Helping Your Children Understand Themselves

Through The Book "The Treasure Tree"

First-day jitters bounced inside me like a hysterical 2-year-old on an out-of-control pony ride. Still, I held on with trembling hands, and I took my place at the front of the class. With all eyes on me, I inhaled deeply and smiled. How would it look to a hungry group of fourth graders if they knew their teacher was afraid of them? No, I had to put on a brave front or the carnivores would eat me alive.

I stumbled through my introduction without mishap. Their innocent faces seemed harmless enough, and then it happened. That one student who kept ignoring my instructions, too preoccupied with organizing his desk to look up. And the girl whom I had to redirect several times because she would call out without raising her hand. Nothing I couldn’t handle with a little more persistence, right?

Wrong. A few days later I identified more “difficult” students. The boy who had to be first in line all the time. The bright girl who always knew the right answer, yet her work was messy, and she never remembered her homework. None of these children were what I’d call “bad” children. Their behavior didn’t seem to be a heart issue. They just couldn’t remember things or stay organized to do what was required in the classroom. So maybe their behavior wasn’t the real problem. Maybe what I was observing could be solved by understanding the differences in the children’s temperaments, and then helping them to better understand themselves.

After unsuccessful attempts at behavior modification, I resorted to what I knew best: the power of story. I had used “The Treasure Tree,” by John Trent and Gary Smalley in my own parenting and found it to be helpful in educating my children on the strengths and challenges of their unique personalities as defined by the four basic personality types. I didn’t think it would solve all the problems in class, but I hoped it would help my students understand their behavior and give me a chance to gain control of my class. What I didn’t expect was to see how this book would alleviate some stresses these children placed on themselves because they couldn’t help behaving differently from the other students.

The book takes the children on an exciting adventure with animal characters taken from the four basic personalities, allowing children to understand the nature and characteristics of each of the personalities: The Choleric Lion, the Melancholy Beaver, the Phlegmatic Golden Retriever, the Sanguine Otter.

In my experience, not only were children drawn into the story, but they began to see some traits in themselves through these animals, and were able to gain a better understanding of their strengths and challenges. Though not every child identified with just one animal personality, the stories led to further discussion about when it was appropriate to be the playful Otter and when they needed to try to be more like the attentive and organized Beaver.

The stories helped them become aware of their behaviors and what was appropriate inside and outside of the classroom. Once the children understood the different personalities as defined in the book, I was able redirect their behavior depending on the situation. When certain unwanted behaviors arose, such as pushing to the front of the line, I would suggest the child act more like the Golden Retriever and let someone else take a turn. And, in my experience, it actually worked better then telling the child just to stop the negative behavior.

After reading some Amazon reviews of the book, I realized I wasn’t the only one that found this resource helpful.

One teacher noted, “I use this book as a starter to every year. The four characters use their individual abilities to find the treasure and in the end realize the accomplishment they can make by working together. It’s wonderful for teaching cooperation and accepting the differences of others.”

Another review from Professor Glenda Hotton, a counselor for women, said she believes it’s an excellent way to introduce young children to the differences in each individual and help them accept and get along with each other. “Just because we are different than another doesn’t mean we can sit back and say, ‘That’s the way I am, like it or leave it.’ No. We are to polish our strengths and chip away at our weaknesses.”

We all want children to succeed. Sometimes we don’t understand why one child struggles and the other excels. In the end, the goal is to give children skills that they can use to succeed, both in school and in life. Helping children understand their own temperaments is a useful tool for children to have.

Gina Conroy is an author, speaker, and creative writing teacher who teachers for private groups and at Tulsa Community College. She loves helping kids “Discover Their Temperament” and will hold more classes in this subject in the fall. For more information contact her at

Categories: School-Age