When Parent’s Style and Child’s Style Clash

Parenting with Style: Why You Might Clash with Your Child

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 predisposed way of working, thinking and reacting to things . 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, Doer

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.

angry father

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.

angry mom

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!

By Dr. Caron Goode,  a parenting expert and the director of the Academy of Parent Coaching International. The Academy offers a parent coaching certification program for individuals interested in helping families nurture and grow their children. For more information, visit www.acpi.biz


  1. Wow, this is incredible.

    I am the affective type; my husband is a behavioral guy, and our daughter is totally interpersonal. This explains so much. I hope I can get my husband to read this… I feel like a new door has opened in my mind!

    Darla, mom of Taylor – 6.

    • So, I’m still not sure how to handle my slow going guy in the morning as I am the task oriented mom! How do we get out the door in the am on time? Susie

  2. I’m in a rush, but I must take a second to say THANKS for this info!!!

    Kim O.

  3. Awesome information. This helps me understand my sons better. Thanks for sharing, Ellen. BTW I’ve forwarded your site to all 3 of my sisters and they love it:)

  4. Ellen, this is a fantastic article and very eye opening. I am enjoying everything on your web site. Your information is top-notch! Keep it up!
    To your success,
    Dr. Laura

  5. I really like this article. I have four girls. My 13 year old is definitely affective, my 12 year old is interpersonal. I have 7 year old twins. One is cognitive, and we are just not sure where the other fits in (defnitely not cognitive!) This article gives me some basis to defend my different parenting styles for the different children. The best explanation I’ve been able to give so far is that different approaches work with different children. This puts some substance behind it.

  6. Ellen,
    I always love learning something new practical and interesting.
    Thank you very much!

  7. Glenda Rodrigues says:

    I have a daughter of 6 and a boy of 12 years old. Thank you Ellen, for a very simple, straight and clear set of standards laid down for behaviour pattern categories, we think our children fall into.

    Sometimes, I feel my boy of 12 falls into one or more categories displaying behaviour from one or two styles. I feel taking out the best advice from each of these styles and applying it to our kids can help alot especially in different situations.

  8. THis is certainly a good piece of information. I need to study it further to catagerise where all of us (my Son, daughter, my wife and myself) falls. Thanks for the good work you are doing. Caleb

  9. Miriam G. Kelly says:

    Thank you for this awesome article. EVERY teacher should read this and be aware of all the types

    of children sitting in front of her every day. We need to remember each child comes GIFT WRAPPED


  10. I am laughing..it has been a while since I have been here..My daughter is a affective personality.
    I am behavioral..I do not have difficulty with her ‘personality’ I find often than i want to her school and teachers have difficulty tryin to figure her out. She is extremely tactile and needs hugs more than affirmations…school is very desensitizing in respect to daughter. Homework in Math alone takes two hours…Thanks

  11. My child is definitely the affective type! Never argue with him! I Have learned to be totally Zen… I listen, go hmmm… and gently steer toward the door. Don’t worry too much if we’re late, either.

  12. Thanks for the tips Ellen!! I have a three year old son that I think I have a handle on, but I can’t determine which category my 6 year old son is in. I see different aspects of him in diff categories. What do you suggest I focus on?