What Each Child Needs

Identifying the roles our children play to help them thrive.

We all fall into the trap of labeling our kids.

One child is challenging and continually stirring up conflict while another child is easy and agreeable, gets good grades and is a delight to have around. Then there is the child that is social, diffuses conflict with humor, and yet retreats to their room for hours at a time.

It’s natural to take on different roles within our family. According to many family researchers, there are four dominant roles children play, each role serving a purpose and fulfilling a deeper need in the child and within the family.

It’s important to also recognize that the roles we take on in our family can have a negative impact on our kids and ultimately affect how family members relate to one another for years to come. Most of us probably experienced the troubled sibling that was the center of focus in the family, while the over-achiever tirelessly performed in order to be receive affirmation and attention.

Different children have different needs. When we recognize the struggles and burdens each child carries, we are better equipped to respond to our kids in ways that foster well-rounded and wholehearted adults. Changing how we view our children can help us to encourage them to reclaim parts of themselves that need attention, while fostering a family who functions and relates to one another in healthier ways.

As you read each of these roles, be curious about what role you might have played in your own family growing up. Then, see if you can identify the roles your children now play.

understanding your teenTHE FAMILY HERO

The hero is an achiever, usually, but not always the oldest child. They are often referred to as “the perfect child.” This is the child who seems to do everything right.

Here are a few hero traits:

  • They make the family look good to outsiders.
  • They often perform at a high level academically.
  • They are involved in multiply activities and excel at most.
  • They appear to be capable, responsible, and respectful.
  • They are diligent, trustworthy, superior, and strong.

Basically, they make us look really good. And we are grateful they are so low maintenance and easy to deal with.

The downside to being the hero child:

However, there are also negatives to being the hero child. This child feels that in order to belong they must succeed. They are good at identifying others’ needs but struggle to articulate their own. They can also be rigid, judgmental and self-righteous—especially towards the trouble maker in the family.

The hero can put excessive demands on themselves. As parents, we often unknowingly re-enforce their role in the family by putting too much emphasis on their achievements. They may base their self-worth and value on their accomplishments. The fear of making mistakes or failing can cause anxiety, loneliness, or sadness.

What the hero needs:

  • They are diligent, trustworthy, superior, and strong.
  • They need to know they are loved for who they are, not for their accomplishments.
  • They need support to identify what they want and need.
  • They need permission to screw up and make mistakes.
  • They need encouragement to express their anger and disagree with you.
  • They need to know that you have your own interests and your happiness is not riding on their success.


The scapegoat child is referred to as the “problem” child or “trouble maker”.

Listen to the scapegoat.

While the scapegoat may be the troublemaker, we would be wise to listen to them. The scapegoat is the truth-teller within the family. They are willing to call out the “elephant” in the room when nobody else will. They express the upset for the whole family. Unbeknownst to them, they take the focus off of the family’s problems by putting the negative attention on them.

Here are few traits of the scapegoat:

  • They are often strong-willed and challenge authority.
  • They seem to be continually testing if they are loved and valued.
  • They may seem angry, sullen, and rude.
  • They may exhibit risky behavior.
  • They don’t adhere to the family rules.
  • They often feel rejected, angry and misunderstood.

What the scapegoat needs from you:

  • They need more positive attention, affirmation, and less criticism.
  • Avoid getting into power struggles, instead listen and seek to understand what they are saying and feeling.
  • Affirm their feelings and look for the truth in what they are saying.
  • Spend positive one on one time with them.
  • Find positive outlets for them to use their talents.
  • Ask them what they want and need from you.
  • Don’t engage in negative talk about them with other siblings.


This lost child is known as the “quiet one” or the “day dreamer”. They appear to prefer to be alone rather than with others. They can be found hiding out in their rooms. They prefer to go unnoticed during family conflicts, so as to avoid any anger directed at them. They can often be so quiet that you forget they are there.

Here are a few traits of the lost child:

  • They are told they are good kids.
  • They are independent.
  • They are sensitive and soft spoken.
  • They avoid conflict and are non-confrontational.
  • They are quiet and spend lots of time alone.

The lost child usually struggles with expressing and identifying their feelings. They may struggle with people pleasing and articulating what they want and need. They also may feel like they don’t matter or belong.

The lost child needs from you:

  • Give them positive attention.
  • Be intentional to spend one on one time with them.
  • Coach them to think about what they might want and need.
  • Invite them to express their thoughts and feelings.
  • Don’t put too much pressure on them to be different, rather join them in whatever it is that they are doing (for example, if they are reading, read next to them).


The mascot is sometimes referred to as “the clown” and the “cute one”.

Here are a few traits of the mascot/caretaker:

  • They assume responsibility for the emotional well-being of the family.
  • They are the life of the party: carefree, charming and lovable.
  • They feel the need to keep the peace.
  • During family conflicts they lighten the mood with jokes, and being silly.
  • They also can be immature, disruptive, and dramatic.
  • They may often feel insecure and dependent on the approval and attention from others.

The needs of the mascot/caretaker child:

  • Help them identify and express their feelings, especially sadness/and, or grief.
  • Help them to identify during times of conflict what they think, feel, and want.
  • Support them to believe in their capacity to care for themselves.
  • Appreciate their sense of humor and encourage them to use it appropriately, not as a way to avoid conflict.
  • Give them responsibilities and hold them accountable.

Take the time to notice and reflect on what role each child plays within your family. Ask yourself: how can I engage and interact with this child to meet their deeper needs? By recognizing and modeling our own feelings, wants and needs, we teach them to do the same. This will have a profound impact on bringing healing, wholeness, and creating healthier relationships for years to come.

Questions: What role can you identify playing growing up? How did this impact you as an adult? How will these insights support you to parent your children?

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