If There’s a Young NF in Your Life

When my son and daughter were in their high school years, I hosted a writing club for them and eight of their friends. Here's how it worked: one of the club members would choose the topic that everyone would write about that week, then they’d read their papers out loud at the next meeting.

It was fun to watch how the different kids would approach a topic. For example, when the topic was “airplanes,” one girl wrote a review of airplane food, a boy told a funny story of how he missed a plane, and a girl wrote about her feelings on the day when her family took her brother to the airport to see him off for his first year of college. 

One week, a girl picked an unusual topic for the group to write on. Her topic was: “The things you like about me.” No one said anything at the time, but after she left, I heard the kids complaining to each other. They thought she was fishing for compliments, and it was a completely inappropriate topic for a writing group.

I guess if I hadn’t known about type, I would have thought that, too. But there was something about the girl’s face when she suggested the topic that seemed more curious than egotistical. She was genuinely wondering what people liked about her. It looked to me like an NF’s hunger for feedback on the self. I had it too when I was her age; I have it still.

I remember asking my mother, “Why do you love me?,” and being very disappointed when she gave the generic answer: “All mothers love their children.” I was hoping she would tell me what she loved about me, not all of her children.      

The most satisfying answer I ever received to the question of “Who am I?” was from the theory of type. If I lived a hundred lifetimes, I would never understand myself as well as that theory understands me, or value myself the way that theory values me.

The next week, the kids in the writing club told the girl what they liked about her. They said that she smiled a lot, was enthusiastic and lifted people’s spirits, seemed to think about things more deeply than other people, and was a good writer and volleyball player.

Afterwards, I asked her if she’d like to borrow my copy of Please Understand Me, by David Kiersey and Marilyn Bates. She took the book and called me back a few days later. She was very excited about it and told me she was an ENFP.

In Please Understand Me, the authors mention the different kinds of feedback most valued by each of the four temperaments in childhood. SP children value feedback on the skill and grace of their performance, while SJ children value feedback on their products, and how they meet the expectations of adults. NT children value feedback on the quality of their work, which they usually define as cohesion and efficiency. 

The NF child, however, “needs and seeks recognition that he is valued by those around him, and he needs that reassurance every day.”

That could mean that NFs need more positive feedback than the other types, on anything they do. I would make that more specific though. I think NFs most value feedback on how they are succeeding in relationships. The kinds of compliments that are really going to hit home with an NF child are ones that notice how they treat people, for example, “You always tell people something nice about themselves,” “That was a thoughtful thing to do” and “You seem to really want to help people and make their lives better.”

All children need genuine, positive feedback, but NFs need it the most, especially about relationships, and especially in childhood. If you have an NF child, it’s a good idea once in awhile to sit down and make a list titled: “The Things I Like about You.” You can give it to them for their birthday, or don’t give it to them, but slip it into conversations. Not many NFs have the courage to ask for positive feedback, like the girl in the writing club did, but you can be sure that they all need it. Remember, they’re trying to put together a million-pieced puzzle called The Self, and they could definitely use some help with it. 


If you work with young people you may enjoy Discovering Type with Teens, a how-to guide for creating a type workshop with teenagers.


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