077: Rethinking the question, “What’s wrong?”

In our last post, we talked about how we should all resolve to t.e.l.l. our youth better this year. Did you add this to your list of goals for 2016? Did you have a conversation with a friend or two about helping one another t.e.l.l. your children? Click here if you want to read the new year post.

Last year, we started having T.E.L.L. Gatherings, meetings where adults unite and share ideas how we can better teach, encourage, listen, and love the youth in our lives.  At one of these gatherings, a parent made the comment: “I wonder if children misunderstand us when we ask, ‘What’s wrong?’”

Sad teenage girl being comforted by her mother

We were discussing how children’s thoughts are emotionally guided, and how rational thinking matures later in life (some studies say around age 25). The father began to wonder if his question – “What’s wrong?” – may cause his child’s mind to focus on problems, even thinking, “What’s wrong with me?” We also considered whether a younger child could even answer this question? How often do we expect a child to provide us with a rational explanation or a clear answer when his or her mind is mired in emotion? Maybe we can think of a better question.

The group decided maybe a better response would be to validate the child’s emotions first – “Honey, are you sad?” – or maybe try and do something to connect emotionally with the child – notice and give a look, a hug, or helping hand, something that may lessen the current struggle the child is experiencing.

We want to know what’s going on with the child so we can help. “What’s wrong?” seems like a natural question, but in this gathering, we came to the conclusion we can help by showing the child we notice and care about how he or she feels. Instead of asking him or her to explain what is wrong, we can figure it out by paying closer attention to what is happening in the moment, by loving, by showing care and kindness. A child at any age responds to care and kindness. Maybe we don’t need to hurry up and fix things in that moment.

Mother calms the sad daughter

I am curious to hear what you think about this group’s decision; send us a line if you would like to contribute or respond to this conversation!

As we said in our last post, one of our goals this year is to introduce a conversation thread in the Show & T.E.L.L. post so our subscribers may continue the conversation right here. This is just one of the ways we hope to unite and inspire more caregivers to t.e.l.l. children. Another goal is to hold more T.E.L.L. gatherings. If you are interested in organizing a T.E.L.L. gathering or want to know more about this service, please send us a note.

Stay tuned, stay connected! And, please, tell others about Tell Our Children!

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060: Discipline your child today for better choices and actions tomorrow

To T.E.L.L. and discipline a child involves more than noticing a behavior that needs to be punished. It’s more about noticing a moment where your child is trying to get his or her needs met in inappropriate ways. As the adult, your intent should be to discipline a child to help him or her develop self-control in this circumstance, to make a better choice in the future.

You discipline to help the child get over the current situation and be better next time.

Have you given the time to process and practice the information in the last three posts? Have you practiced disciplining in ways that develop the child’s thoughts and choices? What and how have you taught, encouraged, listened, and loved when experiencing a disciplinary situation with your child?

Discipline is about developing self-control.  Here are the links to the previous three posts for those interested in thinking and practicing T.E.L.L.ing a child while disciplining him or her.

#1: How to TELL and discipline a child?

#2: Discipline with (the right) feeling

#3: Practice and teach self-control with (the right) feeling.

We emphasize the ‘right’ feeling above. You may want to read this post to see what we mean by that: Are you raising your child ‘right’?

Some housekeeping: We are excited to let you know we are in the process of adding a discussion thread for Show & T.E.L.L. blog subscribers. This will allow us to share questions and comments with one another. So, are you a subscriber? If you did not get this Show & T.E.L.L. post in your email inbox, then probably not! You may have linked here through Facebook, Twitter, or other social media.

You can Subscribe to the Show & T.E.L.L. blog by placing your email address in the box above ‘Subscribe’ on the left hand side of this webpage. We will then send you a ‘confirmation’ email. As soon as you confirm, you will get the Show & T.E.L.L. posts in your inbox each Tuesday and Friday. Then you’ll be able to join in the discussion threads at your discretion.

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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059: Practice and teach self-control with (the right) feeling

In the previous two posts, we have been talking about how we discipline and T.E.L.L. a child: How to TELL and discipline a child and Discipline with (the right) feeling. 

