075: T.E.L.L. our children in homes, schools, and communities!

Hello, Show & T.E.L.L. subscribers! Some of you have been wondering what’s going on! We haven’t posted for a while. We wanted to send out a post to let you know the blog is still active. We are transitioning to share stories about how people, like you, are T.E.L.L.ing the children in your lives. We want to share how adults are Teaching, Encouraging, Listening, and Loving children in homes, schools, and their communities.

For example, the other day a mom shared, “I think more about what my child is hearing, I wonder what thoughts I am causing her to think about by what I say. …  I believe that helps make our conversation more T.E.L.L.ing, don’t you?”

It sure does! Thinking about what the child is hearing allows her to become more sensitive about what and how she Teaches, Encourages, Listens, and Loves her child! She can interact more intentionally.

Do you have a story to share? Please send it to us. We will keep it anonymous if you like. The story can be about a conversation, or even an afterthought question and reflection. For example, a father mentioned how he wanted to sit down and apologize to his teenage son for a conversation they had earlier. He wanted to T.E.L.L. his son how he wished he would have handled it differently. He wanted a do-over!

I hope he lets us know how that conversation turns out! It’s another great example about how an interaction Teaches, Encourages, Listens, and Loves the child, for better or worse. This father wanted to turn a bad conversation into a good one, which will T.E.L.L. his son about forgiving and allowing do-overs.

We look forward to sharing stories in 2016 about how people, like you, are T.E.L.L.ing children.  We appreciate your thoughts and questions. Your feedback helps inspire and mentor more caregivers to T.E.L.L. our children every day.

In closing, we at TELL Our Children wish you a very merry and peaceful Christmas. See you in 2016!

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074: A young child listens; do you?

This past weekend while I was standing in a store checkout line, a young mother came up behind me carrying her infant son, probably around four months old. The young child was not crying; he was just a little fussy. The mother holding him whispered, “Just a little bit longer, honey. I love you.” She kissed his forehead and placed him into a car seat carrier inside the cart so she could gather her items to checkout.

When I offered to help her, she graciously accepted, sayings “Yes, thank you. I guess he’s had enough.” She shifted her eyes toward the infant still fussing in the carrier, touched his torso, and bent forward toward him, saying again, “Just a little bit longer, honey. I love you.”

In our small talk, she shared how her son had been so good today. “This is my third errand. I think we’re both tired! Funny how I used to just be able to go and do my own thing. Now I have to also think about this little guy and his schedule.”

Compare this with a different interaction I witnessed a few months earlier in the same store. An infant, also around three or four months old, was in his carrier fussing. Mom was frantically trying to collect what she needed in the store and ignored the fussing child. Within minutes, the baby’s cry became louder and more determined. Under her breath, I heard her say, “I’m so sorry I can’t pick you up right now. Just wait a second, sweetie. I’m almost done.” Her infant began to cry with more force. The last thing I heard was a distraught mother saying, “Please stop. I can’t pick you up this minute. I’m almost done. I promise.”

Can’t you relate to both of these mothers? The two stories sure do bring back memories for me! Don’t we all have moments where we interact with sensitivity to our child’s needs as well as where we choose to put them on hold for the moment? I’m assuming most of us want to be like the first mom, relaxed and attentive to our infant. But, the reality is we all have moments like the second mom who did not engage with the infant because she was more focused on her own thoughts and feelings that moment.

Thinking about T.E.L.L.ing children causes me to ask: What are these moms T.E.L.L.ing their infants here? What do these moms Teach, Encourage, Listen, and Love in these interactions?

Here are some thoughts about Listening.


Hear to understand the children’s thoughts and feelings so you can respond with an appropriate and beneficial thought or action.

There is a difference between Listening and hearing. Listening is active and engaging, as well as quiet and reflective. When Listening, we intend to actively understand what a child is thinking and feeling. We engage in the interaction with curiosity. This is different than merely hearing and reacting. Haven’t you interacted with someone who only hears and speaks from his own mind? He sees things only from his point of view and keeps trying to correct you without ever understanding what you are trying to say? This is not Listening. This is interacting solely from one point of view, your own. And, I must add, most of us have these moments at one time or another. Listening can be hard work!

In the first year of life, infants can only communicate how they feel by facial expressions and noises. In the first story, the mom listened to her child’s fuss, and when she noticed any change she responded with a caring look, touch, and words. She actively tried to understand how her child was thinking and feeling. In the second story, the mother heard her child fussing, but she didn’t Listen because her choice of words and actions focused mostly on her own thoughts and feelings. The child did not even realize the mom was speaking to him and of course couldn’t understand her words.

When we try and T.E.L.L. a child, we not only Listen to the child, we also consider a Listening child. We pay attention to how our words and actions may be received by the younger mind. As for the infant in these stories, we have to realize they are actively Listening and receiving whatever is given to them. An infant is Listening so they can begin to understand their environment and caregivers. The mindset of the infant is developing. Whatever the infant consistently experiences in the first year will become the ideas used when the talking begins.

Listening can be difficult. It involves being active and engaging, as well as quiet and reflective. I sometimes wonder if we T.E.L.L. our children to Listen while they are young, maybe it won’t be so difficult for them to Listen when they are older. Maybe there will be more adults Listening to one another!

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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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