145: A journey begins with a single step

dad baby feet

Today, the quote “A journey begins with a single step” is on my mind. I like this quote because it helps visualize the life journey as a series of stepping stones. I imagine stones, or steps, that are not equal in size or space. I imagine detours here and there. Some hills along the way. There are some steps farther apart that cause the traveler to take a bigger leap. The leap is reachable steps – that is within grasp of the traveler’s current mindset and skillset – the traveler just needs extra effort and concentration to get there. I also imagine steps with wide spaces in between, that are outside the traveler’s reach in the moment. There, the traveler must add a step or two in between so he or she can eventually get there.

Can you see how the life journey traveled can indeed be visualized as a series of steps? So what about today, which step shall this traveler take? Is the step doable? If not, how can I get there?

The stepping stones we take can be set by others or by ourselves. I believe God also has a major part in the walk. Every day, whether we realize it or not, we are taking steps. Which step to take and why? Which steps are doable? Do you have the energy and concentration for a leap today? What steps are others asking you to take today? How do you choose? What are you capable of today? Are there steps you must pave first?

How we answer these questions depends on our current mindset and skillset that we developed through life experiences. During childhood, the stepping stones are often set by parents, teachers, and other caregivers. These adults pave much of a child’s way. The experiences shape the child’s mindset and skillset and become the foundation for the steps chosen, or not chosen, into adulthood.

As I reflect on my childhood, at home my siblings and I helped each other pave our way much more than our parents. Mom was busy working all hours of the day and week to keep a roof over our heads and dad was not there. But, in elementary school, educators definitely paved the way by giving guidance and direction to move one step at a time.  Each school transition, from middle school, high school, and then college, left me having to take more responsibility in paving my own way. I learned to choose my walk, whether to step on a stone someone else put in my path or pave my own.  I can see how these childhood experiences impact my steps in adulthood.

As a mother, I may have tried to provide more stepping stones for my children at home because I remember wanting more guidance from my parents. There are times I wonder if I made the journey too easy for them. Did I give my children enough experiences in paving their own way? Did I give them stepping stones which caused them to leap, put in extra effort and concentration? Or at times did I ask my children to leap beyond their current reach, in other words not consider their current mindset or skillset? How did I impact the steps they now take as adults? How did the other caregivers in their life impact their choices as adults?

I’m seeing now the value in childhood where I had to pave much of my own way, but also had stepping stones provided. I was challenged to take leaps; I tried leaps outside my current abilities which caused me to naturally fail to reach the step I was trying to get to. Though where I landed in my efforts could be seen as my next step and then I could continue to walk in the direction of that once unattainable leap in front of me.  There is value in experiencing paving and choosing which steps to take. Could it be those who do not get these experiences in childhood are challenged by paving their own way in adulthood or choosing their way? Do I help children experiences making and taking steps in their journey?

Double exposure. The child the boy looks from below up. It is combined with the ladder steps leaving up It is isolated on a white background

Do you know of people who expect others to pave their way and blame when the step they need is not set before them? I wonder whether these individuals did not have enough childhood experiences paving their own way?

Do you know of people who wait and do nothing until someone or situation shows up? They are upset about the situation, but sit and second guess the next move? Lack confidence in making or taking the next step? Did they not learn this from childhood? Or maybe they learned to not take steps because too often they asked to take bigger leaps than their current ability, and now they believe “I’d rather not try than to try and fail.”

In adulthood, we are the one responsible for the steps in our life journey, whether we want that responsibility or not. Maybe our childhood experiences did not adequately prepare us to make these choices.

However, maybe as parents and caregivers of younger people we can know better and T.E.L.L. them about making and taking steps in life. Maybe you can find opportunities to have the children in your life take leaps, teaching and encouraging extra effort and concentration. Maybe you can allow the children in your life to choose their next step? Or ask where they would like to step next?

Every journey begins with the first step. Tell Our Children is focused on mentoring, inspiring, and uniting caregivers with steps for improving interactions with young people. Today’s message focuses on making and taking steps in our own life, and helping the children around us to do the same. What steps will you take today?

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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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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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038: Continue learning and knowing more about positive and negative interactions

In the last blog post, I introduced the idea of a positive and negative interaction because:

#4: Every interaction can be evaluated as positive or negative, and both types of interactions are needed for personal growth; however, it is critical that children accumulate a favorable balance of positive interactions over negative.

Did you begin to notice and evaluate your interactions as being positive or negative? Did you think about whether your words and actions were leaving a positive or negative impression on a child’s mind? Read the previous post here.

