073: T.E.L.L. your child beginning with his or her very first breath

We are talking about how children begin acquiring knowledge with their first breath. From that moment, the child starts sensing the world around him or her. He uses his senses to acquire a knowledge base about his environment and the people in his environment. Even though it is true what adults say, “no one remembers this time in their life,” we must recognize how these interactions are meaningful for the child. The interactions in the first months and throughout childhood are meaning-full.

To begin with, let’s think about what it means to acquire knowledge, that is, to begin to understand. To understand literally means a “putting together,” like the modern idiom, “putting 2 and 2 together.” We gain understanding by joining together thoughts gleaned from practical experience with analytical thoughts already in our mindset. When we learn something new, the ideas brought to mind are simple. But as we experience more opportunities to combine practical and analytical thoughts, more complex ideas develop. With time and experiences, our understanding allows quickness in apprehension as well as an ability to intellectually assess a situation and decide how to respond.

At birth, it is safe to say a child understands very little about the environment and people in the environment. But within the first three months, a child begins to recognize a caregiver’s smile and voice. The child starts to make pleasure sounds and will startle at the sound of a loud noise. He or she increases or decreases sucking behavior in response to a feeling or what he or she hears.

The child is putting together ideas from practical experience and forming analytical thoughts. The practical experiences are based on the senses, what the child hears, sees, and feels. The practical experiences accumulate and help to make sense of the environment and those in the environment. The child begins to respond to the surroundings.TELL_baby

Then, around 4 months old, children move their eyes in the direction of sounds and they notice toys that make sounds. They continue to use their senses to understand the world around them. They start imitating and interacting more as they begin to babble, gurgle, and vocalize their excitement and displeasure.

As early as 7 months old, children begin to enjoy games like peek-a-boo and pat-a-cake. They turn and look in direction of sounds, and listen when spoken to. They recognize common words for things in their environment like “bath,” “shoe,” “book,” or “juice,” and they begin to respond to requests like “want more?” or “Time for bed.” The children use gestures to wave good-bye, to be picked up, or give a high five. They start to use speech to get and keep attention. Around the first birthday, the child begins speaking words such as dog, mama, or papa.

I remember “book” being one of the words my daughter started speaking around 8 or 9 months old. To her, this meant the same animal book for months. We had read the picture book and made the animal sounds for a couple months – well, I made the animal sounds at first. It became her favorite book. Even when I would get another book for us to read, she would respond “No, book” and go off looking for this picture book. I also remember her saying “chicken” to let me know she was hungry.

My daughter was interacting with me, trying to communicate her thoughts and feelings in that moment. She was using her current understanding that she had come to know through her experiences so far in life. As she grew older, she had more experiences to connect her practical thoughts with her analytical thoughts – more experiences to understand and interact with others.

The other day, my daughter and I were out to dinner. We were talking about this, how she would use words such as “book” and “chicken” to communicate. Now in her late 20s, she looked across the table and said quietly “Mom, what about children who don’t have someone there to give these experiences? What if a child doesn’t get that kind of attention? If you had not read me that animal book, I wouldn’t have had a desire to even ask for it. If you would not have used the word ‘chicken,’ I would not have used it. I know there must be children who don’t get that attention.”

Sad to say, we know she is right, and the current research shows how this lack of attention can cause challenges throughout life. This nonprofit wants to help caregivers, especially parents and teachers, with their daily interactions with children so they can develop a stronger knowledge base for the youth in their lives. Today’s post and the previous post emphasize this foundation begins with the first breath.

Teach, Encourage, Listen, and Love children daily so they understand, and develop the mindset to later T.E.L.L. others.


About the author of this post:  Denise Forrest, Ph.D.

Denise is a mother of three grown children and has been a teacher to thousands of students.  She is the creator of the TELL message and Founder of TELL Our Children, Inc. Denise also serves K-12 schools as an educational consultant focusing on mathematics education and instructional decisions for student learning. You can contact her by emailing denise@tellourchildren.org.

