ENFP: A Great Idea? I've Got a Million of 'Em!
'It's pointless telling her something can't be done. For her, where there's a will, there's a way.'
The key to understanding and appreciating ENFPs of any age is to remember that they are ruled by their highly developed sense of what is possible. They have an insatiable curiosity and need to talk about their many original ideas whether or not anything comes out of them. Above all else, they think of themselves as idea people, but they are also deeply sensitive and need their feelings and values to be honored and understood. These two insights are essential to nurturing the energetic and imaginative spirit of ENFPs.
The examples that follow are drawn from stories of real children. But since all people are unique, your ENFP 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 ENFP, most of what you read should sound strikingly familiar.
Preschool ENFPsBirth to Age 4Perhaps the most outstanding characteristic common to all young ENFPs is their high exuberance and excitement about people and new experiences. Preschool ENFPs instantly notice anything novel or out of the ordinary and are eager to explore and play with new toys. Rarely hesitant or reserved, even with strangers, they are very energized by being with other people and become more wound up, the more people they interact with. ENFPs are usually very eager to see, touch, and experience the world. Alert and especially aware of people, they tend to smile early and easily. Generally, excitable, bouncy babies, they like to be out of the house and tend to become bored and cranky on the days they have to stay home.
- From the time David was born, he seemed to be in perpetual motion. He derived much energy from the people around him and, even as a tiny baby, craned his neck to see faces and was excited by the voices and the touch of other people.
Highly social, happy infants and toddlers, ENFPs are usually able to express themselves well even before they start to talk. While they tend to be loud and demanding babies, they are also delightful and exciting, with an easy laugh and boundless enthusiasm. Loving and warm, most ENFPs enjoy being passed around to people other than their parents. While they prefer to be upright and able to see their environment, they also like to be snuggled and are usually very affectionate.
- Two-year-old Melissa seemed to have no fear of people. She was more than willing to be held by her parents' friends or relatives she barely knew. She was a dramatic and expressive toddler who delighted adults with her outgoing charm and vitality. Melissa loved to sing and show off for groups and usually started dancing as soon as she heard music, whether it was at a wedding or in a restaurant. Friendly and outgoing, Melissa would boldly walk up to children at a playground whom she did not know and ask if they wanted to play.
Even very young ENFPs are nearly always described as creative and imaginative. While they express this innovative thinking in many different ways, it is a true hallmark of ENFPs. Most are big talkers, very curious, and full of questions about why things are as they are.
- Three year old Trevor loved to draw and offered elaborate and amusing captions for his many drawings and paintings. His preschool teachers and parents often found themselves in stitches over his delightful sense of humor, clown-like antics, and joke telling. Trevor demonstrated a real acumen for solving problems in creative and unusual ways. And since he was so enthusiastic, he was nearly always able to persuade other children to play games his way.
- Holly had a circus of stuffed animals that always figured large in her play. Each had a name and a distinct personality, and she invented complicated scenarios and relationships between them to embellish her play story lines. Holly sometimes played alone for brief periods of time but really preferred to have the company of one of her parents or a friend who would act out the part of one or more of the animals with her.
From the toddler years on, art is usually a favorite activity. Making collages, painting, and drawing are activities ENFPs often love. And like most of what they enjoy, ENFPs like to show off their art, explaining in great detail what they had in mind or what is depicted in each piece. Young ENFPs also enjoy music, dancing, and putting on spontaneous performances for family and friends. All of their play springs from their rich imaginations and their love for action and variety.
- Jake's choice of toys was always a bit unconventional. He never had any sustained interest in toy cars or trucks unless he was building one out of some totally unrelated material, like his supper. He preferred to use toys in other ways and often turned blocks into dinosaurs, sticks into weapons or flags, and chairs, tables, and blankets into secret forts. He spent much of the time discussing what superhero he was and the special powers he had. He liked to improvise costumes and, for about three months while he was four, wore a cape his grandmother had made everywhere he went.
In addition to their high energy level and active imaginations, preschool ENFPs are deeply caring and sensitive children. While they may not show all of their deepest emotions to the outside world, they are usually open and expressive with their parents, siblings, and other close family members. ENFPs are particularly aware of their parents' feelings, and tend to become anxious if they sense that their parents are worried or frightened. They have a strong need for harmony and do not like to upset others, especially their parents.
- Carson was an affectionate, loving four year old but he tended to hold in his fears until they built up to a level unmanageable for a small boy. One day his father lost his patience when Carson knocked over a display at the bank because he was swinging on the poles and ropes that separated the teller lines. His father quickly apologized for raising his voice, and they continued their errands. But Carson still seemed upset long after the incident was forgiven and forgotten by his father. At bedtime that evening, Carson finally relaxed enough to tell his father how the angry voice had scared him and embarrassed him in front of the other bank customers. His father apologized again, and they talked for several minutes about how Carson and his father had felt.The Joys and Challenges of Raising Preschool ENFPs
While ENFPs are interesting, exciting, and stimulating children to be with, they are also exhausting. They never seem to slow down, rest, or stop talking. Their parents are often worn out by midday; because ENFPs almost always choose to be with someone, parents rarely get a much-needed break to recharge themselves for the next round of adventures, and sometimes their exuberance can just seem like too much of a good thing.
