I really like many of the books Gretchen Rubin has written, but I’m obsessed with her newest book, The Four Tendencies.
During my multibook investigation into human nature, I realized that by asking the suspiciously simple question “How do I respond to expectations?” we gain explosive self-knowledge.
I am an Obliger (you can take a quick quiz here to find out what tendency you are ). Knowing this has made my life easier. I understand why I do some of the things I do and know how to deal with other aspects of my life, like accomplishing goals or saying no to people. I think it is important to understand our family members and realize their tendencies—especially our spouses and children. It can make family life so much more enjoyable when we understand why people act and respond the way they do. Then we can change the way we approach our spouse or child so we can have win-win experiences and less conflicts.
Here are the Tendencies in a nutshell:
The Upholder Tendency
Upholders are those people who readily respond to outer and inner expectations alike. They meet work or school deadlines as well as keep goals they set for themselves.
Strengths: Upholders can set goals and ideals for themselves and stick to it. They follow rules. They also fulfill expectations that others have for them. They love schedules and routines. They like to know what is expected of them and don’t like to make mistakes.
Weaknesses: Upholders don’t like to have their schedules changed. They are uncomfortable if they can’t follow the rules or expectations teachers or others have put on them. They want to follow them whether they are sensible or not. They don’t like change and can be inflexible and rigid.
Dealing with an Upholder Child
Parents may enjoy having children who are Upholders because they don’t have to nag them about doing homework or practicing the piano. They plan ahead and have their softball equipment ready and like to arrive at school on time or even early.
The Upholder child doesn’t like to change his schedule. If he needs to read 30 minutes a day for school he has a hard time letting that go if a busy day prohibits it. He has a hard time letting a task go not quite completed such as a book report project he feels he needs more time on.
Be careful about unintentionally adding an expectation or suggesting unnecessary rules. An upholder child will exert a lot of energy toward trying to meet it. The author states that an offhand remark like, “you should enter the spelling bee” might set off an unintended stressful chain reaction.
In dealing with an Upholder child, address his tendency value: “You like to do things that are expected of you”, “you like to be on time”, or “you like to finish your projects”. But then address the issue in a logical way such as, “your teacher will understand that you can only read 15 minutes on some days”, or “it’s more important to go the speed limit and be safe than to be extra early to school”.
The Questioner Tendency
We all have inner expectations—things we want to do, and outer expectations—what others want us to do. Questioners only do things that are inner expectations and only those outer expectations that they have turned into inner expectations. Questioners want information, logic and efficiency. They want to gather the facts and decide for themselves if something is legitimate to do, the best thing to buy, or the right thing to follow. They like logical conclusions and will research options until they are convinced.
Strengths: Once Questioners are resolved to do something, they follow through and are reliable. They don’t just accept the traditional way to do things, so may come up with new solutions to problems or situations.
Weaknesses: When Questioners don’t accept the justification for an expectation, they refuse to meet it. Rules may seem arbitrary or make no sense. When wanting to purchase an item, they may research and question so much, they can’t come to a conclusion and make a decision.
Dealing with a Questioner Child
A child who is a questioner does not accept phrases like, “because I said so”, or that’s the rule”. Questioners want to understand the “why” of doing something, and once they do, they are more willing to comply. Why is piano practicing important? Why should I learn the multiplication tables? Why does my school require uniforms?
Parents or teachers who are dealing with a child’s refusal to do something should find out why the child is refusing, then help the child understand the reasons behind the issue. Help him find the justification for doing what he doesn’t want to do. Why do I have to sit in my car seat? Because it’s the law and you don’t want Mommy to have to pay a fine. Why do I have to eat my vegetables? Because they will make you healthy and strong so you can hit a home run some day.
The Obliger Tendency
Throughout a day, week and month, people are always asking us to do things. The Obliger can accomplish things someone else asks her to do, but has a hard time meeting expectations that only she puts on herself. For example, when you were in school, you could meet your English deadlines, but now you have a hard time consistently writing in your journal.