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072: T.E.L.L. a child from the very beginning

Almost a year ago, I was having dinner with a young couple expecting their first child in a little longer than 3 months. Their excitement for the new family member was obvious as they described the furniture, clothes, and accessories purchased or about to buy in the next few months. We also talked about rooms to be painted as well as decisions to make about maternity leave and possible childcare options.

The conversation turned to how exciting it is to play an instrumental role in the upbringing of a child, how family, caregivers, friends, neighbors, teachers, and many others contribute to developing our child’s thought processes, mix of gifts, and other life skills. At one point, the soon-to-be-father added, “Luckily we have about a year before we have to worry about all that since the first year we just watch him sleep and eat. All we really need to do is feed, bathe, and change his diapers or clothes.”

This wasn’t the first time, and it won’t be the last time, I have heard adults express the belief that the first months of a child’s life are not instrumental in a child’s emotional and mental development, and the parents’ only focus is addressing the basic needs such as food, shelter, rest, and cleanliness. After all, there is some truth to the follow-up comment, “All a child does at first is eat and sleep.”

The truth is, our interactions with a child during infancy (birth – 18 months) can have a major impact on the social, emotional, mental, and language development of a child. From the first breath, an infant begins accumulating life experiences about such things as stability, reliability, trust, affection, belonging, relationships, respect, and communication. Obviously, the child does not have the ability to directly articulate his or her thinking; however, these thoughts and feelings are in creation, and will be among the first thoughts and feelings the child brings to mind when the time comes that he or she begins to communicate with you.

How would you interact with a newborn if you realized whatever the child is given during this time serves as a foundation for the child’s development? Even though the infant is completely dependent on adults to provide his or her basic needs, the child is being taught what to expect from his or her environment and caregivers in his or her environment. The child is learning. He or she is being taught how much to trust, or mistrust, a caregiver to meet his or her needs. Each person in the child’s life is teaching the child a foundation on how to show affection and connect with one another. Not in a sophisticated way, but in an emotional way, in an intuitive way.

The child is listening to the sounds in the environment. Have you heard of the Baby Mozart music? They claim by playing this music,  you help a baby’s brain develop stimulating self-soothing neurons. It is well known that the sounds an infant is listening to do impact how the child feels.

Effective listening involves you, too. Are you listening to the sounds your child makes? Do you notice how your child cries differently for different needs? From your child’s first breath, the adults in your environment are impacting your child’s social, emotional, mental, and language development.

In the first few months, it’s more than feeding and changing diapers. Here are some suggestions for Teaching, Encouraging, and Listening with an infant – of course, all from a Loving place:

  • Pay attention to the surrounding noises your baby is hearing.
  • Look at your child when you speak and imitate his or her vocalizations.
  • Repeat your child’s laughter and facial expressions.
  • Teach your baby to imitate actions, such as peekaboo, clapping, blowing kisses, high five, pat-a-cake, and waving bye-bye. You can do these actions with your infant. At some point the child will imitate you back. And, do you realize these games also give your child a foundation for taking turns needed in future play and conversations?
  • Talk while you are doing things with your infant, such as dressing, bathing, and feeding. (e.g., “Daddy is washing Chris’ hair”; “Chris is eating carrots”; “Oh, yum these carrots taste good!”)
  • Talk about where you are going, what you will do once you get there, and who and what you’ll see. (e.g., “Chris is going to Grandma’s house with mommy”; “I can’t wait to get to Grandma’s house, someday I bet you will be excited too.”)
  • Teach animal sounds. (e.g., “A cow says ‘moo.'”)

If you or someone you know is expecting a child or is caring for an infant, please let them know about this Show & T.E.L.L. blog, and also let them know the next few upcoming blogs will focus on this time period. Even though the children in your life may be older, this conversation is still important because every moment in childhood is part of the foundation for the adult-in-the-making. A child at any age is being informed what to expect from his or her environment and people in his or her environment. The point in this post is this begins from the very beginning.