- Three year old Gina's parents frequently worried about how best to channel and manage her enormous energy level. Many evenings, after falling exhausted onto the couch, they worried about whether they were letting her run roughshod over their lives and their household. They found it increasingly difficult to take her places because she was so loud, boisterous, and messy. She touched everything she saw, climbed on anything around her, and seemed to either not hear or quickly disregard whatever instructions or warnings she was given. They wanted their daughter to feel loved and cherished. But instead, they sometimes feared they were giving her the not altogether erroneous impression that she was a pest. They agreed that they needed to re-think some of their priorities. They could see that because she was so comfortable even thrilled being places with other people, perhaps they were setting her up for failure by taking her places which they wanted to go but which she just didn't yet have the self-control to manage. They vowed to keep trips to fancy stores to a minimum and spend more time at the playground at least for the next few months.
Because ENFPs rarely accept anything at face value and because they have such a remarkable ability to see alternatives, they naturally question most limits and rules. It's important to realize that most of the time, ENFPs are not being intentionally defiant or disrespectful. They are so driven by their natural curiosity that they ask more questions than children of other types. And they are thirsty for information, perpetually wondering: What lies just outside of this limit? What would happen if I...? Why can't I...? and What else is there?
Accepting and respecting ENFPs' driving need to question their environment and understanding their impact on it are essential to nurturing them. Their need to ask is even more important than their desire for an answer. ENFPs think out loud and do not censor or edit their thoughts. They actually need to hear what they've said before they can apply any judgment to it. For ENFPs, the process rules.
We love our ENFPs' natural enthusiasm, and know they are happiest when allowed to explore their surroundings to their heart's content. But it just isn't always possible or advisable to let them turn the world upside down for their own amusement and intellectual curiosity. We need to strike a balance between their needs and those of the rest of the world.
While it can be unnerving to be around ENFPs' noisy physical energy, it's usually just more bothersome to the adults than really dangerous or harmful to the kid. When we stop to think about the behavior, we realize that the problem is rarely what is happening, but instead, the way it is happening (too loud, too fast, too messy, etc.). Before we try to stop the behavior, we need to determine if we are really responding to the way, rather than the what. Taking a moment to reflect gives parents the perspective they need to avoid overreacting and making the child feel bad about his or her natural energy level. Even adult ENFPs often admit it is sometimes hard to know whether their energy is appropriate to the circumstance. But there are limits, and we do well to look ahead and anticipate where we will need to draw the line, ideally before the child has reached it.
Because ENFPs are so energized by interacting with other people, they often become so wound up that they lose control of themselves. Their eagerness makes them attentive, engaging, and interesting children to be around, and they are often funny and entertaining as well. But without the maturity that will eventually help them regulate their energy, they tend to become louder, wilder, and more outrageous, the more excited they get. Rather than shaming or embarrassing the child because of the volume of his voice which usually carries across two football fields we can teach him to distinguish between an 'inside' and an 'outside' voice. There is nothing wrong with insisting that the child move to another room (or go outside), as long as he isn't required to play alone quietly for too long. (That's a combination that rarely works for very long.) Also, physically drawing the child away from the source of stimulation, even for a moment, can enable the child to calm down. Eye contact is important here. At times, this small intervention is all the child needs to settle themselves.
And because ENFPs are so tuned in to the world around them, disconnecting from that stimulation can provide a small pause in the frenzy of the moment so the child can actually hear and attend to the request or correction. Whatever technique we use, we need to communicate that their energy itself isn't bad just misplaced. The minute we stop looking at behavior as something they are doing to us, we are able to shift our viewpoint and see the important drive behind what they are doing. Almost all young ENFPs can be distracted away from unwanted behavior if they are enticed with something new or intriguing or with humor. With these happy, spontaneous children, it is fairly easy to turn a negative into a positive.
When you redirect behavior, the key is to be extremely precise about what you are asking and exactly how you expect their behavior to be changed. ENFPs are so good at bending rules that if there is any ambiguity in your message, they will find a way of continuing the action, but with a slight variation that wasn't expressly prohibited ('You told me I couldn't swing on the chandelier. You never said I couldn't just hang from it!') In general, the more you correct and limit, the less they pay attention. Instead, thoughtfully decide which behavior really is over the top and needs correcting, and then give explicit directions. It doesn't help any child to have to fight for every ounce of freedom. We don't want our children growing up feeling that there's something inherently wrong with their striving to try things in new ways. We are wise to help them learn to self-regulate their behavior, rather than relying on grown-ups to do it for them. While it is hard to raise this type of child in a society that still believes on some level that children should be seen and not heard or should at least be strictly contained the bottom line is that the more we give them reasonable room to experiment with life, the more they will learn the outer limits quickly and on their own. As a family, we will all have fewer battles to live through, and our ENFPs will grow up thinking of themselves as capable and courageous people, rather than out-of-control monsters.
Life can be chaotic with an ENFP. They seem to create messes everywhere and are not nearly as interested in finishing projects as they are in starting them. Cleanup is almost always a battle. Mess represents activity and possibility to ENFPs, so they can live happily amid more disorder than most parents are comfortable with.
- Three year old Isaac loved building complicated and imaginative structures with his Legos or making a hospital for his stuffed animals. But he resisted putting the toys away, even after he had lost interest in actually playing, because he never wanted to admit the activity was over. He would frequently say he was going to play more later. Instead of arguing over whether the game was really over, his mother made an effort to simply close the door to the room or place the project intact inside a large box, out of the way, or find a shelf or cabinet area dedicated to the many inventions Isaac made and the many works-in-progress he had. If a couple of weeks went by and he didn't touch them again, she would privately dismantle them and reintroduce the materials into his playroom.
By not offering resistance to the ENFP's desire to keep the play options open, we avoid yet another struggle. And more important to the child, the parent who deems the piece of work worthy of keeping (for a while, at least), communicates appreciation and respect for the child. To ENFPs, who view their ideas as a central part of their self-worth, this expression of acceptance is a giant 'I love you'.