043: T.e.l.l. and help hard-wire a child’s brain for success

In the previous post, I introduced how effective interactions consider the developing child. Before elaborating on how you may consider the developing child in an interaction, it is interesting to note that the study of development in children did not begin until the early 20th century, and then the research focused on studying abnormalities in children. Fortunately, this caused researchers to see the value of studying children in general, and now there are theories available to help explain how children develop physically, cognitively, emotionally, and socially.

One of the newer areas of study describe the development of a child’s brain. At birth, the infant sees, hears, smells, and responds to touch. Then almost immediately, the newborn’s brain starts to build connections and pathways to further enable the child to see, hear, smell, learn, and reason in a more developed way. The brain continues to be a work in progress throughout childhood.

Although genes begin the process of brain development, it is known that the life experiences of the child take over this process. A child’s experiences trigger the electrical activity necessary to enable the brain to develop connections and grow. Repeated actions or experiences help etch these pathways into the brain. The repetition causes these connections in the brain to become well-worn pathways, permanently etched into the brain. These brain connections give the child a unique pattern of mind, thought, and emotions. Depending on the experiences of the child, the pattern of thinking is developed, and this influences how the child thinks and learns each moment and possibly in future moments.

It is interesting to note that according to this research, an average eight-month infant, living in a stimulating, secure, and loving environment, will have sparked 500 trillion of these connections. By the age of two, this infant will have developed around 1000 trillion of these connections. It’s not necessarily the exact number of connections that I think is fascinating, but the vast amount of connections that are occurring during this time in a child’s life. Pathways of thought are forming every day, and much of the connections are grounded in the child’s everyday occurrences.

Between birth and age 6, the child is forming perceptions related to emotions, interpersonal relationships with other people, and expectations. The child’s working memory is actively forming these connections and developing perceptions. The emotional well-being of the child is grounded in this development. This activity continues until around the age of 10, with the onset of physical changes due to puberty. Then the brain begins to prune some of these connections. The brain starts ridding the connections that are not sufficiently strong, have been neglected or are used infrequently. This pruning process will assist with speeding up electrical impulses and stabilizing the connections.

Now pause for just a minute here.

Stop and think about how critical your interactions are with a child from birth to age 10. You are potentially establishing perceptions for the child’s character traits, interpersonal communication and relationships, just to name a few of the main perceptions in development. What brain connections would you want your child to develop? How are you helping your child develop more beneficial brain connections?

The pruning process continues through puberty, and by the age of 18 the number of connections will be reduced to around 500 trillion – the same number as an 8-month old; however at 18, the connections are much stronger and powerful. These connections will remain largely stable into adulthood. The brain connections that started with the child’s first breath and were accumulated through life experiences will now influence how the child will think and learn each moment as a soon-to-be adult.

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As a caregiver to a child, at any age it is critical to provide a nurturing environment. Your daily interactions impact brain connections and pathways. You can have a strong influence in developing a child’s perceptions. You can influence what pathways are strengthened by how you interact with them. This is a fundamental reason for learning more about how you Teach, Encourage, Listen, Love  a child, T.E.L.L. a child. Your words and actions have emotional and intellectual consequences.

Today, take time to identify what you may be doing to impact your child’s brain development. Consider the different stages of development and think about how you can interact more appropriately. If your child is younger than age 6, think about what brain connections and pathways you are helping your child create. How are you establishing connections that are critical for the healthy development of your child? What essential connections do you think are critical for the healthy development of the child?

How will you interact now knowing very early on in your child’s life, you can help develop perceptions on virtues such as hope, will, purpose, competence, trust, truth, joy, and love? How will you interact knowing you can help hard-wire a child’s brain for understanding independence, choosing between spontaneity and restraint, or building self-confidence, just to name a few?

If your child is older than 10 or showing signs of puberty, realize the brain is in the process of pruning the connections and pathways. New ideas will be connected to already-established brain pathways, which makes asking and listening to the child’s thinking even more critical.

A child’s brain will be strengthened continuously through your actions and words.  The connections you help the child make during childhood will have a large impact on the child’s adulthood.  Start today thinking about the brain connections your child may already have. Which pathways would you like to strengthen?

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042: An effective interaction t.e.l.l.s a child in developmentally appropriate ways

Clearly, common sense would tell us that you communicate with a one-year-old child differently than a four-year-old, or a teenager. As the child gains experiences in life, the child collects ideas and develops perceptions. What the child understands at a young age is clearly different than what the child understands at an older age.

