The last two posts have focused on a TELL Gathering conversation where our group contemplated how to respond when a child talks back, or speaks inappropriately.
One of our subscribers shared her story after reading and thinking about these posts. She gave us permission to share this with you today:
When I was growing up, I learned that talking back to my parents resulted in discipline. Instead, I have been trying to teach my daughter (now 4) how to not talk back and ask questions when she didn’t want to do something I’d asked her to do.
So imagine my surprise when I asked her to do something and she flat out said, “No!” I think my first reactive thought was, “Excuse me?”
I paused for a minute and considered why she may be reacting this way. Had she heard another child at school respond that way to a teacher? Or maybe she saw it on TV and was just mimicking that behavior? This was not the way she typically responded to me.
I stopped right then what we were doing and told my daughter that it was not OK to speak to me that way. I mentioned that she might see other people speak that way, but that just saying “No” to me was not nice or polite. I reminded her that in our house we try and always be nice and polite. I also told her the next time there was something I asked her to do that she didn’t want to, that it was OK for her to ask me why she needed to do that task.
This made me wonder if talking appropriately to one another isn’t something we continue to work on throughout childhood? Throughout life? I quickly realized that just one conversation with my toddler isn’t enough. She needs to be reminded often, as often as possible, because she’s seeing other behaviors daily that might not be acceptable or appropriate. I have to teach her the difference and encourage her to make better choices about how to speak and act. I have to really listen to how she is speaking as well so I can help respond better. I also must listen when she is asking me questions and not give the silent “No” message if I ignore her. And, I must remember my love for her all the while.
First, I wish to thank this subscriber for sharing her story and her reflections. I hope she has given you a new idea for the next time your child talks back or responds inappropriately. The pause before we react is definitely a gem to keep in mind!
Also, I’m pretty sure many of us can relate to the “Excuse me” reaction, or the idea when we were growing up the message often was to just do as you are told.
These responses are less effective with children today because youth are exposed to so much information on a daily basis. Most children have more people in their lives to influence how they think and speak. They get information while at day care or school, from the media, or all public places, for that matter. They also get this information at home. All around youth today are non-examples and good examples how to interact with each other. How will the children learn there is a difference unless someone tells them?
Last, I wish to thank all subscribers who are reading and reflecting on the Show & T.E.L.L. posts. My prayer is the posts serve you all well.
In the last post, I asked how you would respond when your child talks back or when your child shows a negative side of himself. (Click here if you would like to read this Show & T.E.L.L. post.)
As some of you noted, context certainly matters: Where you are when this happens, the age of your child, the severity of the negative response, and your own state of mind are a few of the contextual considerations.
In the TELL Gathering discussed in the previous post, a mother told the story of a young boy, about 12 or 13, talking back to her at home. He was being disrespectful and not wanting to listen to her instructions.
The individuals in the TELL Gathering and Show & T.E.L.L. Blog subscribers seem to agree on these three ideas:
1) We need to address the situation before it becomes a habitual response.
2) We need to address this the moment we hear our child speaking inappropriately and not ignore it or bring it up later.
3) We must do this because we teach children how to interact with us by what we allow, expect, and model for them … starting at a very young age.
In summary, when a child interacts inappropriately, it s important to pause and teach, encourage, listen, and love a better way to communicate with you. If you don’t correct the talking back sooner than later, it may become a pattern, a way to respond when the child is experiencing a similar situation with you, or someone else.
In the TELL Gathering, we agreed the worst thing we do is to respond with anger, which reinforces a negative interaction. We also agreed we tend to do this too often. We just react with our first thought, saying something like, “How dare you speak to me that way!”
Once we realized that an angry response reinforces talking back behavior, we started thinking of a better way to handle this situation. How do we give the child a new thought, a better thought in moments like this? How do we redirect the talking back to a more acceptable talk?
Everyone agreed, the first thing to say – in kindness– is a comment about this not being the way your child will talk to you. Something like “Stop, you will not speak to me or any adult like that. Let’s try again.” That is, we should figure out how to model how we want our children to speak right then and there, and then let them try again.
One mom summed this up nicely by saying, “We must remember children were not born talking this way. They learn to talk by interacting with us, their parents, and others. And, right now there is a lot of negative talk out there on television, video games, and music. Kids talk to each other using that same language. I can see how we need to teach them if we want it to be any different.”
I used to take my children to playgrounds when they were younger. I would do my best to catch them before they might fall. Yet there were times when one of them would fall anyway. I would go over and comfort him or her. Even if it was a mere scrape on the knee, I would go and at least kiss the wound to help make the hurt go away. Of course, when the fall was more severe I, along with most adults watching, would run over immediately and attend to the child.
Most adults react when they notice a child in physical pain. We certainly don’t begin by punishing the child for falling. Our first instinct is try and comfort the child. Maybe later we might talk to the child about why the accident happened and how it could be avoided, but that is not our immediate reaction.
What about when a child has an emotional fall? What about when a child is feeling the challenges of frustration, anger, defeat, embarrassment, disappointment, and sadness? Have you thought about how you respond when you notice an unhappy child? How do you respond when a child falls down emotionally?
You certainly know what it is like to feel these challenging thoughts, to be falling emotionally. However, adults must realize children often do not know how to communicate these feelings. Instead, a child who is falling emotionally may act out by withdrawing, crying, hitting you or others, or talking back, just to name some of the notable behaviors.
This child isn’t acting this way to be mean or to be bad child. The child is expressing an emotional pain. The child is falling emotionally. Just like you don’t immediately begin by punishing your child for falling physically, think about your first response when they fall emotionally.
Help your child by T.E.L.L.ing them in this moment. That is, use your words and actions to Teach, Encourage, Listen, Love to help your child feel better. You do this naturally when your child falls physically. Consider these four ideas forT.E.L.L.ing a child when the fall is emotional.
1. Realize a misbehavior could be a sign of an emotional fall. Don’t begin by punishing the behavior.
2. Do what you can to find out what your child is thinking. Find out your child’s point of view in this moment. That is, understand how your child sees the situation. Try and walk in your child’s shoes. Do your best to really listen and hear the child’s ideas. If your child is too young to share his or her thinking, still try and walk in the child’s shoes in this moment. For example, ask yourself “What could this mean for my child? Could it mean anything else?”
3. Realize your child may be too young to know what he or she is feeling. Try and help the child understand and name the feeling. Teach your child a way to express this feeling.
4. While interacting, try and use your child’s words to help connect feelings with actions in the situation. For example “You’re (emotion) because (action).” We do this because since emotions are influencing your child’s behavior, this connection may not be understood by the child in this moment. In a previous Show & T.E.L.L. Blog post, we talked about how the child’s feelings influence action (link here if you would like to read this post).
Let’s try and remember children fall physically and emotionally, just like adults. Why not catch the falling child when we can? Why not do our best toT.E.L.L. our children?
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.
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.