Parents are faced
with the enormous task of not only raising their children to be productive
members of society but also helping them grow into the individuals God intended
them to be. However, God created each child and each parent to be unique, so
what parenting techniques work for some children do not work for others. In Growing Kids with Character: Nurturing
Your Child’s Potential, Purpose, and Passion, Hettie Brittz offers parents
advice tailored to their own personality as well as to the temperament of each
of their children.
Welcome, Hettie. You introduce your
book by telling about your misadventures in growing a vegetable garden. How is
raising children like growing a garden?
I think the similarity starts with the expectation that one
will make a certain investment and reap a predictable harvest, but gardeners
and parents both may have experienced many factors beyond their control. Pests,
the weather, and our own mistakes sometimes seem to sabotage the outcome. In a
garden these are physical variables; in parenting they are often emotional or
spiritual. The realization that there will be such hazards and risk factors
bring us to our knees, as it does a gardener or a farmer, because we can’t
escape the clear need for God’s help in this process.
Growing Kids with Character helps parents identify their child’s natural
temperaments and gives tailored insight on how to cultivate his or her
personality and gifts accordingly. Can you tell us about the Tall Trees
Profiles assessment that helps parents identify their child’s tree type? What
are the four types of trees?
The Tall Trees Kids Profile is based on the many fourfold
personality theories found in literature, studies of personality, behavioral
and learning styles, and observations of many children throughout the years. At
the heart of the kids’ profile are four tree types: Palm Tree, Rose Bush, Pine Tree,
and Boxwood Tree.
Palm Trees are the spontaneous, social kids who crave our
constant attention and hands-on involvement. Like palm trees in nature, they
seem to be having nonstop fun in the sun. They need life to be colorful and
filled with thrilling possibilities.
Rose Bushes are born with a metaphoric sign on their
foreheads: “I’m the boss … Can’t you read?” The first few years of parenting
are characterized by a power struggle to be the boss, a struggle that can wear
out parents. The Rose Bushes chase milestones, always trying to prove they’re
bigger and stronger than we think. I chose a rose bush as their symbol because
the flowers remind me of the flowers awarded to winners. Their thorns are a
warning that if you step too close, you’d better be prepared for the painful
truth and a challenge or two.
Pine Trees balance out these extroverted tree types by being
all about peace and harmony. Don’t pines even smell of peace and calmness? They
are the kids we often overlook—content, eager to please, and quiet spectators
rather than loud participants.
Boxwood Trees are the fairness barometers. In nature,
boxwoods are used to make chess pieces and tuning pegs for musical instruments.
Boxwood Tree kids think ahead, as one should when playing chess, and see life
as a set of black-and-white choices. Even the little ones will point out rules
to their friends and will fine-tune their own behavior and that of others for
their teachers or parents. In nature, boxwoods can be pruned into perfect
shapes or square hedges; Boxwood kids are equally moldable.
Most people are a combination of two. Temperament literally
means “mixture” after all! A smaller percentage is close to one “pure” tree
type, while the exceptions among us are a combination of three trees.
I believe our children’s design fits their purpose.
Therefore, a child with a calling that requires an adapted style that can fit
many diverse requirements is usually equipped with a broader personality style.
Those kids who are created for a specialized area often test as one dominant
Since the parents complete
the profile for each of their children, is there a danger of them unconsciously
answering the way they try to shape their child into reacting rather than how
their child would naturally act or respond?
Yes, unfortunately our research has shown that although moms
generally know their kids well, they find it almost impossible to be objective.
That is precisely why the Tall Trees Kids profile is set up in a way that
parents can involve their older kids, family members, and even teachers in
determining their child’s personality profile. Up to four people can
participate, which guarantees a much more accurate assessment of the child’s
Putting labels on
children is typically frowned upon, but you offer that labels aren’t
necessarily a bad thing. How can labels be helpful?
I truly don’t like labels. The Tall Trees terminology was a
reaction to the labels I was given years ago. I wanted a way of talking about
personality that would still acknowledge the possibility of change, growth, and
metamorphosis. Trees are like that, aren’t they? No two of them are identical.
