Typing and Type
in Children

SYNOPSIS OF ARTICLE: In this paper, I explors the key themes and issues in typing children. It gives general principles, states cautions, reviews the importance of level of cognitive development, reports the children speaking for themselves on a panel (their statements/expressions), suggests parents’ responsibilities, and provides concluding thoughts. It is vital to remember that in typing children parents and others can inadvertently apply their own stereotype  of the child which can greatly influence the child’s development. This article first appeared in the Journal of the Association of Enneagram Teachers in the Narrative Tradition (AET) in 2003; updated 2013.

Typing and Type in Children ~ What Adults and Parents Need to Know

Based largely upon the First Children’s Enneagram Panel at the IEA, August 2003

By David Daniels, M.D.


This paper explores the key themes and issues in typing children. It gives general principles, states cautions, reviews the importance of level of cognitive development, reports the children speaking for themselves on the panel (their statements/expressions), suggests parents’ responsibilities, and provides concluding thoughts. It first appeared in the Journal of the Association of Enneagram Teachers in the Narrative Tradition (AET) in 2003; updated 2010.

Many questions arise around the issue of typing children. In this paper, typing refers to the Enneagram, but the principles apply to typing in general. Can children be typed and at what age? What is its purpose and function? What are the precautions and potential misuses? What do parents and adults in general need to know to make typing helpful rather than harmful? And what can children tell us adults about these matters/issues?

These were the themes addressed in the first children’s panel {click to view DVD} at the International Enneagram Association (IEA) Conference in Santa Monica, California August (2003. I had the privilege of conducting this groundbreaking panel exploring with children their type from the inside out and what they recommend for parents and adults in this matter of typing and its use.

The panel consisted of one child of each type, four boys and five girls ranging in age from 11 to 14 (mean age 12.4). All of the children had been exposed to the Enneagram through their families and most of the families used the Enneagram in some fashion in their family relationships. The type of each child had been both parent and self confirmed, as well as reviewed for accuracy by the panel organizers. The panel took place at a plenary session with over 400 in attendance and lasted just over one hour. The only preparation I gave was: Say what is true about yourself, respect your boundaries, educate us adults from your perspective, and have fun.

General Principles
First, categorizing and putting things into types is universal, a necessary bi-product of the great cerebral mantel or cortex in the human species. We need to be able to categorize and organize the vast amounts of data of which the brain is capable. Otherwise we would have chaos. For example, we need a category and typology for doorknobs and staircases; otherwise we would not be able to get in and out of places. There is no such thing as not typing. It is a matter of how and when, not if. People who say they do not believe in typologies simply use a primitive typology, consisting of those who don’t type (the “good” people) verses those who do type (the “bad” people). Realizing this is fundamental as is remembering we are human beings who just happen to have a personality structure called a type.

Second, what determines type is not a matter of nature verses nurture, but nature and nurture together. This includes the, until recently, neglected prenatal environment and social or peer group influences (1). Both of these, I believe, represent highly important factors in determining type.

Third, ultimately being a developed person is more important than type in the course of human events and relationships. Being a thoughtful, caring, compassionate, kind, and understanding human being is what really matters. The Enneagram is of great use in developing these qualities and in building more productive and fulfilling personal and spiritual lives. All types have their blessings and liabilities, their strengths and challenges. Often these are related, e.g., the healthy questioning mind of the Six also is the incessant doubting and accusatory mind.

Fourth, developing receptive awareness of simply being grounded and present with a healthy and steadfast self-observer represents the single most important factor in the grasping of type. Understanding both type’s positive and negative attributes, working with building awareness, managing personal behavior, and understanding others is also vital. I have often said there is no such thing as “a universal cure all,” but a good receptive inner witness or self-observer comes closer than anything else. Thus, the role of receptive awareness is the single most important factor in preventing stereotyping and misuse of type in general.

Lastly, the Enneagram provides an understanding of the fundamental structure of personality that includes: the Basic Propositions of the types, our core motivations and beliefs, the habitual patterns of attention; the connection of psychological and spiritual aspects of life and their integration; and the path of development that releases us from the personality “box” we are in or, at the very least, helps us enlarge the limiting confines of the “box” we are in! Moreover, the Enneagram is so universal it underlies racial, religious, cultural, and nationality differences.

Cautions in Typing
Precisely because the Enneagram is such a powerful typology, we need to be careful and mindful in its use. Here are the main cautions, especially with children.

