Last Friday’s post, “It’s Important to Pay Attention to Feelings,” underscored the importance of realizing how big a role our feelings play when we interact with others. It mentioned how a child’s mind is still developing as they mature, so a lot of how a child feels is emotional and reactionary to the environment and situations around him or her.
We were all children once, so we were all emotional and reactionary all the time once. Now, as adults, it can be hard to remember a time when crying over a lost balloon or because a toy broke seemed like the only way to communicate about that situation. Now, as adults, we know better, right?
But how can our children know better unless we tell them a better way?
Emotions and feelings of our children sometimes can confuse us, aggravate us, frustrate us, anger us. Other times their emotions and feelings fill us with love, joy, happiness, comfort, confidence. What is important to remember is that we, as the adults, do have control over our feelings. We have learned a better way. It is up to us to teach, encourage, listen, and love our children to that better way.
The next time you have an interaction with your child when he or she is feeling something extreme, think about how you can best TELL your child better in that moment.
Your interactions are influenced by your thoughts, and your thoughts coincide with your feelings. If you are feeling great, you tend to have better thoughts. If you are feeling poor, you tend to have thoughts that are more limiting. You respond based on those thoughts.
It is important to pay attention to feelings.
Take, for example, when your child – or any person for that matter – walks in the room and wants your attention. Doesn’t how you feel determine how you think, which will influence your speech? If you’re in a great mood, you typically respond more upbeat. If you’re in a crappy mood, you respond differently.
It is important to pay attention to feelings.
It is especially important to pay attention to feelings when interacting with a child. Because the child’s mind (until around age 25) is maturing, they tend to interact with emotion first and foremost. Biologically, they are slowly developing the ability to think rationally and logically. Their thoughts are dominated by how they feel in the moment.
It is important to pay attention to feelings.
It is important to consider how you – and others – are feeling as you interact. Feelings impact words and actions. Today, pay attention to your mood and your interactions; do they coincide? Do your feelings influence how well you teach, encourage, listen, and love?
I was at the pool one day with friends. One of the friends had a 3-year-old son named Jeffrey. Jeffrey was thrilled to be at the pool. He jumped in over and over again. We all smiled and laughed with him. His enjoyment was contagious! At one point, though, his jump splashed water all over a woman. Jeffrey’s mother quickly responded, “Jeffrey, be careful, you just splashed that woman, tell her you’re sorry.”
“Sorry,” he replied. He continued to jump again in the pool and again splashed the same woman. “Jeffrey, stop that, I can’t believe you did it again.” Jeffrey said quickly “Sorry.” Jeffrey ran to the other side of the pool and jumped in splashing someone else. “Sorry,” he told the man.
Jeffrey’s mother, feeling irritated, ran over and told her son he was now in trouble and had to go in time out. The young boy burst out crying because he wanted to keep playing in the pool. She told Jeffrey once he stopped crying and was done being in time out, he would be able to get back in the pool as long as he behaves!
His mother and I started talking, and I asked her if she was sure Jeffrey understood why he was put in time out. She was pretty confident that he did. She walked over to him and asked “Honey, do you know why mommy put you in time out?”
Jeffrey replied with his teary eyes, “Because I forgot to give you a hug?”
His response initiated a whole new conversation between the mother and son.
In Jeffrey’s mind, he was just jumping in the pool, and it was fun! We all gave him signals that it was enjoyable for all. In the process, he was led to believe it was okay to splash as long as he said sorry – he was doing exactly what his mother had told him to do.
His mother had to explain jumping in the pool is a lot of fun but he had to pay attention to others in the pool, too. When he splashed someone it was good he said ‘sorry’, but he must also know these people did not want to be splashed.
To which Jeffrey asked, “Why?” This surprised Jeffrey because he was having fun jumping in the pool. He did not understand why it would not be fun for the other people, too.
Jeffrey was not able to connect all the obvious thoughts his mother had in mind. He was only 3 years old! Every thought is based on how Jeffrey feels. Children at this age – and through much of the teenage years – think according to how they feel. They feel good; they think good thoughts. They feel bad; they think poor thoughts. Their thinking is relative to their emotions.
When interacting, pay close attention to how your child feels. Notice how the thoughts are connected to how the child feels.
Also take the time to ask what a child is thinking. Really listen to the ideas being shared. Ask questions to hear more detail. My experience has been, more times than not, I hear something from the younger person I did not expect. Their perception of the moment is usually quite different than my own. Besides learning more about the child, these interactions also build your relationships. A child wants to share time with people who care about them, and asking about their ideas is one way to show you care!
In the last post, I shared how a group of us participating in a T.E.L.L. Gathering contemplated the question we often ask our children: “What’s wrong?” If you didn’t get to read that one, here’s the link!
At a different T.E.L.L. Gathering, a mother of a teenager brought up how her son just lost his third cellphone in a year. We’ll call her son Blake. The mother said, “I need Blake to have a phone so I can reach him, but since I keep buying him a new one, he isn’t feeling responsible to take care of his phone. There is always a reason for the phone being lost. The first time I agreed with him, it was stolen. The next two times he believes the phone was again stolen; however, I am trying to tell him he is leaving the phone places where others can take it. He doesn’t perceive it this way.”
Can you relate to this scenario where your child perceives the situation differently? Where the child wants to blame someone or something for a situation, it is completely out of their control. “It’s not my fault!”
We see what’s wrong here and the child does not. So we don’t ask what’s wrong like the last post, we want to tell them what’s wrong! Yet wouldn’t you agree most of the time our words go in one ear and out the other?
At this T.E.L.L. Gathering, there were a lot of ideas shared from this scenario. One of the most t.e.l.l.ing ideas mentioned was: How can we get the child to help solve the problem? Here are some of our ideas:
- Kindly point out because Blake keeps losing his phone, it makes you think he is not responsible enough to have one. You don’t want to keep buying a new one if he isn’t ready to take care of it.
- Mention how he learned to take good care of something else. In Blake’s case, it was his bicycle. That would help the child comprehend what we mean by learning to take care of something.
- Let the child know you believe he will learn at some point to take care of his phone, too.
- Brainstorm with the child what can be done today. In this case, we thought it would be good to talk about other ways Blake and his mom can communicate while he doesn’t have a phone. We also thought it would be good to talk about how Blake can start saving money to buy his next phone.
Blake’s mom chuckled and said, “Well, I’m not going to tell you what I did.” Then she shared how she blew up at Blake and the very next day went and bought him another phone.
But, after talking this over with our group, she decided to have the more t.e.l.l.ing conversation with Blake. A conversation where she would teach, encourage, listen, and love Blake to make a better choice when it comes to taking care of his things.
In a follow-up conversation, she shared how she went home and told Blake she thought it was best to not let him have the phone just yet. Of course, Blake was first confused and wondering why she was taking away his phone now. He had done nothing wrong. They talked through many of the above points. In the end, Blake understood better and became focused on getting his phone back and keeping it. Now he was ready to solve this problem. She said it took a little less than two weeks.
The key is for us to remember our perception of a situation and the feelings we experience are almost always going to be different than the child’s. Involve their perception and feelings when you interact. Try to understand and develop the child’s ideas more than trying to get them to understand your thinking. That is how you t.e.l.l. them to grow up better.
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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.
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.
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?”
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.