Before going on with the next point in evaluating whether our interactions are effective, I want to emphasize the idea that both positive and negative interactions are needed for personal growth. Many may think the goal is to experience only positive interactions. Besides the fact that this is nearly impossible, even if it was, having only positive interactions would cause a developing child to have a limited and naive perception of living life. It is important to realize an evaluation of positive and negative interactions is not an evaluation of good or bad; it is an evaluation of the child’s mental impression in the moment.

My daughter grew up playing soccer. Around the age of 12, she had a coach who would constantly pull her and her teammates aside and focus on (yell) what they did wrong. My daughter would often come to me very upset about these conversations. I recall many of the parents feeling the coach should be more sensitive when communicating with our 12 year-old, going through puberty, daughters. However, as I continued learning and knowing more about positive and negative interactions, I realized these negative interactions are what allowed her to play soccer at the next level. Without his coaching, his feedback, she would never have been able to play as well and as long as she did.

These were not ‘bad’ interactions; they were negative interactions because the coach would focus on what was wrong. The coach made sure the girls understood how they were lacking in their game. Seldom, if ever, did he say what they did well unless it was an exceptional play.  I can imagine him saying, “the girls should know what they are doing right, my job is to make them better.”  Many of the interactions in the moment left a negative impression in the girls’ minds; however, it was because of these negative impressions, my daughter developed perseverance and became a better soccer player in the long run. She had to take the critical criticism and learn better ways. These negative interactions ended up being favorably balanced with positive interactions. Her teammates would compliment one another and she herself would notice the improvement in her game. And, every once in a while, the coach would throw out a compliment. The girls who did not experience, or feel, the favorable interactions usually quit the game at some point. Only a handful of them went on to play in college.

The problem is when children experience continual negative interactions at school, home, and socially. Especially at a young age, these leave lasting negative impressions. In the above example, my daughter was 12. If she was much younger, these critical conversations would have been less effective, even detrimental. When children experience continual negative interactions, they start to develop negative beliefs and attitudes about themselves, others, and their circumstances. Then they begin to develop insecurities, self-centeredness, or learned-helplessness. Can you think of anyone you know who may be an example of this scenario? Can you think of maybe a situation in your own life where enough negative interactions caused you to give less of yourself or give up?

This week, continue to:

Reflect and evaluate your interactions. Ask if you are leaving a positive or negative impression. If it is negative, think about what can you say and do to redirect the child’s thinking in the future. Is there something positive you can add to the interaction to help move it in a favorable position? For the younger child, try making this shift sooner rather than later. Keep in mind that the child is rapidly accumulating life experiences that he will use to think and act in the moment and in the future.

As you practice asking these questions and reflecting on your interactions, you will continue to learn and know more about positive and negative interactions. You will also continue to learn and know more about T.E.L.L.ing a child. You will realize the impact you can have as you teach, encourage, listen, and love.



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037: Your interactions are positive or negative depending on how you t.e.l.l.

In the current series of blog posts, we are talking about foundational precepts to think and act upon when communicating with a child. The first three posts introduce why interactions with a child are important. That is, in every interaction you are T.E.L.L.ing your child something. You are informing your child’s thoughts, words, and actions not only relative to the current situation, but possibly in a future event. You are also providing the child with information about how to act when communicating with others. The bottom line: every interaction you have can be an informative experience for the child.

mom and toddler

Understanding and accepting your responsibility for the words and actions used in any interaction is the first step before you can begin improving your interactions. We have to accept the responsibility for our words and actions, especially when the other is a child. A child cannot be the one responsible for your choice of words and actions. If you would like to read any of the first three blogs, you can link to them below by clicking on the underlined text.

#1: In every interaction you are mentoring and modeling for your child.

#2: In every interaction, the words and actions chosen reflect your current heart, mind, and will.

#3: The words and actions you display today in an interaction are a collection of your past accumulated life experiences.

The next group of blog posts in the “How can I T.E.L.L.?” series focus on evaluating whether your interaction is effective. Have you ever thought about what makes an interaction effective? Have you ever thought about whether you experienced a positive or negative interaction?

Think about the last interaction you had with a child, or anyone for that matter. Would you be able to evaluate whether it was positive or negative? Don’t be surprised if you answer that question with a “No, not really.” The majority of people only think about their interactions when it was either extremely good, extremely bad, or something happens that wasn’t expected. Otherwise, it’s human nature to just continue thinking and going on with our business… not giving our interactions a second thought.

Today, try and give your interactions with children a second thought. Begin asking, at least periodically, “Did I interact positively or negatively with this child?”

