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What Your Child’s Behavior is Saying 

There are five universal negative behaviors that all personality types can exhibit: disobedience, aggression, high sensitivity, inattentiveness or hyperactivity. It is easy to see bad behavior in our kids, but it’s not as easy to see is the motivation behind that behavior. We may think we know, but our perspective may be biased based on our personality type. In order to translate what a child’s motivation is or what their behavior could be saying, it is highly beneficial for parents to understand their child’s temperament.

Home, Courage, Brain and Heart

The Wizard of Oz can give parents a big picture understanding of temperament and motivation. Is your child like Dorothy who just wanted the safety and security of HOME, where things are familiar and rules are followed, or are they more like the Lion who wanted courage, freedom and the opportunity to express his unique identity through his “I am the King of the Forest” bravado. Maybe your child is quite unusual like the Scarecrow who wanted a brain, because his keen intellect, rational thinking and brilliant out of the box ideas were most important to him. Maybe your child is highly sensitive and rusting up all the time like the Tinman who wanted a heart, craved deep connection in his relationships and sought to discover the meaning underlying everything. When translating a negative behavior, start by thinking about your child’s core motivations: home, courage, brain or heart. These create core strengths (listed in bold) that fuel behavior. Keep in mind that introverted children are the hardest to understand because what you see is not what meets the eye.


Behavior: Disobedience or Defiance 

A family sits down to eat dinner, but young Emily will not finish her dinner. Her parents gently tell her that she needs to finish, or she won’t get dessert. At this, Emily pushes back in her chair, leaves the table and yells, “I don’t care if I don’t get dessert! I HATE dinnertime!”

Potential Translations

Dorothy: “I am so stressed out from trying to be perfect at school that my stomach hurts and I can’t eat! I want to be your perfect, gold star daughter, but I just never seem to meet the mark!” or “I am on Sensory overload right now, and I really need some time alone to decompress!” or “The texture of this food makes me feel like I am going to gag and that is scary!”

Scarecrow: “I have so many ideas swirling around in my head that I can’t concentrate on eating dinner or sitting still.” “It makes no logical sense that I have to finish all of my food! My stomach is smaller than theirs.”

Lion: “My brother always finishes his food before me which makes me feel like a loser instead of a winner,” or “I need action, so sitting still is really difficult for me. I don’t know why it comes so easy for everyone else?”

Tinman: “I overheard some friends talking bad about me at school, and all I feel like doing is crying into my pillow since these relationships mean so much to me. I hate myself!” or “My stomach hurts all the time, but everyone just tells me to quit being so sensitive.”


Behavior: Aggression

Jack’s school called to tell his parents that he had been hitting and biting again during free play.

Potential Translations

Dorothy: “Free play is so noisy with kids constantly bumping into me! The noise hurts my ears, there are no rules and I don’t feel safe!”

Scarecrow: “The teacher always treats me like a baby, and I need to feel smart and study things that are actually interesting!”

Lion: “Before I have a chance to think, my quick impulses kick in, and then I get in trouble. I want to impress the teacher and express myself, but she doesn’t understand me.

Tinman: “My emotions are all jumbled up inside. I have to communicate them, but I am not sure how!”


Behavior: Highly Sensitive

Austin has an opportunity to go to summer camp, but he refuses to go even though his friends are going. He is incredibly shy, so his parents feel like it would be a good experience for him.

Potential Translations

Dorothy: “I am afraid that wild animals, robbers or bugs will get me. What’s wrong if I just want to sleep in my own bed?” Security

Scarecrow: “I don’t know what to expect at camp, and they might make me do something that makes me look stupid.” Competence

Lion: “Camp probably has just as many rules as school, and I would rather do my own thing.” Freedom

Tinman: “What if my friends leave me out or meet new friends they like better than me?” Relationships


Behavior: Inattentive or Unfocused

Maria can’t seem to finish her projects in the classroom. When her parents ask her what the problem is, she replies, “I don’t know.”

Potential Translations

Dorothy: “Mom and Dad have been fighting lately, and I am so worried they are going to get divorced.” Home

Scarecrow: “There are so many more interesting things to think about and figure out in my head.” Intelligence

Lion: “When I see the number eight it makes me think of a snowman, and I get all wiggly and just want to go outside and play.” Physical/Tactile

Tinman: “I would much rather be daydreaming about castles and unicorns then doing my math assignment.” Creativity


Behavior: Hyperactive

Rodger’s parents are frustrated because he can’t seem to sit still when they go out to eat. He is always getting up and milling around.

Potential Translations

Dorothy: “I need to be achieving and accomplishing something and sitting down to eat dinner is just a waste of time.”

Scarecrow: “I am curious about so many things in this restaurant. I have to check it out!”

Lion: “I have so much energy bubbling up inside of me that I feel like I am going to explode if we keep sitting here! McDonald’s would be so much more FUN!

Tinman: “I am just so excited about all the new possibilities in the future that I can’t contain it!” or “I am not getting enough attention, so I need to shake things up a bit.”


When you understand your child’s motivation, you can give them the most important gift a parent can give: understanding. The way we see our children, becomes the way they see themselves.


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