Archive for October, 2011

There’s more than one way to skin a cat, as they say …  such a weird saying and when I think about it literally, it makes me shiver. There are sayings that we, as parents/educators, say (and have been taught to say) that also send a shiver up my spine, not that they are horrific but the possible negative outcomes could be avoided.

One of the most frustrating statements, for me, is “put your tears away”, which is frequently heard in preschool programs. As children grow, comments such as “I don’t want to hear it” and “suck it up” can be added to the list. These sayings are pretty common and society has taught us that this is what you should say to a child that is upset. So what is the problem?


Let’s first look at the intention of the statements. I assume that the goal of the adults is to make the child emotionally stronger and to develop the ability to cope with frustrations. Good intentions.

There is another saying in the English language about “good intentions”, which points out that sometimes the actions can lead us down the wrong path. As always, my objective in my consultations is to help parents/educators make choices to best achieve their desired goals.  So, let’s look at the possibilities.

For the most part, we do not know how a child interprets his/her experiences and there is a possibility that comments such as “put your tears away” may be interpreted in a way that has long-term negative effects on the well-being of the child. For me, if I am aware that there is a possibility that things could go wrong, I want to find another option.

Possible Interpretations

  • My feelings are bad – it is bad to feel sad, frustrated, angry etc. And, if I feel bad even though I know it is bad to have these feelings, then I, too, must be bad [outcome: low self-esteem and self-worth?]
  • I am not good enough – I do not live up to your expectations when I show my feelings and when I have these feelings; I am not worthy, I am not good enough; I have to try harder to please you – perhaps, I will do anything to please you and everyone else [outcome: someone who will do anything for someone in order to feel worthy? (think teenagers!)]
  • My feelings aren’t important – I shouldn’t share them, you don’t want to hear them, I should keep them to myself [outcome: a loner, insecure, self-doubts?]
  • I am alone when it comes to my feelings – there’s no point in going to an adult when I am feeling bad; keep it inside, keep stuffing feelings and worries inside [outcome: an explosive child/adult, potential addictions or depressions?]


We want our children to come to us when they have a problem, when they are struggling with something, feeling frustrated or sad about something. We want to be there for them when they need us. We also want them to become confident, strong individuals who are able to cope with disappointments and life’s challenges. So what are the options to “put your tears away” and “suck it up”?

Look at the goal and visualize how you would like the child to cope with the situation. Your vision might look something like this:

  1. A situation occurs where the child typically responds emotionally (ex. withdraws, cries, becomes aggressive)
  2. The child pauses and takes a couple of deep breaths, possibly even walks away for a short time.
  3. The child attempts to think through the situation to find solutions and/or coping strategies.
  4. The child talks with an adult, identifying the problem, sharing his/her feelings about the situation, and perhaps asks for advise, receiving emotional support, reassurance, and wisdom
  5. A solution is selected and applied to the situation, with help from the adult as needed
  6. Child hopefully feels empowered, more self-confident, and worthy.

When we have an idea of how we would like children to respond to a situation we can use this information to choose the best plans of actions in the given situation for the given child, depending on the skills he/she needs some help with to develop.

Alternative Intervention

With the above intention and possible objectives in mind an interaction might sound like this:

  • “It looks like you are very upset about something.” [acknowledging emotional turmoil] …
  • “Take a deep breath…” [emotional management strategy] ….
  • (when the child has regained composure) “Tell me what the problem is.”
  • (If child gets emotional again…) “Breathe. I can’t understand you when you are crying/yelling.”
  • (when calm..) “Ok.. now tell me again, “what is the problem?”
  • from here the conversation goes to problem-solving, without labeling the emotional reactions as bad or wrong.
  • “Good job” – acknowledging efforts at self-control, sharing, problem-solving and putting the plan in action (or attempting at least)

This interaction provides the child with skills to cope, to be resilient,  to seek wise support, to manage his/her emotions in a healthy manner, without feelings of inadequacy or isolation. Over time, and with practice, the child will react to frustration (etc) with the deep breathing strategy rather than the emotional outbursts. They will have developed a new coping mechanism and empowerment habit.