They don’t look the same in all four seasons. Even in the same tree family—there
are so many pine tree species and rose bush varieties. Boxwoods come in every
imaginable shape, and palms can be tiny love palms that fit in a pot or
towering palm trees such as the ones on the beaches of Miami. I don’t insult a tree when I use its
name, and I don’t insult an individual when I use labels such as woman,
teacher, ballet dancer, or soccer player, do I? The Tall Trees “labels” are
merely ways of acknowledging a child’s uniqueness, and they act as care
When I say a child is a Boxwood Tree, I’m also saying, “This
is a child who needs ongoing affirmation, structure, and clear boundaries.” I’m
using the label to help others love this child well, not to limit the child’s
potential. If I said you were a diabetic and used that label, I’d be telling
people how to care for you. If I call someone a single mom, the label helps me
have grace with her when she can’t make it to all the activities her kids
participate in. Using the tree type labels has the same motive. If I know a
child’s tree type, I can make sure I have a fair expectation of him or her.
Why do parents need
to change and shape themselves to raise their child instead of demanding the
child be more pliable? Doesn’t this put the child in charge and teach him or
her that everyone should bow to his or her needs?
It can easily seem as though Growing
Kids with Character promotes child-centered parenting that coddles kids
by ensuring the world accommodates all their needs while never asking them to
grow beyond their comfort zone. That is something real life simply won’t do for
the child, and I can say emphatically I’d never recommend that approach.
Instead, the idea
is to discern the absolute essential emotional and spiritual needs of each
child and to fulfill those while identifying the areas in which each child will
need a bit of discomfort, challenging expectations from our side, and support
to change potentially harmful or unhelpful characteristics. Let’s revisit the
idea of a gardener for a moment. The balance is always struck between giving
the necessary fertilizer and protection against frostbite, which could destroy
the tree on the one hand, while doing painful pruning for the sake of a good
harvest on the other. Similarly, it would be unreasonable to expect that a tree
would bear fruit while withholding what is essential to the particular tree’s
flourishing, wouldn’t it? A child has to feel loved, accepted, understood, and
believed in before such a child can press beyond selfishness and entitlement.
What challenges do
parents face when their personality is one tree type and their child is a very
The toughest part is anticipating needs that are so far
removed from ours. I can’t, for example, imagine that someone would want to be
a passive spectator because I always engage, even when I shouldn’t. I am a
contra-pine (a combination of the driven Rose Bush, the adrenaline-seeking Palm
Tree, and the dutiful Boxwood who needs to finish everything). God gave me a
Pine Tree daughter who is my opposite. She is content to be on the sidelines 90
percent of the time. She can stop a project that doesn’t interest her halfway
in and have fun sitting down. In parenting her with her nature in mind, I have
to curb the urge constantly to hurry her up, press her to participate, or push
her forward into leadership situations where she’s not inclined to step up of
her own accord. If I do those things, she experiences a need to be someone she
isn’t to win my approval.
Now imagine an outgoing Palm Tree mom whose Boxwood child
would rather sit and color than go on an outing. This mom may need to slow
down, sit down, tone down, and essentially dial down her volume and gestures to
connect with her child.
Not only does each
child have his or her own natural personality, but each parent has a natural
way of parenting as well. How is it possible to work with your natural
tendencies yet parent each child individually?
It starts with believing that God has a design for your
family. Your tendencies and style are not a problem. They are God given and
will do two things: provide essentials that are not present in your children’s
make-up and are part of their journey to maturity, and challenge your children
by creating the type of discomfort that makes both parent and child grow.
Take for example the easygoing mom who resists schedules and
routine. She’s probably a Pine Tree and Palm Tree rolled into one. This Pine-Palm
mom is super nurturing, tends to have lots of grace with mistakes, and creates
a warm atmosphere. God very likely will give her a Boxwood Tree or Rose Bush
child to raise who might not appreciate her style all the time. A Boxwood kid
would need routine and, as a toddler, will have many whiny tantrums over little
mistakes and frustrations, which the Pine-Palm mom may not be able simply to
smile or hug away. The end result will be a mom who starts planning and
structuring her home life more carefully, and a child who learns to take
certain things in stride and be more flexible. Both ultimately adapt and win!