#4: Every interaction can be evaluated as positive or negative, and both types of interactions are needed for personal growth; however, it is critical that children accumulate a favorable balance of positive interactions over negative.

So, what makes an interaction positive or negative?

In general, a negative interaction is when

1) you choose to ignore something important or

2) your words and actions focus only on negative thoughts and feelings.

For example, you notice your child taking a toy away from another child. You know this is not how you want your child to behave, but you choose to not bring it up. You may have your reason, and it may be a good reason to ignore the interaction (or confrontation) in the moment. It is negative because not addressing it now means the child may continue to think there is nothing here, and may continue to think and act this way in the future.

It is also negative to only focus on what is wrong in the moment. For example, in the situation above with the child taking a toy away from another child,it would be considered a negative interaction if you go over upset and only talk about how your child did something wrong, saying they were “bad.” Negative interactions leave a negative impression in the mind of the child.

You want to interact in a way that leaves a positive impression in the mind of the child. A positive interaction is where you intend to

1) redirect the child’s thoughts and actions to become better or

2) emphasize the positive thoughts and feelings. 

In the situation with the child taking a toy away from another child, it would be considered a positive interaction if you patiently and kindly directed the child to give the toy back with an apology, saying something along the lines “You made Sara sad by taking her toy, let’s give it back to her and say sorry.” The intent is to redirect the child’s mind to more appropriate and beneficial learning. Impress the child with ideas that help her in the future in similar situations.

Emphasizing the positive is to reinforce the thinking and actions you want the child to continue. For example, after the child returns the toy and apologizes, you may follow up with “I’m proud of you for returning the toy and saying sorry.” Focusing on the positive allows a child to hear and think about what she is doing right.

This week:

Begin to noticeand evaluate – your interactions with a child. Ask yourself periodically, “Did I have a positive or negative interaction?” Recognize we all have negative interactions. We all have times where we ignore or emphasize what is wrong. It’s human nature.

Here’s the good news: once you are aware and can evaluate an interaction as negative, you can always try again and redirect and/or emphasize the positive ideas you want a child to think about or act upon. Or you can accept you just had a negative interaction, and look for a future opportunity to have a positive interaction. In the long run, what matters is the child experience more positive interactions than negative ones. Make it your goal today to allow a child to accumulate a positive interaction, one that leaves a positive impression on how to think and act.

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035: How you can t.e.l.l. and accumulate positive experiences

Today we continue to focus on foundational themes for T.E.L.L.ing children, and offer suggestions on how you might act upon the presented idea.

This is our third post in this series. If you are interested in reading any of previous posts, you can click on the titles for the #1 and #2 posts below.

#1: In every interaction you are mentoring and modeling for your child.

#2: In every interaction, the words and actions chosen reflect your current heart, mind, and will.

 Today’s fundamental thought in T.E.L.L.ing a child is…

#3: The words and actions you display today in an interaction are a collection of your past accumulated life experiences.

As we interact, our mind collects thoughts to provide meaning to the moment. Our mind is seeking ways to make sense of what is happening, what is being said, etc. The thoughts collected are based in relative past experiences. In a new situation, our understanding and thoughts are limited. As we gain more experiences, our minds can collect more detailed thoughts.

Paying closer attention to your thoughts and feelings today can have a positive influence on your personal thoughts and feelings for the future. Equally important, it can have a profound impact on a child’s accumulated life experiences. Paying closer attention to the thoughts and feelings of a child allows you to provide better details for a child’s thoughtful and emotional collection.

This week…

Become more aware of the experiences you and your child are accumulating. Think back on a childhood experience where someone positively impacted how you think and feel today. Think clearly about how and why this interaction impacted you. You may even want to record these thoughts in a journal. (In a previous post I shared how an interaction with my grandmother at age 9 still impacts how I think today.)

The next time you interact with a child, take a moment to realize you are not only informing the child’s current thoughts and feelings, you may also be affecting how the child thinks and feels in the future. This week, try to intentionally interact in a way that provides positive details for the child’s mind. Try and intentionally select words and actions that compliment and empower the child now and for the future.  For example, look for moments to let your child know:

  • I am proud of you.
  • You have great ideas.
  • You are creative.
  • You are so good at…
  • You are helpful.
  • You are kind, respectful.
  • I believe you can …
  • I like how you don’t give up …
  • You do …. well.
  • I love you.

Provide enough details so the child understands why you are proud, what ideas are good, what actions were respectful, etc. You just might be adding to the child’s personal collection of life experiences that he or she can bring to mind in a future moment.

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