Behavior is an Iceberg

August 11, 2014 at 7:48 am (Attachment Parenting, General, Positive Discipline)

What you see is only a small part of what’s really there.


Like an iceberg, the bulk of behavior’s “mass” is found below the surface; it is what gives rise to the part that is visible.  Behavior is triggered from feelings, which stem from the more deeply rooted needs of a person. These are not needs like, “I need candy/ I need a new toy/ I need to play video games.” Basic human needs consist of things like autonomy, safety, security, trust, empathy, understanding, adequate sleep and nutrition, a sense of belonging and inclusion, competency, respect, and love.

When a child’s basic needs are met, he feels satisfied, connected, secure, confident. The behavior looks “good.”

If a child’s needs are not met, he may feel insecure, afraid, angry, or detached. The behavior that shows, then, looks to be what we might call “unacceptable” as the child reaches out to try to satisfy these unmet needs. This occurs subconsciously, of course; a child is not able to articulate: “You know mom and dad, I have not felt included in the family since the new baby arrived, nor have I felt respected when I speak, so I’m going to be whiny and belligerent for a while.” His needs are valid; his feelings are valid. But he is misguided in his attempts to rectify them.

What we must do as parents is, in the face of misbehavior, remember that 90% of what is going on is below the surface. We must look deep to ensure the child is getting everything he needs, for behavior builds from there.


  1. Zana said,

    Great post, Kelly. Thank you!:-)

  2. Michael LeFevre said,

    What a fantastic post Kelly. Really appreciate the visual – will be sharing this with my community for sure!

  3. Leanna said,

    Excellent reminder to dig deeper. As a Family Life Coach I work with parents on this exact issue. It is so easy to feel frustrated or irritated that a child is upset over something seemingly so small but we need to remember what is under the iceberg. Thank you for this visual, I will use the idea with clients.

  4. Paula said,

    Beautifully said! Oh, the behavior seen and the unseen is so deep!

  5. Helen said,

    Is there somewhere that I can purchase this print?

  6. Rebecca Renz said,

    I am interested in blowing this up for my office. I am an Early Childhood Special Education teacher and it would be perfect for my office. Are you the original owner of the image or do you know if it can be purchased somewhere?

  7. Anne said,

    yes Kelly is there a way to get a poster of this. I am a behavior specialist for a large district and this is an important message I need to get teachers to appreciate before judging the behaviors in their classrooms.

  8. Kate Runder said,

    Where could I get a poster of this?

  9. Helen said,

    I agree. Chinese proverb also have the same meaning!

  10. Zelda Kause said,

    Can we get permission to use this on our website ? Do not want to violate any copyrights.

    • Kelly said,

      Yes, you can use it on your website, thank you!

  11. Zoe Lawrie said,

    Hi Kelly, I am looking to see if it would be possible to utilise this as part of a presentation/training I am devising to highlight the importance of differentiating between what we see and whats really going on for the individual – is this okay?

    • Kelly said,

      Yes, feel free to use it!

  12. Lynn said,

    Hi Kelly – I do presentations on child behavior for school districts. May I use this graphic. It is a great explanation of why we need to look beyond the behavior.

    • Kelly said,

      Yes, you may use this!

  13. AB said,

    this is just amazing, I have a meeting for my son, this week may I use this at his meeting. I have been telling his teachers . That they needed to look inside of my son’s deep amazing being. And after they have done that to let me know what they see. Because every child has a deep core that is so special . But one needs try hard and look underneath the surface . I would like to use this picture . please let me know if you give me permission. thank you

    • Kelly said,

      Yes, feel free to share this! I’m glad you find it helpful. Good luck at your meeting!❤️

  14. Shanti said,

    Hii Kelly,
    Came across your post when I was searching
    for icebergs:) to explain what hypnosis is to a client.
    I am also a parenting coach and with your permission I would like to share your post with the parents I coach. The visuals in your post hits right on target at the bull’s eye. Thank you for sharing this great post:))
    Best Regards,

    • Kelly said,

      Yes, please feel free to share! 🙂

      • Shanti said,

        Great thanks !!🤗🤗

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