We’re talking about how we discipline children so they begin to learn how to self-control their behavior and emotions. You want the child to learn consequences, positive and negative, throughout childhood. You want the child to understand emotions and ways to respond with each feeling.  Our feelings are related to how you and the child view the current circumstance.  To some degree a child is disciplined every day by how you respond; in particular, how you control your emotions.

When a child constantly experiences blame for an adult’s emotion, there comes a point in time when the child adopts this belief and behavior. The other day I heard an adult say “How dare you make me feel guilty?”

mother scolding

The child, or another person, is not making this adult feel guilty. The situation made the adult feel that emotion, but this adult was not owning his own emotion. When an individual blames the other person for a negative emotion, the real issue cannot be addressed. It becomes a bigger problem when a child experiences this continuously because the child is more than likely to then grow into an adult who doesn’t know any better than to blame others for how they feel.

In the previous post, I mentioned the book Boundaries by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend. Here is another excerpt from this book, somewhat paraphrased for our conversation here:

“We are responsible to others and for ourselves. Many times the others in your life do not have enough strength, resources, or knowledge in the current moment. They need help. Denying ourselves to help others when they cannot do for themselves is how we show love and care for that person.

“On the other hand, everyone has responsibilities that only he or she can carry. It is each person’s daily responsibility to take ownership of certain aspects of their life. Among these responsibilities are feelings, attitudes, values, and behavior. Problems arise when people act as if they are not responsible for these aspects of life.”

Adults are responsible to the children in their life. Children need adults to provide strength, resources, and knowledge throughout childhood. However, adults are not responsible for a child when the child is capable of doing something on his/her own. It is also during childhood when children learn to take ownership of personal daily responsibilities such as how they feel, behave, etc. Depending on how the adult responds and how the adult disciplines, children learn.

How are you responding to the children in your life? Are you there to help when the child lacks the knowledge, strength, or resources? Do you discipline so the child begins to develop self-control, or do you tend to just control every time?

What about emotionally speaking? How do you respond to your child’s feelings? How do you communicate yours? Do you discipline yourself first when your feelings are negative? How do you help the child recognize and discipline his or her feelings?


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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058: Discipline with (the right) feeling

The last Show & T.E.L.L. post brought up what it means to discipline in a T.E.L.L.ing way (How to TELL and discipline a child). I emphasized that a child is disciplined in order learn self-control in a specific situation. I am curious to hear if you practiced any of the suggestions provided when disciplining a child. Did you find yourself saying “this makes sense, if only I remember it in the heat of the moment!”

So true – our feelings can get the best of us. When we are angry or frustrated, we tend to react. That’s why the fourth point in the previous post was to discipline without anger. Learning to discipline from a caring place is one of the major principles for T.E.L.L.ing children.

I think most would agree that it is much easier to discipline when you feel good. The challenge is when our feelings are hurtful, such as when we feel frustrated, angry, disappointed, or sad. It is during these moments that you as the adult have to discipline yourself first. You discipline yourself so the feeling/emotion does not control your response, and your wisdom does.

Here is an excerpt from Dr. Henry Cloud’s & Dr. John Townsend’s book Boundaries:

“Feelings come from your heart and can tell you the state of your relationships. They can tell you if things are going well, or if there is a problem. If you feel close and loving, things are probably going well. If you feel angry, you have a problem that needs to be addressed. But the point is, your feelings are your responsibility and you must own them and see them as your problem so you can begin to find an answer to whatever issue they are pointing to.”

So when you feel angry, or another hurtful feeling, recognize there is a problem that needs to be addressed – and the child is not the problem! Yes, the child may be very involved in the situation; however, the child is not the cause of your feeling. When a child misbehaves, for example he hits or bites another child, you feel frustrated; the issue is not the child. The frustrated feeling lets you know there is a problem with how the child is thinking. He believes he must hit to get his needs met. Or, maybe the child is frustrated so the child allows the emotion to control what he or she does.

During childhood, it is critical for children to begin learning how to self-control their emotions. Children learn how to develop self-control of emotions largely by how the adults respond when disciplining. Emotions are central when disciplining, especially yours. More on self-control in the next post.


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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055: Reaction — Being in the moment with your child isn’t easy, but it is necessary

The most recent Show & Tell Blog (Give Your Child Knowledge And Strength HERE And NOW) was a very powerful blog for me personally. It caused me to stop and think about my actions as a parent. The blog talked about how children live in the current moment and how we, as the adults and caregivers in their lives, need to be present in that moment with them.