  • Typologies devolving into stereotypes. All typologies have a tendency to devolve into stereotyping. This is the bane of human existence. We type race, religion, nationality, etc. and these typologies devolve into stereotyping. The same is true for personality typologies. The best preventative is conscious awareness of the tendency combined with inner knowing or self-knowledge.
  • Credulousness in children leading to over-influence. Because children are credulous, malleable, inexperienced, and naturally dependent, they are subject to greater influence. This demands caution on the part of adults and, of course, the children themselves. We can inadvertently type children and end up stereotyping them. We can mistype children and influence them adversely in the process. One example is the famous study by Robert Rosenthal where primary grade children were randomized into two groups: the “smart” group and the “average” group (2). The teachers were informed one group was “smart” and the other “average.” At the end of the school year, the “smart” group had gained more than twice the IQ points than that of the “average” group (27 points verses 13 points). Clearly, results tend to conform to the experimenter’s/person’s expectations or bias.
  • Perspectives and life itself becoming limited through seeing equaling believing. It is true “believing is seeing” more than “seeing is believing”. In believing what we see/feel, we can further limit perceptions and life. Incorrect and premature typing of children can lead to these kinds of constrictions. Then type can be misused, either as an excuse for our behavior or to blame us for our behavior. My reluctance to type young children before abstract thinking is in place at age 11-15 is fundamentally based on the natural tendency of parents and others to unwittingly, non-consciously stereotype children!
  • Inadvertent dishonoring of boundaries. All of us need to have our boundaries respected and be encouraged to respect our own boundaries. Children especially need this respect, this honor, as they are inexperienced and just developing.
  • Typing from the outside violates the self-discovery principle. Even if we could accurately type from external behaviors (if we are really good, really intuitive, I believe that we can get to about 50% accuracy, which is far from good enough), this violates the fundamental principle of self-discovery and self-development based upon self-discovery. Children need the “space” to determine their type through the process of building the inner observer and self-discovery.

Cognitive Development: A Crucial Determinant in Typing Children
The work of Jean Piaget and his associates provides a key to appropriate age for typing and its use with children (3). Piaget defined four stages of cognitive development: The Sensorimotor Period (age 0-2), the Preoperational Period (age 2-7), the Concrete Operations Period (age 7-11), and the Formal Operations Period (age 11-15). Of relevance here are the latter two periods. While Piaget did not work primarily with emotional development (or the nature of reciprocal influence), he indicated emotional intelligence requires the same continuing process of adaptations as cognitive development. In addition, there are numerous complementary and conflicting theories and research on child development (4). For instance, attachment theory and the role of the limbic system in personal development play important roles (5).

During the Concrete Operations Period of ages 7-11, children gradually develop a separate self, object constancy, a stability of world view, ability to see from the perspective of other, capacity to shift from self to other in communications, sharing of goals and recognition of mutual responsibilities, and greater understanding of cause and effect. Certainly, during the later part of this period, ages 10-11, children can be introduced to the Enneagram and typology in general. They are developing the capacity to grasp concepts, form boundaries, see others’ points of view, as well as their own, and make distinctions from a separate self. Piaget also considered that the capacity for empathy developed during the Period of Concrete Operations (age 7-11).

However, it is not until to what Piaget called the Formal Operations Period of ages 11-15 that children develop abstraction qualities and abilities for meta thinking, characterized by recognizing gaps in understanding things, forming hypotheses, understanding proportionality, “operating on operations,” grasping relationships among things, realizing levels or order of things, and understanding others in the analysis of own thinking. All of these are subtle qualities, necessary for using and understanding the profound and powerful issues and implications of Enneagram type. It is at this level of potential comprehension or grasp the Enneagram can be employed for both psychological and spiritual life development.

In summary, the child’s capacity for understanding type and its use in psychological and spiritual development is generally present from about age 10-11, but deeper grasp only develops in the early teenage years of 11-15. Adults need to be aware of these development capacities in order to employ the Enneagram appropriately.

Children Speaking for Themselves: the Children’s Panel at the IEA (August 2003)
The children responded to two sets of questions: “How do you describe yourself, including strengths?” and “What do we adults need to know about type from your perspective?” What follows is a summary of the children’s statements plus my comments. After reading the children’s statements, first review for yourself what these quotes mean to you. The quotes are as they were spoken with minimal editing.
Type 1, the Perfectionist (Boy): “Well I like everything to be perfect just like as good as possible, like no mistakes. …I notice it [others not trying to fix things] and it really annoys me, but I try not to interfere with them. I’m really hard on myself. If I make a mistake, I beat myself up about it.”

Type 2, the Giver (Girl): “I like to be around people a lot, be sociable, and always being around my friends and my family. …Helping them, making sure they are OK. … My own needs get lost. …. I’m from a big family. If they are not happy, you are not happy. … Sometimes you forget about work and you forget about yourself.”

