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How to parent THE REFORMER

Today, we’re looking at the IMPROVER: They are people of integrity who are motivated to improve the world and help others to be the best they can be. Otherwise known as the enneagram one! The improver is sometimes called the perfectionist, but I always think that sounds a bit severe. But what is true is that the ONE likes to get things right. They like to treat people right, get things right and they expect the same of others.

Do you have a child (or someone in your life) who just wants to get things right? They self-correct, they correct others, can be quite rule bound and even seem a little dogmatic - perhaps judgemental at times too, but always ready to help others to rise to their full potential. If you know someone like this, they could be a type one on the enneagram.


They -

  • care about the details

  • keep their promises

  • Carry out tasks competently

  • Spot defects and inefficiencies

  • strive for excellence

  • and fight for fairness

On the challenging side, the improver can be quick to point out flaws, inefficiencies, or places where people have deviated from what has been asked.

And they can be slow to praise.

They can spot that one thing that could have been done better or more efficiently and see that part over the broader picture. Perhaps your child sees this in their homework or achievements or things that are done for them. They can have quite a black and white view of right and wrong – they share this trait with the challenger. But can also see it as their responsibility to ensure the improvements are made!

Sound like your child?

Sound like you?

Sound like anyone you know?


Enneagram type 1s are generous with their time and attention and in giving to others, to causes and being supportive.

You might use these words to describe them:

  • Dependable

  • Self-disciplined

  • Structured

  • Reliable well organised

  • Thoughtful

  • Fun

  • adventurous

  • Particular


  • A worrier

  • A micromanager (at times)

They won’t be all of these, but if a high percentage correlates to the person you have in mind, they could well be a type 1, an Improver.

And we need this type of person. If your child has these characteristics, you may have noticed that they pay attention to the world around them. They’ll notice the homeless person, or the child in the playground who’s been left out. They’ll respect the detail required in a project and do things to the letter.

But sometimes they can fall into the trap of never feeling good enough or worthy because they don’t reach the exhausting benchmarks, they set for themselves.

Let’s look at some famous type 1s

Bill Gates

Princess Diana

The Dalai Lama

Dolly Parton

CS lewis

This is conjecture of course by the experts.

So, as you can see, they can do great things with their lives. I look at that list and note the common thread of social action.

But it’s also the case that if type ones haven’t quite learned to use their strengths well, or been guided by wise parents, they can also be hard work at times.


Type 1s care about others and the world that they live in. They want to make it a better place and can rise to the responsibility. They can see what needs doing and where the lack or underperformance is coming from, so they make good coaches and leaders. You can depend on them for honesty – so don’t look for compliments in case they tell you what you don’t want to hear. They’re truth-tellers…Improvers!

They can frustrate people when they become judgey or critical. When they find it hard to admit to being in the wrong because it feels so condemning for them. Their constant irritant is this little voice on their shoulder saying, “You could have done that better!” or if they’re in an unhealthy place, they’ll hear “you’re not enough!”

I remember an experience where a group of us had put some time aside to collate and pack some goods and literature for charity. Everyone came with a willing heart, but it was disorganised and chaotic. One girl saw through the chaos and had an eye for putting a system together that would save us all time and ensure the job was done accurately, so she had us line up the goods and papers on tables and we lined up alongside and there was an efficient conveyor belt going. This task was going to get done quickly and well. But one of the other girls was chatting and distracted, enjoying the comradery as more than the efficiency and kept sending the wrong things along and muddling the system. She wasn’t in a hurry, so no harm done, but others liked the efficient system. So, the organised girl gently explained how it would be helpful to stick to the system. The chatty girl felt criticised and left the room. Awks! Maybe she was an improver!

And so it is with Type 1s. Sometimes they’re focussed on getting things right, and they can leave people feeling criticised or not good enough.

So that’s the area a type 1 could hone. To ride the averages and accept imperfection sometimes. Not always, but to learn when there’s more to be gained by buttoning their lips, than pointing out a way to improve that seems obvious to them

…to let things slide…

And that’s where we come it… parents can help to support and mature their wonderful gifts.

Let’s look at the CHILDHOOD of a type one.

No matter how wonderful a childhood you’ve had or you’re giving your children, childhood can be a muddly place. Until we get the hang of the world, we only have the acts and influences of parents and teachers around us to form the matrix of life’s rights and wrongs. And in different contexts they can seem to send different messages. A child who is likely an ‘Enneagram One’ in the making is always trying to assess what is right and wrong. It can become confusing to them if another child is praised for something that to our ‘Enneagram One’ is patently inaccurate or not exactly what was asked for.

For example, there was a class of children who were asked to draw the Union Jack around the time of the queen’s jubilee. It’s basically a red cross with a red X behind it, isn’t it? But on closer inspection, the lines of the red X don’t actually touch the cross. There’s a little margin around the cross where nothing actually touches it. Some of the students noticed this and others merrily drew a large red cross over a large red X. Most students were unbothered by this, but one little boy was indignant that some of the Union Jacks were wrong, and he was upset that the teacher seemed just as pleased with all of them, even though some weren’t accurate. A potentially confusing experience for someone who has an eye for perfection and definitely for an Enneagram One.