  1. how do you want a child to react when they are confronted with an emotionally challenging situation? And how can you guide the development of this process?
  2. what other socially acceptable phrases may have a negative effect on a child/youth’s development and self-esteem?

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Behaviour Problem?

Look behind the behaviour … what is the motivation? What is the child trying to achieve/avoid? Knowing the motivation helps identify strategies to help the child achieve the goal in an “acceptable” manner.

Everything we do – we do for a reason. Even if the intent is to push our buttons, underneath this is something deeper that needs to be addressed. Is the child feeling alone? angry? second place to someone/something else? sick? tired? in need of some lovin’?

What skill is the child needing help with? Anger management? Communications? Assertiveness? Conflict resolution? Interpersonal relationships? Self-control? Setting priorities? Patience? Listening? …

When we look behind the behaviour we can find our role in helping the child become a stronger individual.

Behaviour Problems: ours to identify, analyze and help resolve.

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I remember the days when “Time Out” became the behaviour management strategy. I also remember the day that I first saw it in use and questioned the effectiveness.

The scenario was a young lad doing something that was seen as inappropriate; he was sent to a “time out” spot to sit and think about his wrong-doings. After an “appropriate” amount of time, he got up, said “sorry” and went on about his day. Fast forward a couple of years and I witness another young boy do something “wrong” and then immediately place himself in the time out. When told that it was okay to get up, he said the obligatory “sorry” and carried on with his day. Later, the scene was repeated. He had learned the process well, but the behaviour lessons? Well, he had learned that when you are angry that you hit someone, you sit by yourself for a while, say your sorry and then all is well.

I have never used “Time Out” as it is presented but that does not mean that I don’t agree with the core concept. Let’s break it down.

1) What is the intention?

The intention, or I should say “my intention” is to help a child find a strategy that works for him/her to manage his/her emotions (self-regulation), regain composure when upset, and get into a frame of mind where he/she can think rationally, thus enabling effective problem-solving.

2) What is “self-regulation”?

It is a) recognizing feelings of heightened anger, excitement, etc.; b) using techniques to calm the emotions prior to decision-making and/or acting

3) What are effective calming techniques?
Everyone has different strategies. For example, some adults like to house clean and do dishes to calm down. For me, that is counter-productive. Making a child use a particular strategy may also be counter-productive. We have to do some experimenting to find the right match. Some common strategies are deep breathing, walking away from the situation, and doing a different activity for a time.

4) What is effective problem-solving?

Effective means that it addresses the original goals/intentions/motivations by all parties involved; it means finding options that are healthy, moral, and address the intentions.

Often, what happens is that we (the adults) go back to when the conflict started and find solutions to make everyone happy at that point and we miss the underlying desires. For example, at a daycare once I watched a little girl playing by herself at a kitchen centre. Along came a second girl who started to play. The first girl said, “I want to play by myself.” Girl B looked at her and continued to play at the kitchen centre. Girl A said, “No”. Girl B continued to play at the centre. Girl A shoved Girl B who fell back and began to cry. Intervention by the teacher focused on not pushing, saying “sorry” and finding a way to play together nicely. The result was that Girl A went somewhere else to play and Girl B played at the kitchen centre.

If the teacher had “scrolled back” and found out what the intentions were, the problem-solving would have included the goal of playing by oneself. Then the conversation would have involved voicing one’s goals, respecting each other’s goals and finding solutions that met both intentions rather than just one.

Putting It All Together

A child is acting inappropriately. What do we do?

First, we need to help the child (or children) calm themselves so that they can have a conversation. This may be quick, using some deep breathing, or it may take a long time, including redirecting to an activity that is helpful for the child. This may be going for a walk, playing some basketball, banging on some playdo, reading a book, sitting quietly by oneself — but it is not an imposed “must do” activity. The goal is to help the child calm down, to regain self-control, and our goal, for ourselves, is to help him/her find the strategies that work best to regain this composure. This is “time out”.  We all need to know what works best for us and know how to select which option to use given the circumstances. We also need to develop the practice of implementing the personal time-outs prior to losing it and reacting rather than responding. This is the skill that we can pass on to our children.