An effective interaction is developmentally appropriate for the child. The interaction:

  • Involves a child’s current understanding
  • Encourages a child to make better sense of a situation
  • Gives a child an opportunity to express current thoughts and feelings, and be heard
  • Is loving, shows you want only what is best for the child in the present moment.

Bottom line:

#6: An effective interaction T.E.L.L.s a child in developmentally appropriate ways.

In every interaction, adults are informing a child about something, whether it is about what the child can expect from you, how to speak and think around you, what the situation could possibly mean, etc. There are many things we T.E.L.L. a child whether we realize it or not. A child is constantly seeking to understand. The child can only understand what she is developmentally capable of understanding in the moment.

What is developmentally appropriate can be as simple as making sure you speak and think in such a way a child understands. Or you can make sure you speak and think in such a way you communicate what is best for child’s well-being and personal growth in that moment.

Interacting in a developmentally appropriate way can also mean speaking and thinking more about how children develop physically, cognitively, and socially. There is good information available to help you better understand the growing child. I will be looking at some of these ideas in the next posts.

For now, try and think about how your words and actions are developmentally appropriate for the child. Ask yourself how your words and actions are being comprehended by a child. How do you know a child understands your words and actions? Are your words and actions appropriate for the child in this moment of time? Do your words and actions allow the child to develop for better, or worse? How are you helping the child develop empowering thoughts, skills, and behaviors?

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041: Remembering to t.e.l.l. every day

The past few weeks of blog posts by DF have been extremely helpful for me as a parent and as an adult who has interactions on a daily basis with a fast-growing toddler. The blogs have addressed the fundamental precepts of the T.E.L.L. method; they’ve provided a foundation for adults to build from when communicating with children of any age. Though I am involved with TELL Our Children, I am still relatively new to the T.E.L.L. method, and the weekly blogs are wonderful reminders to me.

At its core, the T.E.L.L. method is simple: Teach, Encourage, Listen, Love.

However, it’s easy to forget something new, especially if you’re used to doing something a certain way or if you just have a hard time remembering new things (count me in that category). It’s also easy to lose patience or revert back to old habits in times of stress or if you’re rushing to do something or get somewhere, etc. I’ve learned and witnessed that first-hand.

And even though I read the TELL blogs every week (sometimes more than once!), I found it useful to create other reminders for myself to make sure I’m T.E.L.L.ing my daughter, not just telling.

tell reminders

They are simple reminders that I post on my mirrors or my refrigerator so I see them on a daily basis. It’s four simple words, yes, but four simple words that carry a lot of meaning and if used properly can help strengthen and deepen the bond I have with my daughter and improve our relationship for BOTH of us.

If you’re  having a hard time remembering the fundamentals of the T.E.L.L. message, consider leaving yourself physical reminders, too.

And if you need a refresher, here are the links to the previous blogs that outline the foundation of T.E.L.L.

1. Learning more about how you can t.e.l.l.

2. How we can t.e.l.l. by choosing our words and actions

3. How you can t.e.l.l. and accumulate positive experiences

4. Pause and t.e.l.l. even more

5. Your actions are positive or negative depending on how you t.e.l.l.

6. Continue learning and knowing more about positive and negative interactions

7. What’s in it for the child?

8. Consequences give children a positive stepping stone on journey of growth

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040: Consequences give children a concrete stepping stone on journey of growth

The Show & T.E.L.L. Blog shares ideas about interacting with children. The TELL Our Children mission is to inspire and mentor caregivers to understand how every interaction can teach children ideas, encourage some ideas more than others, and how to listen better so you are better able to build the thinking in a child. You must first hear what ideas a child currently has in order to offer better ideas. And, finally every interaction is done with love. In upcoming blogs, I will speak in more depth about teaching, encouraging, listening, and loving while interacting. Today, I wish to continue with the idea of consequences. Last post, I introduced the thought:

Interact with consequences in mind. Proper consequences can make the interaction more real for the child. Choose consequences the child understands so the child is better able to choose beneficial behaviors over limiting ones.

You can click on the title to link to this post. These posts are part of the “How can I T.E.L.L.?” series which started in May.

