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Too Sensitive or Analytical: How We Make Decisions

"Naw . . . tellin' the truth is good, Joey. I just overdid it a little."
– From Dennis the Menace, by Hank Ketcham

Thinkers and Feelers Are Born, Not Made
"We can't go home yet!" Jennifer wailed when her mother told her they'd run out of time shopping at the mall and needed to leave to pick up her dad from the office. "But you promised I could buy a toy. You said it's important to tell the truth and keep our promises!" Jennifer continued. "We can call Dad and tell him we'll be late picking him up. You promised!" Thinkers use logic to make a decision and solve problems. They convince others by "proving" their point. Thinkers also need to understand "why" to feel comfortable, and are easily upset if they make a mistake or fail. When their team loses, they need to analyze what could have been done better and to lay out a plan for winning next time.

Feelers make decisions by considering the impact on other people. They convince others through persuasion. If Jennifer's sibling was a feeler, she'd probably say something like, "Jennifer, let's go get Daddy. He's got more money and then we can buy a bigger toy!" Feelers need harmony to feel comfortable, and are upset by conflict. If their team loses, their first response is to cheer everyone up.

During the preschool years, children explore their preference for thinking and feeling. All children will explore both preferences, but during the school years they will begin to find that they prefer one style over the other. This preference is as innate to a child as gender or eye color.

When your child is upset or needs direction, it becomes especially important to respond to her preferred type. If your child is a feeler, she needs your sympathy and empathy in order to hear you. If you try facts and logic or move into a solution too quickly, you'll set her off and disconnect. If your child is a thinker, she may pull away from your warm hug or tell you to "cut the sympathy" and help her fix the problem instead. Knowing whether you and your child need to deal with facts or feelings first is essential for effective emotion coaching; otherwise you can unwittingly pull yourself into power struggles.

Identifying Your Preferred Style
It is possible to do a formal assessment of your child's preferences, but we're going to let your child's words and actions give you the information you need. If you watch and listen closely, your child will show you whether she is using her thinking or feeling preference. This awareness will help you know where to start when things are sizzling. Think, too, about your own preferences. How you and your child work together is most important.

If your child is a thinker she probably:

__ is an excellent critical thinker who is able to quickly analyze the facts; see the flaws in ideas, people, or things; and can't resist offering solutions or suggestions for improvement (e.g., "You're holding the gerbil the wrong way"). Logic guides her decisions.

__ finds it easier to explain what happened than how she feels about it.

__ needs to know "why" things are done and loves a good debate. This is the child who gets into trouble for taking an opposing stance or for asking, "Why do I have to do that?" She becomes upset if you answer, "Because I said so!"

__ values justice and becomes alarmed if something is unfair. When playing a game, she will insist that everyone plays by the rules, even if that means someone is "out." She is incensed if you break a promise.

__ hates to feel incompetent and becomes upset if you try to review her mistakes with her or suggest other strategies.

__ does not want to talk about feelings when she is upset and may reject your comforting hug, cover her ears with her hands, and refuse to talk at all.

__highly values truth and may get into trouble for being too blunt.

When asked to be more tactful, she may say, "Do you want me to lie?" If your child is a feeler he probably:

__ is very sensitive, experiencing strong emotional reactions to anything, including sad movies, and hurt feelings. He is also very aware of the emotions of others. As a result he may feel great about winning a game, but worry about how the loser feels.

__ needs to work through his emotions before he is ready to problem solve and may say something like, "I got a C on my math test. I'll never be accepted into college. What good would a tutor do? I'm a complete failure."

__ highly values harmony and will avoid confrontation or conflict even if it means giving up a toy or letting someone else make the choice.

__ may experience stomachaches or headaches if there is conflict at home or in the classroom.

__ is easily hurt by criticism and may immediately ask if you love him when you reprimand him.

__ is deeply concerned with how decisions affect others and may change the rules of the game if following them would mean someone was "out."

__ needs to know others like him in order to perform well.

Count how many statements in each group describe your child's typical reaction.

Thinking statements __
Feeling statements __

Your child doesn't get into power struggles with himself. So go back through the statements and this time check the ones that fit you best. What's your total?

Thinking statements __
Feeling statements __

If you are uncertain of your child's preferred style after reading through the statements, you may need to tune in more closely in the next few weeks. Watch and listen carefully, and he will show you his preference.

Remember these traits are on a continuum. You and your child may demonstrate a very strong preference or a mild one and can also learn to use both. Ultimately, the best decisions are those that consider both facts and feelings. We just need to remember that the thinking types work best when they can analyze the facts first, and the feeling types need that Band-Aid on their feelings before they're ready to problem solve with you.


From the book KIDS, PARENTS, AND POWER STRUGGLES: Winning for a Lifetime by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka, published by HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. Copyright 2000 by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka. All rights reserved.

Buy the book at www.harpercollins.com.

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