Childhood is the time period where much of a person’s point of view is established, for better or worse. Our 501(c)3 organization is focused on making interactions with younger generations better by inspiring and mentoring adults to think seriously about their interactions with our youth. Our mission is to get the T.E.L.L. message a part of more families, schools, and communities. If you feel you could help us accomplish this mission, please send us a line.

About the author of this post:  Denise Forrest, Ph.D.

Denise is a mother of three grown children and has been a teacher to thousands of students.  She is the creator of the TELL message and Founder of TELL Our Children, Inc. Denise also serves K-12 schools as an educational consultant focusing on mathematics education and instructional decisions for student learning. You can contact her by emailing denise@tellourchildren.org.

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071: Allow your children to be themselves

In a nutshell, creating T.E.L.L.ing interactions with a child is about providing and allowing moments where

1) your thoughts and feelings focus on guiding, supporting, and understanding the child;

2) the child feels free to be himself or herself; that is, the child is allowed to share personal thoughts and feelings with you, and you accept these thoughts and feelings are different than yours; and

3) you think about your words and actions being age-appropriate.

The majority of the Show & T.E.L.L. posts so far have focused on the first point, emphasizing how your thoughts and feelings matter. Feel free to look through the archives and read these posts. There are a few Show & T.E.L.L. posts that discuss points 2 and 3; however, today I’d like to expand on point #2, how we interact so children feel free to be themselves.

Allowing an individual to feel free to be himself or herself means interacting in such a way the individual can genuinely share thoughts and feelings without a fear of being judged. It’s a freedom to be open and honest. This is easier said than done.

Too often, without realizing it, adults start right away to correct and fix any feelings and thoughts they believe may be getting in the child’s way. Adults do this because we believe we know better and we want the child to feel better. However, when we start right away trying to change them, it often stops children from being his or her authentic self. Children get the idea they have to be somehow different. Instead, try and focus on not fixing and changing them but helping the young ones to discover for themselves.

To interact and help a child discover and just be themselves, you can try the following suggestions. Many of these suggestions can be done with children as early as 18 months old.

  • Ask for your child’s opinion … and then listen!
  • Say “I understand” and genuinely mean it.
  • Praise the child for telling the truth.
  • Smile all you can.
  • Acknowledge the child’s feelings.
  • Avoid excessive lectures. Remember, this is a two-way conversation.
  • Do not be critical or make fun of anything the child says.
  • Praise effort.
  • Hug the child.

mom and toddler

Two things to remember…

1) When a child feels a freedom to be just who he or she is in the moment, you create a relationship grounded in acceptance and trust. This allows you to be in a better position to help your child discover more about himself or herself, as well as build a stronger relationships with one another.

2) When a child is hurting, he or she can act unlovable. In these moments, it’s even more critical you allow the child to be himself or herself. Be there for them. Accept their thoughts and feelings in the moment, learn as much as you can about them so you can help guide the child toward something better in themselves.

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070: How do you respond when your child is uncertain?

In the previous post, I shared a story about Jay, a 10-year-old who to some degree was being bullied on the school bus. Read it here if you didn’t get a chance to see how this situation became an opportunity to support, guide, and give Jay more choices to handle this uncertain situation in his life.

For this post, I feel like we should talk about other ways parents handle situations where another child’s misbehavior is affecting their child. This is one of the situations I am asked how a parent should respond. When talking with parents, here are two common responses I hear …

“I talk to the other child’s parent about the situation and ask them to address this with their child.”

“I tell my child to give it right back. For example, if someone pokes you, poke them right back. Treat them the way they treat you. If someone says to you ‘you’re stupid,’ then say something to let them know how stupid they are.”

Can you relate to either of these strategies? The first strategy focuses on taking matters into your own hands, not having your child be a part of the solution. The second response focuses on educating the child about the principle of retaliation. This is often expressed as “an eye for an eye.” In other words, penalizing the person who injured you by responding with what you think they deserve in return.