It becomes challenging when we have two or more kids, each with his or her own
needs, but the same principle applies. Each child will smooth a different set
of our rough edges, and each will gain something unique from us as his or her
parents despite the apparent clashes.
struggle to make sure their children feel as though they are being treated
equally. However, you write about disciplining and communicating with your
children based on their personalities. What happens when a child sees this as
showing favoritism toward his or her sibling?
When we give each of the four types of children exactly the
same consequence for an action—let’s say an hour in their room—two of the four
types will likely welcome the privacy and peace, while the other two will feel
bored or restricted by the time-out. This means disciplinary or corrective
measures need to feel corrective to each child, or they won’t work. The child
who feels corrected when simply given “the look” does not need another
privilege revoked. The child who pushes back when corrected is effectively
applying for stronger action from the parents’ side. Thus, we can explain the
seeming inequality in discipline this way: “Discipline is meant to change your
heart, your mind, and your actions. You are so different from your brother that
we have to use different things to change your heart when you disobey us than
what we use when he does. There are different things in his head and heart than
in yours, and you don’t behave the same. We, in turn, don’t behave the same
toward the two of you. We teach you different things because God’s plan for you
two is different.”
At the end of the
book you include an addendum on “Spanking and the Biblical Mandate.” What
reasons did you have for devoting an extra chapter on this specific form of
In the original version of the book, published in South
Africa, the little bits about spanking were addressed in the Palm Tree and Rose
Bush chapters as a discipline option among many others that generally work
better with their temperament at a young age than with the Boxwood Tree’s and
Pine Tree’s temperaments. I decided to remove it from those chapters and only
address it as an option in the back of the book because of the understandable
issues with spanking being outlawed in many countries around the world and with
child abuse in this area becoming a more conscious social concern. In theory,
many parents say they oppose it, but in practice we see an overwhelmingly large
percentage of parents admitting to spanking their kids on occasion. I felt
there had to be a guide for a biblical way of doing what parents end up doing
in anger or frustration, even when many don’t want to consider it an option. It
is my way of saying we should at least reflect on both sides and decide where
we stand on the spanking issue, so that when we, a spouse, a grandparent, or
another adult differs from us about the matter, we can say we’ve carefully
considered it and have made up our minds about how it will or will not figure
into how we raise our kids. Reports from countries where spanking has been
outlawed or effectively phased out several years ago are beginning to come in,
and the results of that social adjustment are not resoundingly positive. I felt
parents needed to know that.
Why is it important
to cultivate your child’s unique way of encountering, following, and worshipping
God is a God of creativity and diversity. He makes us works
of art, and I believe He wants us to glorify Him in colorful, unique ways. When
we force a spiritual style and spiritual journey on our kids, they may not
worship God the way He intended for them.
The apostles Peter and Paul had vastly different encounters
with God. Peter (a Palm Tree) was called from his boat to a more exhilarating
adventure—fishing for men—while Paul (a Rose Bush) had an almost traumatic
encounter with God. God grabbed Paul from behind, struck him with blindness,
confronted him about the direction of his life, and sent him a message that he
would suffer much for the cause of Christ. Moses (a Boxwood Tree) encountered
God in the miraculous sight of a burning bush and was given his calling in
great detail, while Abraham (a Pine Tree) had sit-down meals with God and
angels in a precious friendship-style relationship. It’s going to be the same
with our kids; each will find, hear, follow, and honor God uniquely.
I believe in a purposeful design for every atom and cell in
God’s creation. Our kids have designer DNA in their bodies and a calling in
their souls and spirits. Their temperaments are adjusted to the same tune so
their whole being will worship Him as they find their God-given passions and
follow these passions toward their purpose in Christ.
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