Type 3, the Performer: (Boy):. “I’m very goal oriented. If there was something there, even if it was something little, my mind and my focus would go to that. It is great. You get all your goals done but two things could happen that are bad. Either you don’t get the goals done or you get anger built inside and you don’t get in touch with your emotions…. I will kind of block other things out that could be important to me or other people.”

Type 4, the Romantic: (Girl):  “I know I’m not like any other. … I can adapt to things, but be opinionated about things. …. I feel strongly about certain things, but not things I’m not interested in.”

Type 5, the Observer: (Boy): “I’m really, really shy. I don’t like to be around people I don’t know. I like to be by myself a lot and I don’t like to be involved in a lot of situations. I don’t like to talk a lot…. It is just how I am…. I try to be more social, but it is hard. I’m unique; I can observe, look for a lot of information.”

Type 6 the Loyal Skeptic: (Girl):  “I’m always worrying about stuff and thinking how things can go bad. … I like to always know what is going on so that I’m prepared, if something happens, so I will know what to do. …If anything was ever to happen to me, I’d be ready and can make things come out good.”

Type 7, the Epicure: (Boy): “I like anything, until I get bored with it. I throw it at the wall…. I like to skate {What happens if your parents say you can’t go skating?} I get really mad. I find other stuff to do.”

Type 8, the Protector: (Girl):  “Ever since I started learning about the Enneagram, I knew I was an Eight, because I don’t like people to just go along with the flow. … I don’t really understand why some people can’t have their own opinions, be themselves. It just seem like they are not trying hard enough…. I get angry a lot and start stomping around.”

Type 9, the Mediator: (Girl): “Usually when there are conflicts with my friends or family I try to avoid it…. With my friends I’m in the role of a peacemaker. When there is trouble between two of my friends or something, I try to work it out with them…. I don’t like being put on the spot a lot. I’m not good at making decisions…. It takes me about the same amount of time to make small decisions as big decisions, because usually I consider everything.”

Comments on Self-Descriptions
To me the most remarkable insight is the definite ability of these 11 to 14 your olds to self-observe the key themes and manifestations of type. Several demonstrated insight into what motivated their behavior and thinking. All recognized strengths in their type and an appreciation of difference between types. My specific comments were mainly about strengths or gifts, need for balance, and what seemed to me to be specific developmental tasks.

What Adults Need to Know About Type: The Children’s Perspective
Type 1, the Perfectionist (Boy): “Don’t be hard on us, because we are already realizing our mistakes, if we make a mistake. We have to realize it and we are already hard on ourselves. And if you’re, like, hard on us, it makes us feel even worse about what happened.” {Note: His “Dad usually thinks this is all nonsense”. To this I commented “We can get over absorbed in this stuff…. there is more to life than type…. especially how we become a human being.”}

Type 2, the Giver (Girl): “Mom uses the Enneagram. She tries to understand how we are feeling and help us use type in everyday life…. I think they [adults/parents] just need to understand that being social and being with friends is more important than work and schoolwork and being organized. It is more important to have friends and connections than to have your degree or whatever.” {Note: I commented, “This is a little hard on us adults in this achievement-oriented society.”}

Type 3, the Performer: (Boy):“Well if you are a parent of a Three, I think you are pretty good. I think that you’ve got it made. If they are on a big goal try not to get into the way. Try to help them but don’t overtake it, like you are trying to be the boss of them. If there is a problem and the Threes just don’t want to express their feelings, try to get them to express their feelings. Try to get it out of them.” {Note: This is what his mom is doing, helping him see there is more to life than goals. This is a great prescription.}

Type 4, the Romantic: (Girl): “We [our family] use it on an everyday basis. Sometimes it is hard. My mom is a Four, like me. It is hard to get along with all the different types, because you have to be careful about all the different things. Let them [Fours] be themselves. I can judge things really quickly, so don’t think they [Fours] are being too harsh or something, because it is just like instinct. I look at the bad things about everything. I’m really opinionated so, if someone doesn’t agree with me, it is hard to get along with them.”{Note: I commented on the Four’s need to notice the good things that are already there, to which she readily concurred.}

Type 5, the Observer: (Boy):“My mom is a Seven with a really strong Eight wing. She is really energetic and doesn’t give me enough space just to be alone and stuff. She always wants something or me to do something, when I just want to be by myself and read. We Fives need privacy.” {Note: I commented on balancing time for self with time to come out and connect. Also, that the need for privacy really needs to be respected.}