Now that the child/children are calm it is time to learn what the intentions are. We have to scroll back – back before the “I pushed him because he took my toy”. We have to find out what the “I wanted to play by myself” intentions were. By starting here, we are saying that we respect everyone’s needs and that everyone is treated equally.

With the core intentions in place we can then have a dialogue with all involved about respecting each other’s intentions and finding a solution that is acceptable to everyone.

Once this is established we then can go to the inappropriate behaviour discussions. We can talk about the self-regulation, recognizing when emotions are starting to run high; we can talk about other strategies to use besides the chosen option that was inappropriate for whatever reason. We can also have the child be accountable for his/her actions and to make things right – which may include saying “sorry” – sorry for the inappropriate action which is separate from the core conflict.

And finally, just to wrap things up it is nice to have the children affirm that the option they have chosen to resolve the conflict is a good one and to commend those involved with the great job of problem-solving and respecting each other.

Time Out: not a simple “behaviour, sit, apologize”.

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Over the years, I have fine-tuned my philosophy of behaviour, picking up a little bit of this and a little bit of that and mushing it all together. At the core of the philosophy lies “words of Wisdom” that my mouth uttered during a workshop long ago.

It has been over two decades since that day. I was sitting with a small group of parents discussing behaviour issues when, all of a sudden, my mouth opened and these words were spoken: “What do you want your child to be like at Age 16?” At that moment I knew that I had to contemplate this more and I have been doing that ever since. I don’t take credit for the words as I had not consciously made the decision to discuss the concept. The Wisdom was given to me and it has changed my life.

“Age 16” has been the cornerstone of all my workshops and consultations with parents and educators. Why is this so important? First of all, for most parents, age 16 is a dreaded time as it represents driving licenses, independence, and the potential for scary situations in which youth will find themselves. Secondly, it is a symbolic age that represents the future. To do our job effectively we must think to the future (whether that is 6, 16, or 26), envisioning the behaviours, skills, character traits, etc of our children at that time. And lastly, combining the first two points, it is about identifying the skills that we are or should be trying to develop in a child’s life.

For example, if we want our children to be in school at Age 16 then we “should” be promoting school from an early age – sharing stories about its importance and strong points, making academic learning a fun experience from day one, and so on. If we want our children to be assertive then right from the toddler stage  (or earlier) we can develop that skill by asking for and listening to their opinions even when we want them to “just do as they are told”. We can teach them how to speak up and how to confront an issue in an assertive manner rather than being aggressive and how to determine the best time to speak up.

The hard part of this theory is the role-modeling. During my workshops I have the participants make a list of qualities/behaviours that they want their children to have at Age 16. Part (perhaps the most important part) of developing these skills is role-modeling it. “Do as I do”. We know that children, especially young children, copy things we say and do and this is how they learn about society, relationships and self.

One of the most common “catches” that come up in workshops and consultations is that of yelling. Parents and educators don’t want children to yell and yet they role-model it quite frequently during times of frustration and conflict. “Do as I say and not as I do” just doesn’t cut it when it comes to teaching core beliefs.

This “Age 16” philosophy is very common sense and many people say, “well, of course”, but when we talk about situations it is clear that we typically get lost in the moment, think of the situation “in the moment”, and tend to think specifics rather than long-term skill-building. When a child is being disruptive, aggressive, and/or throwing tantrums the goals should be to stop for a moment and think: “What skill is he/she lacking? How can I help him/her learn something from this situation?”… “How can I use this to develop that “Age 16″ image?”

It’s very simple and yet so complex. Think about how you eat breakfast, talk about your day at work, discuss someone or a situation that you are not in agreement with, spend your free time, argue/debate with your partner or parent …. these every day moments are when you are teaching the “Age 16” philosophy. How are you doing? (For me, this is a scary thought as I realize that “everything we say and do and don’t say and don’t do is a lesson.” (another phrase of Wisdom that was given to me and my mouth spoke during one of my workshops long ago.)


