INFP children are some of the most emotionally rich, creative individuals you’ll ever meet. Their strong personal values, philosophical nature, and insightful way of viewing the world make them stand out from the crowd. They are seen as sensitive souls and are often more on the quiet side as children. Myers-Briggs® expert David Kiersey calls INFPs “The Healers” and it’s not hard to see why. They long to make the world a better place, especially for their family and for the people they care about. They are known for “championing” the downtrodden, and taking up causes for the underdogs of the world. There are so many admirable qualities about INFPs, yet as children they often face a unique set of struggles.
INFP Children Feel Things Deeply
All children feel things deeply at times, but INFPs are especially sensitive. They are dominant introverted feelers; so their emotional lives are extremely important to them. They long for harmony and believe that everything has significance and personal resonance. Casual belittling comments, sarcastic jabs, or frustrated offhand glances can deeply unsettle the INFP child. Don’t mistake me. Many people confuse this sensitivity for weakness – it is not. Because of their sensitivity, INFPs make excellent counselors, and they are often selfless in their endeavor to make the world a better place. Joan of Arc was an INFP and I’ve never heard anyone call her a whimp!
Sadly, this emotional sensitivity and the strong idealism of INFPs can leave them feeling confused and shocked by the corrupt nature of the world. Schoolyard taunting, news headlines of war and famine, and often being told to ‘toughen up’ can make young INFPs feel that they aren’t meant for this world. David Kiersey says of INFPs, “Isolated by their seclusiveness and infrequency (around 1% of the general population), their idealism leaves them feeling even more isolated from the rest of humanity.” He goes on to say that they often experience a feeling of alienation which comes from an often unhappy childhood. They are dreamers who fantasize of a better world, who aren’t as skeptical of magic and ‘impossible’ realities. This love of fantasy and the intangible is often discouraged by parents and peers who may belittle the INFPs sense of wonder and imagination.
INFPs are extremely aware and sensitive to tension and conflict around them and become very upset when the ones they care about are angry or unhappy. They are gentle souls who aren’t harsh themselves, and don’t respond well to harshness in others. Yelling and strict punishments are especially traumatic for the young INFPs. Because they are so private, they may not readily share their feelings or emotions with others, but bottle them up inside. They feel unable to share these intense feelings unless they are with someone who has gained their absolute trust. At the same time, they often feel things so deeply and intensely that they may react by crying very quickly. This often bothers and annoys them, because what they feel is so personal and deep and they don’t want the whole world to see it. For this reason, they may escape to a sanctuary like their room or closet to let their feelings out in private. Being told to ‘toughen up’ or to ‘stop being a crybaby’ is a harsh, damaging experience that many INFPs (especially male INFPs) have had to deal with. Their rich emotions should not be something they are made to look down upon or be ashamed of.
INFPs REALLY Listen
INFPs have an abundance of compassion and empathy. Their awareness of the meaning of things, their attentiveness to even the slightest of changes in someone’s tone or intent makes them excellent listeners. Dario Nardio, a UCLA professor and expert in the field of neuroscience said that INFPs are the consummate listeners – “They thoroughly engage all brain regions that process voice, words, and sounds; moreover, they may easily enter a unique whole-brain state when listening to other people.” He noted that most other types are eager to think up their own responses or arguments while someone else is talking, and only half-listen most of the time. INFPs are a different story. They will give you their entire attention and not worry about a response till they’ve heard you out fully. Their skill at listening and tendency towards introversion can cause people to push them to open up more or extravert more. Extroverted parents may feel that they need to force their child into more social situations and try to get them to talk more, leaving the INFP child feeling that there is something wrong with their thoughtful, quiet nature when in truth we could use a lot more listeners in the world.
INFPs See Creative Opportunity Everywhere
INFPs are often drawn to art and storytelling. They love fantasy and being allowed to be fully creative and spontaneous. This spontaneity and imaginative way of thinking can be seen as a problem by a highly SJ-geared learning environment. The majority of K-12 teachers are SJ personality types who learn through memorization and repetition, and they teach to this learning style as well. They also place a higher value on ‘practical’ subjects like math or English, and less on the creative pursuits of art, music, or theater. While INFPs can excel and even enjoy math or English, they learn better through creativity, imagination, and storytelling and get frustrated with memorization or repetition. During class, their imagination tends to wander to more personally meaningful topics or imaginative ideas. They get bored with routine and structure and want to be more inventive with their learning. They question the meaning of things and often see many alternative paths to learning and discovery. Because of this, they are often reprimanded in school for not paying attention, for not doing things ‘by the book’ or for getting distracted. In some cases, they are misdiagnosed with ADD because their imagination wanders to so many other areas.
On the other hand, in school INFPs are the third or fourth most likely to receive the “gifted” label. Certain teachers can see their creativity, their gift for language, and their curiosity and hone into that and the INFP can be intellectually unstoppable. Having the right teacher is especially important for an INFP child.
As you can see, INFPs are often very gifted children with a knack for creating, empathizing, and understanding. If you’re parenting an INFP, try to be especially sensitive in handing out criticism or punishment. Try to do this privately, as INFPs are very private and will be shaken by public criticism. Try to praise their emotional intelligence, empathy, and compassion. Give them outlets for their imagination with plenty of opportunities to write, draw, read, and play make believe. In school, help them to keep track of their homework as they tend to have a harder time meeting deadlines and staying on task. Lastly, be honored that your child is one of the rare 1% with the deeply creative INFP personality.
Nurture by Nature: Understand Your Child’s Personality Type and Become a Better Parent by Paul D. Tieger and Barbara Barron-Tieger
Please Understand Me by David Kiersey
Oddly Developed Types – INFPs At School
The Neuroscience of Personality by Dario Nardi