Type 6 the Loyal Skeptic: (Girl): “We use it for understanding classmates. I like positive reinforcement. My mom likes to scare me with horror stories of things that happen in real life. And that doesn’t work, because I will begin to worry too much about it. So everywhere I go I’m always worrying about that horror story. She does this to keep me safe, so I won’t get hurt…. One time I fell off my horse and got stepped on and it was really hard for me to get back on, but I did and I’m still riding.” {Note: As a Six, I commented on myself as an example of doubting mind and the importance of meeting life’s challenges.}

Type 7, the Epicure: (Boy): “If you have a Type 7 as a child, good luck, because they need a lot of toys. We get really, really annoyed and you will get on our nerves really easily. We need a lot of freedom.” {Note: This boy’s family has not used the Enneagram. The statement, “they need a lot of toys” is best taken metaphorically, as it tells the whole story about the Seven’s desire to keep life open and unlimited. I suggested that sadness could be OK.}

Type 8, the Protector: (Girl): “They [Eights] get mad or angry and stomp around. And some parents will yell at us about that. It is not that we can really help this; it is just about how we are. Sometimes we need to be stood up against. Some parents back down easily and Eights aren’t respectful of people who do that. It [the Enneagram] didn’t make a really big difference…. except that I knew that my personality type was to get mad, because [before] I thought that I had angry problems or something.” {Note: I commented that we adults have to pick what to put limits on and let you have your expression, otherwise lots of fights would go on. I suggested she practice breathing back “when you really get going so you could gain a little time”.}

Type 9, the Mediator: (Girl):  “I can be shy, but I also try to be a leader. If people try to hold me back, I get annoyed. Just let Nine’s have their space, but also talk to them and be with them. I don’t like to be ignored, but I don’t like to have too much attention. I like to have my privacy but also I like a lot of attention, when I want it.” {Note I commented that the stereotype of Nine is that you just go along with everything, but you also like to assert yourself, be a leader. I indicated she gave the right prescription “to give you space and encourage you to have your own positions”.}

Comments on What Adults Need to Know
In this round of exploration, the children expressed both the behavior they wanted understood and how parents/adults/others can support their lives and development. The statements reveal considerable awareness, candor and the confidence to self-disclose. To me these are remarkable statements, as these are children who have never been on a panel, were not scripted, and were being interviewed by an unknown person to them in front of a large audience.

Parents/Adults Responsibilities in the Matter of Typing Children
Given our knowledge of child development, the reports of the children speaking for themselves, and my own clinical experience over the years in working with families and teenagers, these are the factors, I believe, parents/adults must be willing to embrace in order to use the Enneagram responsibly with children.

  • Fostering healthy development. While this may seem obvious and even redundant, it is our primary task with children to foster development of healthy relationships characterized by respect and regard, self-acceptance, appreciation of differences, loving kindness, and good personal boundaries.
  • Helping to build receptive awareness with a good self-observer. No single skill is more important as a development tool than the skill of self-observation. Self-observation can be taught in early education before the introduction of the Enneagram, during what Piaget called the Preoperational Period of age 2-7. Self-observation provides a foundation for the later stages of development and is crucial to using the Enneagram constructively.
  • Being age appropriate. I discussed this above. Since all the intelligences – head, heart, and body – develop in concert, it is vital children be age ready to participate actively in using the Enneagram for self-discovery and self-development purposes. Thus, a minimum age of about 10 is required before utilizing type for personal and relationship development from the inside out. Of course, with some children, even at an early age, it is impossible not to know their type. In this instance, it is vital adults use the Enneagram understandings with respect and caution and mainly to manage their own behavior.
  • Affirming the positive qualities. We often focus on the negative and distressing aspects of type. This focus is natural since these aspects have energy in them, often point to a growth edge, and have the core issues of type embedded in them.  Hence with children, we must comment on and support the positive qualities, the strengths, of type. This helps in building a child’s competence, as well as self-esteem. This is vital.
  • Aiding in decision-making and conflict resolution. Using the Enneagram in family dynamics can support the entire decision making process – in exploring alternative solutions to problems, in planning activities, in determining who does what, and in resolving conflicts. This usage of the Enneagram depends upon the last three of the parent/adult responsibilities that follow.
  • Leading with appropriate self-disclosure. As adults we must provide a model that affirms our own strengths and reveals our own inner workings of type. In the psychological jargon this is the issue of ownership, of taking responsibility for our own actions and disclosing our meanings and motivations, appropriately. Here we need to watch for excuse making, rationalization, and blame of both self and others.
  • Seeking feedback. In utilizing the Enneagram with children, we adults must be open and receptive to feedback and literally encourage it with an open heart and mind. This makes the focus of interaction bi-directional, helping to level the playing field. We must remember children are dependent, inexperienced and just unfolding. In the absence of encouraging feedback, the entire process of working with children unravels.
  • Walking the talk. This encompasses all of the responsibilities stated above. Walking the talk means making action congruent with our ideals and values, doing what we think/feel and say, embodying compassion and care, and working on the integration of our own psychological and spiritual development.

