One of the most frequent questions I’m asked by coaching clients, people in Enneagram Groups I lead, and on social media is how to use the Enneagram in parenting. I’m a parent myself and have wondered many times, “Is there a way to use the Enneagram to somehow NOT screw up my kids?”
The answer is yes and no at the same time, as all wise answers tend to be. The good news is that we CAN use this centuries-old tool to help us as parents know, heal, and love ourselves in nine unique ways. With this knowledge, we CAN—with new awareness—provide creative, brave spaces for our children to develop their own healthy sense of personhood.
However, we don’t ever want to Type our kids in the sense that we guess what number they are and then say to them, “You’re a Type Four, and this is what that means.”
Why not? Well, there are potentially severe and long-lasting ramifications to typing children, and we’re aiming for health, not harm.
DON’T Type Your Kids!
Most master Enneagram teachers advise strongly against typing of any kind until kiddos are well into their teens. Some say 16-18 is okay to start conversations around the Enneagram. Others recommend waiting to introduce the system until kids have left home and are into their 20’s. Here’s why: Creating a false sense of self for your child can be traumatic and hard to undo once a child grows up. Neurological studies show that our brains aren’t fully developed until age 25, so we’re all still forming our patterns of thought, behavior, emotion, and motivation biases until around then.
Children are changing and growing – all the time. They need space, not labels. According to the American College of Pediatrics, “The way parents or teachers label a child can have a lasting impact on how that child sees him or herself.” Placing a label on them like an Enneagram Type before they are cognitively and emotionally ready to process their own personhood can damage their sense of self. You, the parent, are telling them, “This is who you are,” but that might not be true, and it could create a war inside of the child, who then tries to fit into a certain kind of mold they think they should be.
Yes, many of our Enneagram Type-specific survival tools develop during childhood, but children don’t have the maturity or bandwidth to differentiate yet between an authentic self and a label.
Therefore, I’d strongly—almost universally—advise against sharing the Enneagram with children. I would never tell a child, “You are a Type ______.”
So then how do we as parents use the Enneagram in raising our kids?
Know Yourself Well, and Then Observe Your Children!
First, we focus on our personal Enneagram journey. This will help us better understand how we’re wired to act and react in our relationships with our children. Self-awareness and Enneagram work reveals the ways in which we move about in the world, and helps us grow into healthier, more expansive people—which directly affects our parenting styles. If we’re in the Assertive Stance, we then know we’ll need to make sure to slow down and really make time for our children. If we’re in the Heart Triad, we’ll know that it will take effort to bring up logical thinking and gut intuition to parent with a balance of all three Intelligence Centers. We don’t have to try to be the perfect parent, only an aware one. With awareness, we accept our shortcomings, work on them, and ask for plenty of help, forgiveness, and grace. We’re all doing our best and that’s something to be proud of!
The Enneagram also shows us the places where our Types can shine! A Type Seven parent is the one to come up with awesome adventures, and a Type Four will truly understand whatever emotional turmoil a child might experience. We can bank on our strengths to help us navigate the murky waters of the never-ending, “What the hell am I supposed to do with this child?”
Second, we understand that while the Enneagram shouldn’t be used as a typing system for kids and teens, it can be safely used as an observation tool. By paying attention to our children’s ever-evolving patterns of behavior, speech, emotions, and thought-life, we can create healthier family dynamics by providing opportunities for our children to grow in awareness and balance.
The Intelligence Centers in Children
Pay attention to (in a given phase, year, or period of time) which Heart, Mind, and Body Triads in your children seem more dominant as they grow and change. By creating a family culture of communication and space, you can ask your kids and teens to share how they feel, what they’re thinking about, and what’s going on in their bodies. Teaching the recognition of these processing styles (head, heart, mind) can help your children bring up centers they may not be dominant in at a certain phase of their development. For example, a child who seems to react to the world with her body by hitting, running, grunting, breathing hard, or jumping around, could have a parent engage in a body activity with her, talking about what feelings come up when they hit a punching bag together. This practice allows—without forcing—both her seemingly dominant way of being in the world, but also a new awareness of the importance of emotions. We want to provide connecting opportunities for kids to be themselves, while also encountering something new!
The Energy Stances in Children
Similarly, we can observe whether our kids seem to be (at a particular time) dominant in the Aggressive, Compliant, and Withdrawn Stance. Watch to see if this ebbs and flows, or stays more constant. Focus on awareness and activities that relate to their dominant Energy Stances such as reading or music lessons for withdrawn-seeming kiddos, but also on fostering space for their seemingly non-dominant stances to come out to play. Gently encourage a more withdrawn child to talk to one new person on the playground or suggest that a compliant child spend some time journaling about their feelings. The key isn’t to force balance (or a stance you’d rather the child have), but to introduce the child to all three Energy Stances in ways that are both safe and mildly challenging so that they grow.
Lastly, we can note Time Orientation, observing the Future, Present, or Past Time Orientations in our kids as they grow and change. The key is still to allow space and nurturing for their dominant orientation, while also offering awareness and activities that relate to the other two non-dominant time orientations.
I hope this resource helps us as together we parent with love, acceptance, and a ton of grace! -Melissa