004: My first aha! T.E.L.L. moment

I am new to the T.E.L.L. (Teach, Encourage, Listen, and Love) method of communicating with children, but not to the ideas it espouses. I love my daughter (age 3), and I love to listen to her and teach her and talk to her and encourage her to be and feel however it is she wants to be/feel at any particular moment. And I know I do some of those things well at least some of the time because she does all the same things back to me.

While it may seem like second nature or obvious for a parent to love their child, or teach him, or encourage him, or listen to him, the tricky part for us adults is doing all four of them at once, and continually.

I am discovering this the hard way.

Today, my daughter wanted to color, so I encouraged her to find her papers and pull out her box of crayons, colored pencils, etc. on her own. She did so, making a mess of some of the papers in the process, but was proud of herself for doing it on her own and proceeded to sit down and color. From where I was watching her, I pointed out that she could color for now, but when she was done she would need to clean up the papers.

“Okay, mama!”

As 3-year-olds are wont to do, she finished coloring and quickly moved onto a box of beads before I noticed and could remind her about the papers. When I did notice, I reminded her about how we need to clean up our messes but that it was okay if she wanted to keep playing for now, but any mess she made would have to be cleaned up when she was all done.

“Okay, mama!”

As she strung beads on a pipe cleaner, more and more of them made their way onto the playroom floor. I again pointed out to her that no matter how big of a mess she made (and that it was okay to make a mess in the playroom), she would have to clean it up by herself. A few minutes later, I even asked her if she remembered what she was going to do when she was done playing to make sure she had been listening to me.

“I’m going to clean up the mess!”

I was satisfied that we were on the same page and let her continue to play to her heart’s content. After a while she moved on from the coloring and the beads, and once I figured she was done with them for once and for all, I asked her to start cleaning up, to which she replied, “I want to watch a movie.” I immediately thought this could be a way to keep her focused on the clean up if I could use the movie as a reward. So I said, “When your mess is all cleaned up like we talked about, then we can watch a movie.”

“Okay, mama!” She started to pick up a few beads but couldn’t stay focused on it — her focus was on the movie she was going to get; I know because she kept asking, “Can I watch a movie?” Each time she asked I reminded her that the movie came after the mess was cleaned up, and that the faster she cleaned up, the sooner she would get a movie. I thought I was doing a good job of Listening to what she wanted while patiently telling her what I expected based on what we had talked about at the beginning of playtime. This turned into a cycle (Her: “Can I watch a movie?” Me: “After your mess is all cleaned up.”) and a clean-up that should have taken five minutes turned into an all-day affair. After lunch, a minor toddler tantrum, a “timeout” for us to talk more about what she wanted in relation to what I was asking her to do, and a nice run for mama, we found ourselves back in the playroom still with beads and papers all over the floor. I was wracking my brain trying to figure out why she was having such a hard time completing the task. I knew she wanted to watch a movie — she always does — and I knew she understood that she couldn’t watch one until this job was done.

Then something clicked.

I realized she was probably getting frustrated and/or distracted because she was picking the beads up one by one and it was taking a long time. Throughout the day I had been thinking to myself that if she wanted to watch a movie she would work faster, then I realized she was probably working as fast as she knew how.

I walked into the playroom and sat down. “Honey,” I said. “Do you want me to show you a way that might be a faster way to pick up all these beads?”

“Yes!”

I showed her how to scoop the beads all together in a pile and pick them up in bunches instead of just one or two at a time then asked her if she could do the same thing. And as she did it, I didn’t leave the room. I stayed there with her, Encouraging her as she continued to work. Voila! She was done with everything in five minutes and had a smile on her face and I realized I had expected her to know how to do something she had never been shown how to do.

Throughout the whole ordeal, I hadn’t once gone into the playroom to help or Encourage her. I had been Listening and Teaching and Loving, but I hadn’t been Encouraging. As soon as I did, we both got what we wanted.

Well, by that point it was too late for a movie, so we sat and talked about everything that had happened and what I expected of her when I asked her to do something, and we talked a little bit about privileges and how movies, for example, are a special thing that not everyone gets and that we don’t get to have just because, that they have to be earned. And then I asked her that we could try again for a movie tomorrow and would she be okay with a lollipop for cleaning up her mess instead.

“Okay, mama!”

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