Obligers needs accountability. Someone who is expecting them to bring them the results they’ve asked for. If you are on a team and training for a game, you don’t want to let your teammates down, so you run every morning. But after the season is over, you can’t get yourself to run anymore. The accountability has disappeared.
Strengths: Obligers get things done! They volunteer, help out, and meet deadlines. They make great leaders, team members, friends and family members.
Weaknesses: Obligers have a hard time meeting their own needs and desires. They need to feel accountable to someone in order to meet the goals they’ve set for themselves. This is my tendency. I used to always announce to my children that I would give them $10 if they saw me eat any more cookies the rest of the day. Then it was easy for me to not eat any more.
If Obligers get overwhelmed by constant demands they are trying to meet of others, they can have a meltdown—which is usually not pretty. They go into Obliger-Rebellion and resist doing anything. Family members need to be aware of Obligers in their home, and help them not get overwhelmed, by helping them say “no” when necessary. They can also provide accountability to help them reach their goals.
Dealing with an Obliger Child
I was delighted to read the author’s example when dealing with an Obliger child (which she says is sometimes hard to pick out). She gave the example of piano practicing and said there needs to be accountability like having a practice chart, a parent’s gentle reminder or a teacher who says, “I can tell if you’ve been practicing or not.”
Help your Obliger child create accountability by enrolling him in classes, making job charts, having family rules, etc. But be aware so your child does not begin feeling overwhelmed by meeting everyone’s needs but his own.
The Rebel Tendency
Rebels don’t want anyone telling them what to do, including themselves! They resist all efforts when someone asks them to do something and have a hard time getting themselves to do something they want to do. For Rebels, being able to choose and have freedom of self-expression is vitally important. They respond better to people asking their opinion rather than being told to do something.
Strengths: They don’t cave into peer pressure. They enjoy meeting challenges especially when someone says it will be too hard to do. Rebels do things their way and want their lives to exhibit their values.
Weaknesses: Rebels don’t like to be told to do something and resist commands and control over themselves. They want to do things in their own way and in their own time. They have a hard time sticking to a schedule.
Dealing with a Rebel Child (my daughter prefers to call them Strong-willed children and I agree)
Strong-willed children are hard to deal with. They want to make their own choices. The best way to handle them is to give them information, tell them what the consequences are, and let them make their choice. And don’t watch them—then they think there is an expectation and will rebel and not choose.
Strong-willed children need to feel the consequence of their choices, be it good or bad. Strong-willed children are motivated by identity. Explain the situation: “When you’re always late and delay our leaving, I feel like I can’t trust you. Do you want to be trustworthy or not--your choice." Make things fun for the strong-willed child. Make up games when you’re brushing your child’s teeth or sing silly songs. Strong-willed children like challenges: “Bet you can’t get dressed before Daddy does”. Let them choose: “You can eat a snack, do your homework now, and then play before dinner or you can eat a snack and play first. But if you don’t finish your homework before dinner, you will have to finish it after dinner and not have time for me to play a game with you before bedtime. It’s your choice.” Then allow them time and space to make their choice.
In reviewing how to deal with children in these four tendencies, it seems to me that parents should use lots of common sense. It shouldn’t be a nerve wrecking decision trying to decide what is the correct thing to say to your obliger child compared to what to say to your strong -willed child. Good parenting techniques cover all types and personalities of children. In summary, here are some basic, sound ideas that work well in dealing with any and all types of children:
1. Explain the situation to your child when a conflict arises. Appeal to his sense of value.
2. Listen to your child to understand what his needs are that are not being met.
3. Explain the “why” behind rules and “why” you are asking for a certain behavior from your child.
4. Make charts and give positive reinforcement to help establish new habits and outcomes.
5. Give information, consequences and choice to your child.
6. Let your child suffer the consequences of his choice and actions.
7. Have fun with your child, make up games and challenges to spice up daily routines.
I hope this information has been helpful. Now apply it to your spouse!
Thanks for reading,