Discussion and Concluding Thoughts
Categorizing and putting things into types is universal, a necessary bi-product of the great cerebral mantel or cortex development in the human species. It is not a matter of if we type, but of how, when, and in what ways. In doing so we must not forget to remember that typing devolving into stereotyping is a bane of human existence.

Since children are credulous, inexperienced, and dependent and, hence, vulnerable, it is crucial typing and use of type be done age appropriately. Cognitive development and corresponding emotional development is sufficiently in place during the latter part of Piaget’s Period of Concrete Operations, ages 10-11, to consider the systematic use of the Enneagram with children. However, it is not until to what Piaget called the Formal Operations period when children develop abstraction qualities and abilities for meta-thinking between ages 11-15 that the Enneagram can be fully used in both psychological and spiritual life (6).

As cited earlier with some children, even at an early age, it is impossible not to know their type. In this instance, it is even more vital adults use the Enneagram understandings with respect and caution and mainly to manage their own behavior and to remember the different types require different approaches. One size does not fit all. However, what can be done in the primary school ages is teaching the development of the self-observer (the receptive inner witness) and educating all three centers of intelligence. Moreover, respecting boundaries and maintaining the principle of self-discovery, rather than typing from the outside, are important at any age.

Because of both the power of the Enneagram and children’s vulnerability, it is vital adults/parents embrace the requirements for responsible usage: fostering healthy development, helping to build a good receptive self-observer in the child, being age appropriate, affirming the positive qualities, aiding decision making and conflict resolution, leading with appropriate self-disclosure, seeking feedback, and, above all, doing their best to walk the talk.

Then the great potential of the Enneagram to further the development of healthy, self-aware, kind, and thoughtful children can be realized. The single most key aspect is education of the self-observer, the nearest thing to a universal cure-all. This requires that parents, teachers, counselors, and adults in general also develop their self-observer, real grounded presence and non-judgment, and age appropriate use of the Enneagram with children.

The children’s panel at the IEA reported in this paper substantiates all of these conclusions. These 11-14 year olds showed remarkable awareness, including what motivates behavior and ability to self-observe. They recognized the strengths in their types and demonstrated an appreciation of difference between types. Their statements expressed both the behavior they wanted understood and how parents/adults/others can support their lives and development. Lastly, their statements revealed candor, confidence to disclose, and humor.

It was a privilege for me to have the opportunity to conduct this first IEA children’s panel. As I said at the conclusion of the panel, “I just think it is great that all of you [the children on the panel] would come up here and share with all of us. I feel honored at being a part of this and you have contributed a lot. I hope you all feel good about this. It is great!”
To view the DVD of the Children’s panel click here.

The Children’s Panel at the closing plenary session of the 2003 IEA Conference was made possible through the inspiration and determined effort of Ginger Lapid-Bogda and Judith Searle. I am indebted to them for their support and assistance.


(1) See “Why are children in the same family so different from one another?” by Robert Plomin and Denise Daniels in Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 1987.

(2) See Pygmalion in the Classroom: Teacher Expectations and Pupil’s Intellectual Development by Robert Rosenthal and Lenore Jacobson, Holt, Rinehart, & Winston, NY, 1968. The findings became known as the “Rosenthal Effect”.

(3) For a good summary of Piaget’s work see The Origins of Intellect: Piaget’s Theory by John Phillips, Jr., Freeman & Company, San Francisco, 1975.

(4) See A Century of Developmental Psychology edited by Ross Parke, et.al., American Psychological Association, Washington, DC, 1994 for scholarly reviews of developmental psychology  from many perspectives. Among other things, it suggests integration of personality psychology with developmental psychology.

(5) See Parenting from the Inside Out by Daniel Siegel and Mary Hartzell, Jeremy P Tarcher/Putnam, NY, 2003 that stresses the roles of interpersonal relationships, attachments, and neurobiology on the development of the brain. See also A general Theory of Love by Thomas Lewis, et.al., Random House, NY, 2000 which presents the roles of limbic resonance, limbic regulation and limbic revision in the dynamics of human relationships and love.

(6) Great overlaps exist between these developmental stages as well as considerable individual differences. See also reference #4.