Understanding children's behavior can't rely on labeling kids with simple, one-factor explanations.

When talking to parents about their children I am continually using metaphors, imagery that can help parents to better understand their children.

One of  the favorite images I use refers to  the “pie cart” of childhood.  How we divide up the pie is the concern that I try to convey to parents.

Far too often, I find the pie doesn’t get divided at all and parents are given a label, a one-factor explanation as to what is going on with the child.   One-factor explanations are used to explain issues that are rarely simple or straight forward.

Nearly every day at least once I will hear things like,  “He was diagnosed with ADHD.”  (“Really?  That’s it,” I think to myself.   “The whole pie chart is one large piece called ADHD?  There are no other factors or variables that are contributing to the child’s struggles.”)

One-factor explanations – labeling kids

Here’s a one-factor pie chart explanation.

Usually, with one-factor explanations, you get one-factor solutions, such as putting the child on medication.

I almost always find myself getting my back up when I hear this common one-factor, labeling of children.  It’s almost always more complex than that.

For example, the problem may not just be in the child’s head, it could be an outside the head issue.  Isn’t it possible that some of the reason the child is off task is due to the fact that he is given work that is boring and above his capacity level?

Who likes to be doing boring work that is too hard?

Two-factor explanations

Well that would at least divide up the pie into two pieces:

Three-factor explanations

Maybe the child is also prone to feeling anxious, giving us  a pie divided into thirds.

Complex Pie Chart for Understanding Children’s Behavior

Or in addition to being anxious while getting  boring and overly challenging work, and signs of ADHD,  he also has some reading fluency and decoding issues giving us an even more complex and new pie chart to consider.

And, what about, the child’s family and the fact that the parents have been arguing a lot lately?  Might that be in the pie chart?

Well, you get the idea.

As a general rule, I would encourage you to resist simple, one-factor labeling explanations. Ask yourself  (and the professional assessing your child) what else is in the pie chart?

Keep in mind, though, that you need to understand that the pieces are rarely as equal as the ones shown above.  Kids are not pizza pies with equal slices.

For example, here’s an 8 year old kid’s pie chart I saw recently who had significant reading issues.  The reading issues were the predominant variable, even though there were other factors of importance:

As the TV commercial says, “What’s in your wallet?”

“What’s in your child’s pie chart?”


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