Before I go and challenge these responses, let me add there may be a time and place where each of these seem appropriate, like when the misbehavior is between a very young and older child. If your child is the younger and the misbehavior is beyond your child’s comprehension, you should take over.

Similarly, I know when the retaliation response has ended in a positive result. My mother tells a story about my brother being hit by a boy across the street when he was 7 years old. My mom told my brother to hit that boy right back next time, and my brother did. She says this gave my brother confidence to stick up for himself; however, she added the two of them also talked about this not being the only way to handle these situations.

So now there have been three strategies for handling a situation where your child is being affected by another child’s misbehavior: role playing to learn a way to respond, the adult addressing the matter for the child, and retaliation. The question I would like to ponder in this post is: what is best for the child in this situation? What is best for the child’s personal growth and development?

If the situation is one your child can potentially address successfully, then use the opportunity to T.E.L.L. better choices. Use the opportunity to guide, support, and help develop a strategy to address the uncertain situation. Role playing is effective for children at all ages. Have the child practice a possible successful resolution in the current situation.

When our first response is to take care of a problem for the child, we rob the child of an opportunity to personally grow and address uncertain situations. We don’t give the child an experience to think through and find ways to improve a situation.

This is among the difficult concepts I faced in raising my three children. I did not want my children to suffer. I did not want them to face controversy and drama. I wanted them to just be children and have a happy childhood.

Then I realized I was limiting their personal growth, not giving them opportunities to learn while I am there to help guide, support, and provide better choices. It was better if I could be there to help them make better sense of uncertain moments in their life.

The next time you see a child feeling uncertain, pause for a moment and ask ‘Can I use this moment to guide, support, and allow my child to be stronger? How can I T.E.L.L. my child?’ Can you role play the situation so the child can better understand and feel more certain?

Strong child with muscles drawn on chalkboard in elementary school

If you have one of those moments, please send us an email and let us know!

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069: Helping children when they feel uncertain

When a child faces uncertainty, how can you help? How can you be there to support, guide, and help the child develop a certain idea? How can you make the child stronger?

Strong child with muscles drawn on chalkboard in elementary school

I am reminded of a story where a young boy, around 10 years old, came home upset because another boy was picking on him during the school bus ride home. This had gone on for a few days and now other boys were starting to join in on the behavior.

For the sake of this story, let’s call this young boy Jay. Jay came home feeling uncertain about how to respond and how to interpret this situation. Uncertainty is emotional. In this situation, the emotions included frustration, hurt, and fear.

My mind started thinking of ways I could support, guide, and develop a better, a more certain idea, for Jay in this situation. How could I address some of his uncertainty?

I chose to act out the bus ride, or in other words, role play. Along with his older brother, we started acting out the bus ride from school. Each of us took turns being Jay and the other boy (let’s call him John).

We practiced for a good hour until Jay felt certain about how he might handle this situation with John. Through the role play, Jay learned possible reasons John was acting this way. For example, John may just want attention and was using Jay to get that attention. Jay learned he could respond by looking John in the eye and saying “Stop.” Jay also learned that if necessary, he could further respond by looking John in the eye again and saying “I really don’t care what you think” and walk off the bus tall and confident.

Was I sure this would work? No. However, I did know in the present moment Jay felt better and had a better idea on how to handle the situation. And, fortunately, the next day Jay let me know looking John in the eye and saying “Stop” was all he needed to do. We celebrated the courage Jay demonstrated in this situation. We talked about how Jay may have to do this a few times to let John know he meant it.

I don’t recall whether Jay had to stand up to John again, but I do know a week later John invited Jay over and the two ended up being childhood friends.

This story is about a 10-year-old boy feeling uncertain; however, children feel uncertain all through childhood, and these are opportunities for us to help them grow stronger and choose better. The day Jay shared his story allowed us to figure out a new idea that he could understand and practice with more certainty than before. He developed courage by role playing the situation. Jay was certain he could say and do what we practiced the next time he was in the situation. We genuinely listened to how Jay thought about and felt about the situation, and in turn, Jay listened to me and his brother. The love and care was felt by all.