As a parent and an adult, it can be hard to live in the here and now. I know it is hard for me. I am constantly thinking ahead, making plans, worrying about what’s for dinner tonight, what do I need to do tomorrow, what’s going on next week, etc. Sometimes when my child needs me NOW, I feel I don’t have the time nor the patience for her and maybe even get frustrated when she needs something from me NOW.

At times, it is hard for me to remember this about children, that they live in the present moment, the one they are in right this second. This moment has them feeling whatever they are feeling and is causing them to emote, whether it be a happy emotion, a sad one, or an angry one.

Let’s try and remember children aren’t adults — they have not learned to think ahead and to plan ahead as we have. We cannot expect them to understand our way of thinking. But children do (as they should) expect us to understand their way of thinking. After all, we were a child once, too. We’ve been where they are right now, in whatever moment they are feeling and emoting.

Parenting and caregiving isn’t easy. Remembering what it was like as a child isn’t easy. But parenting and caregiving is the most important role we have and we must strive to do our best. We must Teach our children, we must Encourage them, we must Listen to them, we must Love them. And to do that, we must see things their way since they can’t see things from ours. And their way is right now, in this moment, feeling this feeling. If you can be in that moment with your child in a T.E.L.L.ing way, you are giving them (and most likely yourself) strength and wisdom for the future. Even if that future is the next moment from now, or the next hour, or the next day, or years from now.

So this week, join me and plan to be in the moment with your child, no matter what the moment brings.

About the author of this post:

CE is a mother of one four-year-old girl, a board member of T.E.L.L. Our Children, and an editor. She can be reached at stareditors@gmail.com.

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032: Interacting with a balanced perspective

Can you relate to CE’s experience she shared in our last post? Where she ignored her three-year-old daughter until she had had enough, and then she chose to interact, or as stated overreact (click here if you would like to read her post first).

Today, I’d like to highlight two ideas from her conclusion:

 I have to think about this [my choice to ignore what my daughter is saying or doing] when I do decide to talk to her about it. I have to consider her point of view. It’s not her fault I chose to ignore her actions when I did.

I don’t want to ignore the situation on one hand and then emotionally react the next time.

These are powerful thoughts for all of us to remember. No matter how old the child is, he or she cannot read your mind! Have you experienced someone lashing out at you for what appears to be no apparent reason? How does that make you feel and think in that moment?

Now let’s be honest, we all have reasons to ignore what a child is saying or doing, we can’t possibly respond every single time we notice something. That would be exhausting and actually obnoxious for us to do so. There definitely is a time and place; however, as CE points out, accepting it was her choice to ignore the situation allows her to think differently about how to respond.

When you decide now is the time and place, and you recognize your anger or frustration is because you have allowed this to go on for too long, you can gather your thoughts and enter the conversation with better intentions – not to react emotionally, but respond more appropriately for the benefit of the child.

When you change your intentions from giving your child an ear full to instead providing a better picture of the moment, the interaction is more likely to benefit the child AND you. Helping a child create a better picture for understanding this moment allows you to also understand more about your child and this situation. Further, in helping the child understand this moment, you may be also helping the child better understand future moments.

When you underreact, then overreact, you tend to give the child an unbalanced picture of the situation. In my interviews with teens, I often hear them say “most of the time they [parents, teachers, or another adult] don’t even pay attention to what I am doing. It’s only when I make a mistake, then I hear it.”

What these teens are saying isn’t a new idea just now coming to their mind. It is part of their childhood experiences, based on past interactions with adults throughout life. Sure, the majority of the teens acknowledge they have heard compliments from the adults; the complaints just seem louder and consistent in their minds.

How often do we fail to recognize the long-term results of our interactions with children? Let’s face it, we all have moments of underreacting and overreacting. So how can we respond?  We can try to temper our words of complaint with words of care and complement. We can try and put a child’s developing perspective in the forefront of our minds. We can show and T.E.L.L. them.

Let’s all try and give our children a more balanced perspective of what they are saying, doing, and thinking each moment … for their short-term and long-term benefit.

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