065: T.E.L.L. our children to do and be better

It saddens me to hear adults sharing stories about how unsuccessful our youth are today. The other day I listened to an hour-long show where five adults discussed how unsuccessful our youth have become and they debated possible explanations. According to these adults (and many other adults, I may add), too many of our youth are undisciplined; disrespectful toward people and things; lack perseverance; are lazy; do not want to think; are impatient; need instant gratification; and lack good communication skills, meaning they can’t write or speak properly.

I’m not here to agree or disagree with these conversations. I am just wondering: How do our youth become so unsuccessful? Who has been there to T.E.L.L. them a better way? Aren’t these traits learned?

Below I compare the unsuccessful traits mentioned above with an opposite more desired (or successful) trait.

Limiting trait More desirable trait
Undisciplined Disciplined
Disrespectful Respectful
Lacks perseverance Willing to persevere
Lazy Hardworking
Does not want to think Problem solver
Impatient Has patience
Poor communicator Effective communicator

In more than two decades of studying adult-children interactions, I have never experienced a child, even a teenager or a 20-year-old, who thinks “I am disrespectful toward people and things,” “I lack perseverance, etc.” They may think: “Why should I show respect to someone who does not show it to me?”; “If I wait long enough, someone else will do it for me,” etc. From the child’s point of view, there are valid reasons for thinking and doing what they do, and much of it is based on the experiences they’ve accumulated so far in their lives.

If we want our youth to be disciplined, respectful, willing to persevere, hardworking, etc., we must T.E.L.L. them about these ideas throughout their lives.  The sooner, the better; however, I’ve learned it is never too late.

When you notice a limiting trait, the question becomes “What opportunity can I provide for this child to experience a more positive trait?” If my child is impatient, what can I do to help the child experience patience? Any moment the child is impatient, that is your opportunity to T.E.L.L. them better. Help your child develop a more favorable trait. For a young child, you can put him or her in your lap, do whatever it is together, show the child patience. For the older child, you can ask him or her to share what is causing the impatience, and together figure out a plan what to do next. Again, show the youth patience. Demonstrate it. Give the moment to T.E.L.L. the desired skill. How can a child learn something, anything, if not taught?


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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002: Giving and getting what we want for our children

What do you want your child to be when he or she grows up? Someone who is:

  • Hardworking
  • A leader
  • Trusting
  • Kind
  • Someone who doesn’t give up
  • Confident
  • Joyful

Whatever you want your child to be…

Here’s the thing: they learn these character traits from you. Children learn from the way you show and tell them. You are the one teaching, encouraging, listening, and loving them. You show and tell them about honesty, hard work, trust, perseverance, confidence, etc. You can choose to help build these character traits, or not, by what you say and do.

When a child does not respond exactly the way you want them to, keep in mind this is your opportunity to show and tell them a better way.

I recall a particular moment when I was 9 years old. I had just finished sewing a cross stitch pillow, and I ran to my grandmother to show her I was done. She was very proud of me, but she saw a mistake I had made in one section of the pillow. She pointed it out, saying I wasn’t finished yet, that I needed to fix this one part. I resisted, even cried, saying “no one will ever notice.”

She said: “I noticed, told you, and now you know.”

She sat down with me, undid the sewing in that part, and handed it back to me to do it correctly. As she was undoing my work, she and I talked about how others may not notice the mistakes I make, but once I am aware of a mistake, it became my chance to do better. The exact words I don’t remember; the interaction I do remember.

The thoughts instilled in my mind that day have been recalled often throughout my life. That is, first I have thought about giving my best in this moment so it will allow me to become better; second I have thought to be grateful when someone is there to help me become better.

Have you had one of these conversations? Has someone shared a new idea that caused you to re-think, to make a better choice in the future? Did they T.E.L.L. you? Did they teach, encourage, listen, and love you?

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