This character type can tend toward comparison to evaluate themselves to see if they’re worthy - and self-condemnation when they feel that they haven’t got it right. Their sense of value and confidence can be firmly attached to whether they’ve got things right. They can even try to get things right in order to win approval and feel loved and valued.

So, their superpower ends up being their searing ability to see what needs doing, where the needs and lack are and to carry out tasks with excellence.

And that superpower is born out of that childhood survival strategy of ‘getting things right’.

We all pick up habits and ways that help us through childhood, no matter how fabulous childhood is or was. And that survival mode does help you through them. But in adulthood it shouldn’t be necessary to still be in that childish mode. Competence is great. But criticism of oneself and others can be destructive if it’s not constructive.

So a significant piece of the enneagram is to see where the growth and maturity needs to addressed.

And the job of us, as parents, is to see if there are some characteristics that we can help our children to harness for good so that their challenges, which have given them their superpower, are not used for self-defence or survival, but for good, strong mental well-being and for healthy connection with others.

So if you have a child who has perfectionist-tendancies. Not necessarily everywhere, it can just be in one area, they can hold this ability healthily or unhealthily.

With the help of a parent, they can be a person who has that integrity and responsibility but with the ability to forgive themselves and most importantly, others, where there are imperfections. They can learn to turn down the volume on that inner critic – and the outer one.

Or you might end up with a child who grows to fixate on all imperfections and tries to control and manage wherever they can.

Bear in mind that there are also the stressed and secure ends of the spectrum. So an enneagram one who is chilled will let things slide. But even a well-honed, healthy enneagram one who’s in stress mode can get into a critical and judgmental spin. That’s where they go in stress. And that can be a clue that someone is a type one.

Sound like anyone you know?

And that’s why it can be so critical for us as parents to mature their superpowers so they don’t use them in unhealthy ways that push others away because they feel they’re not reaching the right standard.

But more importantly, we can help them to feel valued and accepted in a way for who they are, not for what they’ve done.

We want them to feel accepted and secure when they achieve and when they fail and to see life as a practice ground, a place to gradually improve. Not somewhere that you shouldn’t show up until you’ve got things RIGHT!

I have a one in my life who finds it very hard to accept going wrong or not living up to the standards they’ve set for themselves. It’s exhausting. I once asked him, what is the kindest thing you could say to yourself. And he answered in a way that was beyond his years. He said the kindest thing would say,



So, if you’re recognising that you might have a reformer among your children let’s look at some ways that we can bring out the best in them.

Well, fist we can celebrate their thoughtfulness, competence and dedication. They’re often fun and committed friends so we can affirm that too.

So, Let’s look at 5 ways we can parent the reformer…

These are great ways to parent in general, but they’re specifically powerful in parenting a child who may be a type 1 on the enneagram.

1 Help them to be kind to themselves.

When they’re hard on themselves, ask them what they would say to themself if they were their own best friend.

Help them to see their wonderful attributes and make a list of things you love about them and encourage them to do the same for themselves and keep it somewhere for reference in times of stress. These words have power.

2)They probably think that everyone has an inner critic and are surprised to find this isn’t the case. It’s all very peaceful in many people’s minds and it’s helpful for them to know that.

See if they can put words to what they feel their inner critic is saying and chat about whether they’re right or wrong.

You could even give the critic a caricature…

What animal is it?

Is the critic always right?

What is helpful about the critic’s words and what is putting them down?

What should they listen to and what should they let go.

Help them to tell their critic to “Stand down! I’m doing fine”

Perfection and reality

3) When they’re stuck in the detail, accuracy or idealism of a task or experience, try to get them to chat about the big picture. Help them to think about whether other people are coming to the same experience with different expectations. What else might be important. For example, if you’re having a creative afternoon. One child might just enjoy the company. Another might want to produce something they could put on the wall and enjoy, yet another might just enjoy experimenting with colour. Is anyone right or wrong, or are there many possible objectives aside of the final outcome?

4) This character can be a work now, play later, type. Sometimes it’s fun to do that the other way around. It is possible to enjoy life with a half-finished to-do list.

5 ) What if it’s not perfect?

If they’re afraid to start a task, try to find out whether it’s because they don’t trust that it will be perfect. And in the same way, they can struggle to make a decision in case it’s not the ‘right’ one. Help them to shift their thinking away from RIGHT and towards GOOD. Somethings aren’t right or wrong, but they’re good enough. Life is a practice ground. Help them to try things that they’re not naturally good at. And….don’t fall into the trap of telling them “It’s incredible!” That’s for them to evaluate. And if it isn’t incredible, it’s confusing for them to hear. It lacks integrity in their minds and they won’t trust your evaluation and also, you’re joining them on that expectation of it being incredible. So they made a cake and it flopped to one side. Can we still eat it? What can we learn?

One’s can have the fabulous attitude of taking tasks seriously, but can fall in the trap of taking themselves seriously. And that pride can stunt their growth. They need to laugh at themselves, their efforts and hold things lightly and we can encourage them to be lighter with those five ways of parenting.

That will still leave their superpower in tact – their keen eye for making the world a better place, tempered with the truth that the responsibility for that doesn’t rest on their shoulders.

Remember, that whilst I’m focussing on children, keep your antenna up for whether these characteristics are strong in yourself or people that you know so whilst you can help your kids, you can also be compassionate to yourself or others with this fresh understanding.

Mads x


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