INTP: Question Authority
'I've never won an argument with her. She's raised the act of hairsplitting to an art form.'
The most important and characteristically developed part of an INTP of any age is a keen sense of logic and fairness. They are highly analytical and draw conclusions based upon the logical consequences of actions. INTPs are also creative and original thinkers, able to see possibilities and patterns all around them. Parenting them requires patience and the willingness to let them explore, follow their natural curiosity, and develop their own unique and often offbeat path. Strongly individualistic and fiercely independent, INTPs need plenty of freedom, challenge, and the opportunity to continually learn new things.
The examples that follow are drawn from stories of real children. But since all people are unique, your INTP may not demonstrate all of the characteristics described or may not demonstrate them with the same degree of intensity. But if your child really is an INTP, most of what you read should sound strikingly familiar.
Birth to Age 4
To many parents of INTPs, it may seem that their baby is really an adult, trapped inside a child's body! A bit remote and totally self-contained, INTP babies are generally calm, placid, and serious. They are usually content to sit and observe the world and the people around them, curious and stimulated by anything new or novel. They are most interested in learning new things and tend to be very autonomous, with a strong craving for mastery that follows them throughout their lives. INTPs are not generally very affectionate, smiley, or demonstrative infants, nor are they usually tearful or weepy children. Naturally detached and generally unemotional, INTPs seem to be always a bit removed from those around them, even their parents. They are eager to do things for themselves, and, even as small children, are typically more stoic, aloof, and impersonal than children of other types.
- When Margaret was three, she announced to her parents that she wanted no more hugs and kisses from them. When they protested, she paused a moment and then compromised: 'OK, you can hug me sometimes, but only when I say so, and only at home.' Sometimes, when she really wanted something her parents had refused her, she would try to bargain with them, offering to hug or kiss them in exchange for giving her what she wanted!
Most INTP toddlers like and need lots of time alone and are quickly tired when they are handled by lots of people. They may even be selective and sensitive to too much external stimulation, which can show up as being highly choosy about foods, smells, and the touch of strangers. INTPs tend to be hesitant about new people, as well, and as toddlers are more apt to stand back from groups and watch the social action for long periods before joining in. And, often as not, INTPs may choose not to join at all. They will not be rushed or pushed into doing anything they do not want to do. They prefer talk and play that is one-on-one rather than in large groups.
- Doug had a large extended family, all of whom lived in the same town. So his family was forever hosting large family gatherings, and all major holidays were celebrated in his house. Even during the child-oriented parties like Easter, Christmas, and birthdays, Doug would begin to droop after too much people contact. When he was a baby, he would begin to fuss or cry if too many people held him. Once he was able to talk, he simply pulled his mother aside and told her he wanted to go to bed.
While most INTPs tend to be reserved and do not freely tell you what they are thinking, their early language is often surprisingly articulate and sophisticated. They may use creative and unusual ways of describing experiences. When three year old Aster's feet fell asleep, she described the tingling pins and needles sensation by saying there were 'sparkles' in her feet. Young INTPs tend to be quiet for long periods of time, thinking things through, and then announce with clarity and confidence an insight they've had or a correlation they have made between unrelated things. Even as preschoolers, they frequently start sentences with, 'So what you're saying is...', showing how easily they can synthesize information into a premise or theory. INTPs are naturally global thinkers and demonstrate plenty of evidence of their ability to make connections easily and accurately. But they will usually share these insights only with their parents or other people they know very well and trust. Publicly, they appear shy and watchful.
- When Peter was only two, he stood in the crib and said, 'Square, circle, square. Square, circle, square.' At first his parents didn't understand what he was saying and wondered if he was asking for a particular toy. Finally they realized he was looking behind them and describing the pattern in the wallpaper.
The frequent questions INTPs ask are often startling ones. INTPs are very curious and interested in understanding why things are as they are. They are usually not satisfied with anything less than clear and complete answers and would really prefer to explore and figure out the mechanical underpinnings of objects and their principles of operation than listen to anyone describe how they work. So many young INTPs like to take things apart – everything from ballpoint pens to clock radios. Often, they would rather take their toys apart and put them back together than play with them in more conventional ways. And INTPs often ask surprising and irreverent questions about concerns and issues way beyond their years.
- Nickie's family called her the 'why' child. She tended to be silent for long periods of time and then suddenly ask questions that seemed to come out of left field. Once, she wanted to know how scientists determined that certain berries were poisonous. She asked, 'How did they find it out? Did they feed them to old women to see if they died?' After church one day when she was four, Nickie asked her mother, 'How do we know there's only one God? Has anyone seen Him?' Pat answers were never sufficient, and no amount of surprise or sometimes even shocked reactions from adults diminished her curiosity or deferred her questioning.