When you recognize your child feeling uncertain, pause and T.E.L.L. the child. This is your opportunity to give the child an experience that Teaches, Encourages, Listens, Loves something the child can certainly understand.


About the author of this post:  Denise Forrest, Ph.D.

Denise is a mother of three grown children and has been a teacher to thousands of students.  She is the creator of the TELL message and Founder of TELL Our Children, Inc. Denise also serves K-12 schools as an educational consultant focusing on mathematics education and instructional decisions for student learning. You can contact her by emailing denise@tellourchildren.org.

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068: T.E.L.L. when a child has dreams about the future

Standing in the checkout line at the grocery store, I heard a 5- or 6-year-old girl tell her grandmother she wanted the cashier’s job when she was older. The grandmother didn’t say a word. The young girl then shared with the cashier, “I want your job when I grow up!” The cashier responded with a grin and questioned, “You do?”

“Yes, you get a lot of money,” the young girl said happily.

The grandmother grabbed the child’s hand and pulled her out of the store along with the bags of groceries. As I was walking past them a minute later, I heard the grandmother say, “Honey, you do not want that job. That is a part-time job for the girl, and she does not get all the money; the store gets the money. The store pays her very little to do that job.”

Let’s pause for a moment and try to think about the ideas flowing through the little girl’s mind. One minute she was excited about a future job, and now she was hearing every reason to not be excited but to question her desire.

In the previous post, I mentioned the idea of mental baby steps or gigantic leaps when interacting with a child (click here to read the post). The above situation is an example of a gigantic mental leap for the young child. The child was given a lot of ideas to process but there was more confusion than certainty in this interaction.

This also is a good example of the adult point of view dominating the interaction (click here to read this post).

When a child is sharing a future goal with you, tell yourself that there is something within that goal that excites the child. LISTEN to the child share the goal. Try and find out what excites the child here and provide a baby step. For example, when the young girl shared being excited about being a cashier, a baby step would be to say something ENCOURAGING, such as, “Well, if you want to be a good cashier, you better learn how to count money.” Tap into the child’s excitement and TEACH her a lesson in counting money later that day. Tell her that you LOVE that she’s thinking about the future and thinking about goals. Use the excitement as an opportunity to T.E.L.L. the child to think and act a certain way that is desirable.

cheerful little girl dreaming on white background
Teach, encourage, listen, and love a child’s dreams!

Similarly, I heard a story about a 14-year-old who dreamed of becoming a vet. Her mother encouraged her to gather information about veterinarian school. Her mom added how important it was for her to start paying better attention in science class.

The next time your child shares something of excitement, tap into the desire and T.E.L.L. your child to learn something beneficial in that moment. Think of interacting with a baby step. The young girl in the opening story may or may not become a cashier in ten or more years. Trying to get a young child to understand something that may or may not happen in the far distant future will more than likely be a gigantic leap. What can you say and do here and now to step the child in the right direction?

Thinking about how children dream reminds me of a story I once heard of the great Cincinnati Reds catcher Johnny Bench. He said in elementary school they asked him what he wanted to be when he grew up. When he told them a professional baseball player, they laughed. In middle school again he was asked what he wanted to be when he grew up. He said a professional baseball player, and they still laughed.

By the end of high school, they had quit laughing.

Many of our youth have grand dreams at a young age. Tap into this excitement. T.E.L.L. the child about perseverance, discipline, hard work, determination … think of the many possibilities you can focus on to help a child gain stamina and strength in life!


About the author of this post:  Denise Forrest, Ph.D.

Denise is a mother of three grown children and has been a teacher to thousands of students.  She is the creator of the TELL message and Founder of TELL Our Children, Inc. Denise also serves K-12 schools as an educational consultant focusing on mathematics education and instructional decisions for student learning. You can contact her by emailing denise@tellourchildren.org.

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