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 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 email@example.com.
It’s not about giving a child knowledge and strength for tomorrow, or for the next hour. Give a child knowledge and strength in the current moment. More specifically, help a child overcome a strain he or she may be feeling here and now. From your adult point of view, the strain may be no big deal. However, for the child, the strain is real; the strain is emotional. The child needs strength and knowledge in this moment to become stronger and wiser.
These are the moments to seriously think about T.E.L.L.ing a child. Give the child’s thoughts and feelings your full attention. Be present, be here and now. Be with the child so you can catch and redirect him or her as he or she is feeling a strain.
Pause and ask yourself, “How can my words and actions Teach? How can my words and actions Encourage? How can my words and actions show I Listen? How do my words and actions show I Love?” Your words and actions can guide and support a child through a straining moment.
By being present in the moment, by guiding and supporting your child through a straining moment, you also transform your child’s thoughts for the future.
In our previous blogs, we pointed out several reasons why interactions between adults and children can often fail. The third reason we outlined was:
3) Adults underreact and then they overreact. Adults may notice a limiting behavior or choice being made by the child and decide to ignore the situation. Later, when it eventually becomes a big enough deal to bring up, the child then thinks, “What’s the big deal? What am I doing differently? What’s different this time?”
I experienced this exact thing earlier today with my daughter.
One way I have disciplined my daughter in the past is to put her in time out. Recently, she’s gotten into the habit of asking me if I need to go to timeout if I’m doing or saying something she doesn’t agree with. After hearing this a few times, I tried to help her understand why it is OK for me to send her to timeout but it isn’t OK for her to send me to timeout.
So today, we were in the car on a long trip. It was kind of noisy and I couldn’t turn around to talk to her face-to-face. So my daughter starts, “Do you need to go to timeout?” I ignored her.
In true toddler form, she kept asking me if I needed to go to timeout — the more I ignored her, the more (and louder) she asked, until I rose my voice at her and said “Enough!” Fortunately, that’s all I said in a loud voice; I remembered the reason outlined above and took a deep breath before continuing. I turned off all the music in the car and turned around for a second and said her name so she knew I was speaking to her. In a calm voice loud enough for her to hear me, I went back over our previous conversation about why it wasn’t appropriate for her to speak to me that way. I apologized for anything I may have said or done that made her angry. I let her know I was busy driving, and I needed to give that my attention.
After I finished talking, I asked her if she had anything to say, and we talked for a little bit more about whatever had been on her mind at that moment. Then we were able to turn the music back on and continue.
It is tempting a lot of times to just ignore my daughter when she’s doing something I don’t approve of, or when I don’t really know how to respond, or handle a behavior or something she said. And in some cases, ignoring works, so long as I keep in mind that I have ignored it and I can’t just react when I have had enough. I have to think about this 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.
My three-year-old will persist until she gets to a point where I have to intervene, be it for her safety, my sanity, or another reason. I think the key for me is to not let it get to a point of confusion for the child. I don’t want to ignore the situation on one hand and then emotionally react the next time.
In Tuesday’s Show & T.E.L.L. post, a mother of a three-year-old talks about one of the reasons interactions between adults and children can fail. In particular, she talked about how an adult point of view may be dominating the conversation. She gave examples about how at times she may be assuming ideas when interacting with her three-year-old. Click here if you want to read her post.
Her post emphasizes how we adults often ignore, or assume, important details when interacting with a younger, less experienced mind. We have a tendency to leave things out. To put it into perspective, think about learning to drive a car. Initially, our focus is on gas pedal or brake; blinker up or down; meanings of the various traffic lights, signs, and lines; speed limit, brake distance, other cars, etc. Many ideas and emotions fill our thoughts as we learn to drive. At some point, we no longer have to think about which pedal is gas, which is brake, what the various signs mean, etc. That is, unless something unexpected happens causing us to recall an idea, like if you later learn to drive a manual and you have to think about the clutch as one of the pedals. Otherwise, many of the initial thoughts about driving a car exit our current perception, and we begin bringing other thoughts to mind as we drive.
In any interaction, individuals share their perception in that moment. Our perception includes thoughts about what we see, hear, and feel in the moment. Perceptions change as we live life. What we perceived in a situation as a five-year-old is certainly different than what we perceive as a teenager or now as an adult. Perceptions change relative to time, place, the knowledge we accumulate along the way, and the emotions we feel. Our children are just beginning their experiences, developing their perceptions. One of my favorite quotes is, “An expert at anything was once a beginner.” It is important for adults to keep this in mind when we are interacting with children. Remember, children are focusing more on the pedals and signals … a beginner at driving their lives.
The previous post focuses on a younger child; however, a friend of mine shared recently how she was so frustrated with her teenage son. “I could talk until I am blue in the face, and…” This could also be an indication that an adult point of view is dominating the conversation! There is a difference in fixing a child’s perception or developing a child’s perception.
Individual interactions may seem like they have but a trifling influence on the long-term perspective of a child. Yet collectively, our daily interactions throughout childhood are exactly what will define the child’s perspectives as they mature toward adulthood. Learning to involve more of our children’s thinking in our interactions with them is critical for the child’s current and future decision-making.
The next time you interact with a child, ask yourself: “Whose thinking dominated this conversation, mine or the child’s?”