A pattern of silence followed by short periods of high energy and interaction is common among INTPs. Their need for action and social connection is met in bursts that are unpredictable in nature and few and far between. But most INTPs spend much of their lives inside their own heads. They are very internal people and require lots of time and space to think things through and understand the world around them. Clearly, they enjoy their private musings. They love creative toys, building materials, puzzles, and any open-ended activity without rules or restrictions. They frequently have just one good friend and nearly always would rather learn something on their own than learn as part of a group. While they are usually hesitant around new people, they are often fearless about taking on physical challenges. Characteristically, they exude quiet confidence and calmly and casually master new challenges as other, less adventurous children look on.
The Joys and Challenges of Raising Preschool INTPs
Perhaps the biggest challenge of raising preschool INTPs is that they can often be so remote and emotionally distant from their parents and their families. Feeling parents, hungry for expressions of affection and appreciation, may feel rebuffed or ignored by their independent and analytical INTPs. Even young INTPs are not easily offended and seem to have been born with a thick skin, impervious to the opinions or criticisms of others. They tend to be very honest – even blunt – but are typically unaware of the emotional impact their words or actions have on others. They may be confused and irritated at the extent to which other members of their families or their friends personalize things.
- Four year old Justine had frequent arguments with her more Feeling six year old sister, Kimberly. During these arguments, Kimberly's feelings were often hurt and she would accuse Justine of being mean 'on purpose', which infuriated Justine. Their mother watched the dynamics between them and saw that Justice did indeed step on her sister's toes in many ways with her super-logical and direct approach and her analytical reactions. But Justine was always baffled when Kimberley was hurt, because she reasoned that since she never meant to be mean, her sister shouldn't blame her for it. Justine was not able to see that the effect of her actions was the same, regardless of her intent.
While INTPs do have an innate sense of fairness, they are not naturally empathetic. Young INTPs are rarely malicious or intentionally cold, but they are generally unaware of and unaffected by the feelings of other people. They are not persuaded or convinced by anything but pure and flawless logic. When parents shout or rage or otherwise respond with great emotion to the INTP's misbehavior, the child usually looks confused or even condescending – as though the parents are crazy for overreacting. It takes a lot more to elicit an emotional outburst from an INTP than from children of many other types. Since INTPs seem to learn only from the logical consequences of their actions, nothing but experiencing the natural and social consequence of their insensitivity will have any effect. As parents, we can calmly and patiently allow them to learn on their own, over time, the intrinsic value and tangible positive results of expressing warmth or doing things to help others. But empathy and sensitivity, just like an openness and willingness to share what they are feeling, are hard-learned skills for INTPs.
Because preschool INTPs are so naturally curious about how things work and are typically driven by their innate inquisitiveness to explore the world around them, they often take physical risks that alarm or frighten their parents. They tend to climb on high counters, make ladders from dresser drawers to get on top of furniture, and otherwise use their imaginations and excellent powers of creative problem solving to overcome obstacles. Their everyday play seems to just naturally push the limits of both safety and acceptability. And for some reason – perhaps because of their inherent danger and the fact that they are strictly off-limits – stoves seem to hold especially seductive powers to many, many INTPs.
- When Kenny was four, he climbed into the oven and then turned it on. Fortunately, his wary mother was never too far behind him, and she quickly scooped him out of the oven. He also liked to turn on the garbage disposal, and once his exasperated mother found him on top of the refrigerator calmly eating a bagel.
INTPs are unaffected by and rarely dissuaded by rules, limits, or even barriers. They seem to be always one step ahead, able to figure out cunning and creative ways of getting what they want or exploring that which intrigues them. Naturally nonconforming, they are skeptical, even disdainful, of rules. They will just quietly and purposefully go ahead and do what they have been told repeatedly not to do. Many parents of young INTPs report numerous occasions when their preschool children just walked away from them, crossed streets by themselves, or let themselves out of locked gates. Combine an innate spirit of wanderlust with ingenious problem solving and you get a child who is almost unstoppable and nearly unrestrainable.
- The first time four year old Eric got into his father's toolbox, his parents bought a lock for it to keep him safe from the saws, nails, and other sharp tools. Soon after that, however, Eric got out of his bed, crept downstairs to the basement, and carefully removed the hinges on the box in order to open it.
Because they are more often in their own world, young INTPs can be difficult to motivate and get moving. Trying to push young INTPs into social situations they do not feel comfortable in is a common mistake parents make. In particular, Extraverted parents, eager to get their children involved with friends and activities, unwittingly communicate displeasure with and, more damaging, an intolerance of, their INTP child's innate desire and need for privacy. Above all, INTPs of any age need to be competent. They do not want to be placed in social situations in which they feel awkward or unsure.
Impulsive and adaptive, INTPs are happiest when they are afforded as much time and space as possible. They will not be rushed, and emotional appeals or even threats have little or no effect. These children move along at their own pace, unaware and unconcerned about time, structure, or the inconvenience they may be placing on their parents. While it can be trying to accommodate a young INTP's pace, it may well require some parents to reassess their priorities, especially those with busy schedules and a strong need for punctuality and order. By recognizing and accepting these natural INTP tendencies, rather than resisting them, parents can instead put their energy into finding happy and constructive compromises. The alternative is a very long and unproductive battle with this type of child.