Too many kids today get mislabeled, misdiagnosed and overly medicated when they are judged through a deficit model perspective. In the book The Soul’s Code, author James Hillman offers parents a way to see children’s behaviors and misbehaviors as possible clues to their character and calling. It’s easier to understand early behaviors when you’re able to look back on someone’s entire life.

For example, Picasso quit school at age 10 because he stubbornly refused to do anything but paint. Woody Allen was placed in accelerated classes because of his high IQ, but he wasn’t allowed to express himself and so he became a “troublemaker.” Young Woody played hooky, refused to do his homework, became disruptive in class and rude to his teachers. They then lowered his grades as a punishment, all to no avail. Woody didn’t care because he was already writing jokes and making films: “I paid attention to everything but the teachers.” Knowing who he became allows us to see how his mischief made perfect sense.

Eminent choreographer Gillian Lynne was evaluated by a psychologist when she was eight because of her poor school performance, constant fidgeting and disrupting the class. After hearing Gillian’s history and observing her, the doctor said he needed to talk to her mom in private, so they left the room. But as they left, he turned on a radio to a station with dance music playing. The doctor and the mom watched Gillian through the two-way mirror as she gracefully danced as if in her own world. He turned to Gillian’s mom and said, “Gillian isn’t sick, she’s a dancer. Take her to a dance school.” On her first day at the dance school, Gillian saw a roomful of kids just like her who couldn’t sit still—kids who just had to move. During an illustrious career, she worked with Andrew Lloyd Webber creating dances for shows like Cats, Phantom of the Opera and many more as a choreographer.

It is essential that parents look for the deeper meaning behind children’s behaviors. The challenge is to look for the oak tree when all you have before you is an acorn. It’s often out of school in extracurricular activities or time alone pursuing their own interests that the calling appears. Kids long for someone who will discover them, single them out, really see them and mirror back to them who they are. This is particularly true when a child’s interests and passions are so different from their parents, family and peers. Sometimes that affirmation comes from a mentor who can see them in their highest light before they can see it and embrace it in themselves.

Try to view your child’s behaviors and interests through a lens of purpose and meaning versus pathology. All of your child’s behaviors are telling us something about who they are and who they might become if only we are willing to listen differently. Look for the oak tree when all you have before you is an acorn.

Tim Jordan, M.D., is a Behavioral Pediatrician who counsels girls aged grade school thru college. Listen to his weekly podcast, Raising Daughters, to gain information on raising strong, resilient girls. For more info on Dr. Jordan’s retreats, summer camps and books visit