We T.E.L.L. a child so we can help develop a child’s thought system. Thinking about and including consequences in our interactions is a concrete way to help children connect ideas. A child can relate a certain situation to something positive, or something negative, and this can help the child understand and make a better decision.

Can you think of areas in your life where you choose because of the consequences? For example, you may avoid drugs because the negative consequences. The positive consequences are also obvious. Or you may relate improvement to success, which causes you to keep learning.

As children gain life experiences, they are learning about the consequences explicitly and implicitly. We can explicitly use consequences to help shape a child’s choices. Many have asked specifically about disciplining a child, usually in reference to a punishment. When a child misbehaves, explicit consequences can help shape the child’s choices. The question discussed last post is relevant here: what is in it for the child?

When my children were young and I felt a time out was needed (usually for both of us!), I would often ask after the time was up, “Do you know why you were in time out?” I wanted to be sure my child connected the time out with a specific situation.  Then, I may ask “Should we try again?” to give my child a chance to do better. Then I could point out how nice, or job well done. They key is to link not just negative consequences (avoiding time out), but also the benefits of choosing better.

As children get older, you can ask them to think about the positive and negative consequences for a specific behavior. For example, in the past I have asked students to write down 10 things answering, “If I continue to miss class and not put forth effort, then…” The list usually includes ideas associated with bad grades, not being ready for next class, not ready for college, just to name a few. After talking about the negative consequences, I shift the conversation and ask something such as, “Now what if you start coming to class and put forth effort, what could happen then?”

This gave students freedom to consciously choose. In the end, I could say something like, “Now you know what can happen positively and negatively here; it’s your choice. I will continue to encourage you to make the better choice, but ultimately it’s up to you. Let me know how I can help you choose better.”

To discipline a child in a T.E.L.L.ing way, we think most about disciplining the mind in a beneficial way. A disciplined mind allows for better choices. When you T.E.L.L., you build a child’s thinking. You don’t force the child to think a certain way; he learns to think for himself. He learns to recognize positive and negative consequences.

This week:

Think about the consequences you use to shape your child’s thinking. What is your tendency? Do you point out positive consequences as well as negative ones? Do you help connect beneficial behaviors with positive rewards? Make a point of finding opportunities to connect positive behaviors with beneficial consequences.

If you find you have to redirect a child’s behavior, consider using the time out strategy mentioned above, or if you have an older child, use the make a list of consequences strategy. Another form of the time out strategy is to ask the child to write a letter about what happened and what may need to be thought about next time.

Raising a child is a wondrous journey. Helping children learn about consequences, positive and negative, gives them a concrete stepping stone to grow toward something better.

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039: What’s in it for the child?

The last two Show & T.E.L.L. blog posts focus on evaluating interactions as positive or negative and how experiencing both positive and negative are important for a child’s personal growth. The posts explain how a positive or negative interaction depends on how your words and action impress upon the child’s mind and personal development. If you ignore or focus predominately on the negative behavior, the evaluation is negative. If you redirect a child’s thinking or behavior, or you focus on the positive behavior, the evaluation is positive. Every interaction is positive or negative; your words and actions will favor the positive or negative direction. If you want to read more about positive and negative interactions, you can link to the posts below by clicking on the title.

Your interactions are positive or negative depending on how you t.e.l.l.

Continue learning and knowing more about positive and negative interactions

Today’s post will focus on considering the types of consequences you offer when interacting with a child.

We have a tendency to think about consequences as punitive. I often hear adults speak of children needing consequences for doing something wrong. Of course, consequences can be in the form of a punishment. But consequences can also be in the form of a reward. Either way, consequences help reinforce behavior, and a consequence makes the interaction more real for a child.

Children need to know and understand how the behaviors they are demonstrating are beneficial (or not). They need to know and understand how they can do better. Consequences can also be the rewards based on which behaviors you want to embrace and advance in the child’s personal development. It does not have to be complicated.

Today, start thinking about the consequences you use to make your interactions more real for the child. Begin asking yourself, “‘What is in this for the child?”

Begin recognizing that you can huff and puff all you want about the desirable behaviors you want your child to demonstrate, but when it comes to whether (and which) behaviors are desirable for your child’s personal growth, a consequence can make it concrete and real. When you include a consequence that a child clearly understands, it speaks louder than a hundred speeches.

