/Upper leaning toward Late and found her Late-Axis daughter much easier to understand. Her traditional communications-skills approaches there worked quite well (when there was conflict, sit down face-to-face and actively listen, repeating back what the person said). They didn’t work at all with her Early-Axis daughter. When there was conflict her usual “enlightened” approach made everything much worse. (Before she barely had time to start, her Early-Axis daughter would run up to her room crying,)

Being that I am an Early (this is Charles Johnston relating this story), she thought I might have some insight. I suggested she try something very different. If her daughter went to her room, first she should just let some time go by. Then after a while she could go up to the room, but be very sure to knock (and quietly). If invited in she should not make eye contact but just come in and sit by the bed, back to her daughter. After sitting there for a bit, she should touch her daughter very lightly on the shoulder, then leave and go back downstairs. She tried it and it worked. Some time later her daughter would come back downstairs. Nothing more would be said, but somehow the conflict had disappeared.

Earlies are very sensitive to boundaries, and Early/Inners in particular don’t use visual contact or verbal discourse as primary means of communication. When my friend used her usual methods that relied on immediate face-to-face contact and the repetition of words, her daughter quite naturally felt unheard (which was the issue in the first place). When she honored boundaries and used more kinesthetic/body communication she was able to connect in a way that was affirming. Connection and affirmation were the issue. Conflict resolved.