I was in a grocery store the other day when I noticed a father with two children, a son and daughter. The daughter was older, probably around 4 years old. The father was rushing to get the groceries and the children were trying to keep up behind him. While he was looking for something on the shelf, the young girl must have done something to her brother. I see the father grab the young girl and start smacking her on the behind, saying “I told you to leave your brother alone, quit picking on him.”

The young girl stopped for a moment and gave her dad a blank stare. Within a minute, she poked her brother again. Dad didn’t even notice.

Do you think the young girl understood her father’s words and consequence? Do you think she understood why her father smacked her for poking her brother? How real was this interaction for the young girl? Can you think of a better way to handle this situation? What could the father say and do to make this interaction more positive and beneficial?

Consequences do not have to be complicated. I will continue addressing this in the next blog post. Today, start thinking more about the consequences you use to impact your child’s thinking and behavior. What is in it for the child? How do your words and consequences relate, and how does it help the child think and choose better?

Realize this fundamental precept for T.E.L.L.ing a child:

#5: Interact with consequences in mind. Proper consequences can make the interaction more real for the child. Choose consequences the child understands so the child is better able to choose beneficial behaviors over limiting ones.

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038: Continue learning and knowing more about positive and negative interactions

In the last blog post, I introduced the idea of a positive and negative interaction because:

#4: Every interaction can be evaluated as positive or negative, and both types of interactions are needed for personal growth; however, it is critical that children accumulate a favorable balance of positive interactions over negative.

Did you begin to notice and evaluate your interactions as being positive or negative? Did you think about whether your words and actions were leaving a positive or negative impression on a child’s mind? Read the previous post here.

Before going on with the next point in evaluating whether our interactions are effective, I want to emphasize the idea that both positive and negative interactions are needed for personal growth. Many may think the goal is to experience only positive interactions. Besides the fact that this is nearly impossible, even if it was, having only positive interactions would cause a developing child to have a limited and naive perception of living life. It is important to realize an evaluation of positive and negative interactions is not an evaluation of good or bad; it is an evaluation of the child’s mental impression in the moment.

My daughter grew up playing soccer. Around the age of 12, she had a coach who would constantly pull her and her teammates aside and focus on (yell) what they did wrong. My daughter would often come to me very upset about these conversations. I recall many of the parents feeling the coach should be more sensitive when communicating with our 12 year-old, going through puberty, daughters. However, as I continued learning and knowing more about positive and negative interactions, I realized these negative interactions are what allowed her to play soccer at the next level. Without his coaching, his feedback, she would never have been able to play as well and as long as she did.

These were not ‘bad’ interactions; they were negative interactions because the coach would focus on what was wrong. The coach made sure the girls understood how they were lacking in their game. Seldom, if ever, did he say what they did well unless it was an exceptional play.  I can imagine him saying, “the girls should know what they are doing right, my job is to make them better.”  Many of the interactions in the moment left a negative impression in the girls’ minds; however, it was because of these negative impressions, my daughter developed perseverance and became a better soccer player in the long run. She had to take the critical criticism and learn better ways. These negative interactions ended up being favorably balanced with positive interactions. Her teammates would compliment one another and she herself would notice the improvement in her game. And, every once in a while, the coach would throw out a compliment. The girls who did not experience, or feel, the favorable interactions usually quit the game at some point. Only a handful of them went on to play in college.

The problem is when children experience continual negative interactions at school, home, and socially. Especially at a young age, these leave lasting negative impressions. In the above example, my daughter was 12. If she was much younger, these critical conversations would have been less effective, even detrimental. When children experience continual negative interactions, they start to develop negative beliefs and attitudes about themselves, others, and their circumstances. Then they begin to develop insecurities, self-centeredness, or learned-helplessness. Can you think of anyone you know who may be an example of this scenario? Can you think of maybe a situation in your own life where enough negative interactions caused you to give less of yourself or give up?

This week, continue to:

Reflect and evaluate your interactions. Ask if you are leaving a positive or negative impression. If it is negative, think about what can you say and do to redirect the child’s thinking in the future. Is there something positive you can add to the interaction to help move it in a favorable position? For the younger child, try making this shift sooner rather than later. Keep in mind that the child is rapidly accumulating life experiences that he will use to think and act in the moment and in the future.

As you practice asking these questions and reflecting on your interactions, you will continue to learn and know more about positive and negative interactions. You will also continue to learn and know more about T.E.L.L.ing a child. You will realize the impact you can have as you teach, encourage, listen, and love.

 

 

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