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Benefits of Signing to Infants
My grandson, now 4 months old, has picked up on the signing of “eat” and will quickly go from crying to smiling when the hand signal is provided. (Here’s a quick link to some discussions re: signing to infants)

Besides the “eating” sign, parents can use key cues such as “more”, “sleep”, “hug”, and “finished”. With behaviour as my key interest, I thought about how these words can help create an understanding beyond the immediate communication.

With my grandson, he enjoys watching a mechanical Tigger bounce around. Including the sign language and directions for “more” and “finished” can have positive, long-term effects on the parent-child relationship. Here is what I am thinking:

  • During the play, the parent asks “More?” before starting the toy to repeat its cycle of activity. This is repeated several times, empowering the infant to have some control over the playtime. When it is time to put the toy away, the parent signs, “Finished” and immediately puts the toy aside. Giving the child a moment to process what has happened and to understand that the game is “finished”, the parent re-engages the child in another rewarding activity such as hugging, smiley-faces, or story time.

What are the lessons?
1) that “finished” means “finished. When the child is 4 and 14, the parents will be thrilled that they have taught him/her that they say what they mean. The key to this, of course, is consistency. “Finished” indeed means that the activity is over. And, as the infant matures, the addition of a non-swaying “no” can be added to the list.
Imagine the child, at age 16, asking to stay out until 1 AM and the parent says, “no”. Imagine the lack of conflict because the child knows that “no” indeed means “it isn’t going to happen.” And it all began when the teen was 4 months of age.
2) resiliency. We have all experienced the emotional hurt from an enjoyable activity coming to an end. Some people, unfortunately, cling to this sadness, to this dis-empowerment and get stuck in the moment. Others, being resilient, quickly move from the ended activity to finding something else to do, some other “joy” to bring into their lives in the moment.
By giving the infant time to feel the sadness and then bringing them into a new positive experience helps them develop the ability to move on, to bounce back, to look forward rather than looking back, to be positive rather than negative. Again — “and it all began at 4 months of age”.

Oh the possibilities. Thanks sign-language; thanks Tigger, thanks Grandson

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Book Review

I recently heard about the book “Chalkbored” by Jeremy Schneider and I have been looking forward to reading it. The book arrived yesterday and I just spent half an hour or so skimming through the pages.

I was skimming quickly because it didn’t take long before I had lost interest. I have to say that I was disappointed and, yet, it re-affirms my belief in the “Fire of Truth”, as I call it. The “Fire of Truth” (my label) comes from the Native Wisdom that to get the full picture of a fire one must compile all perspectives, not just seeing it from where you sit. This Wisdom is fast becoming one of my core beliefs as it can be applied to relationships, problems, debates, and, of course, education.

The author of Chalkbored, I can only assume, enjoys thinking of things from a statistics perspective. I say that because the book is filled with graphs, research, and statistics to support what I believe is his core premise that teachers need to use computers more in the classroom. Although I support the premise I was lost on the statistics. I would rather look at a problem from a humanity perspective – how students think, become inspired (etc) by the use of computers rather than just looking at the statistical outcome.

For example, in the book, the author uses statistics to prove that small schools are not better than larger schools, but from personal experience I know that there is more to a small school environment than what can be captured in statistics. I won’t go into that discussion here other than to say that small schools are a great place for some individuals while others, as the author pointed out, are inspired by being in a large school environment.

And so my skimming became faster and faster as I looked through the book, searching for the stories that would catch my attention and lead my brain to uncover the issues in our current system and to mesh together more effective strategies. After “finishing” the book I took some time to contemplate my assessment as well as my use of the book. It didn’t take long for me to realize that this experience validates the “Fire of Truth” in that it takes all kinds of teaching to inspire all students. For some, that means the use of statistics and for others – not so much!

How we reach a student depends on understanding the student, finding his/her strengths, interests, ways of thinking, ways of expressing him/herself, and how he/she contributes to the group and to the Greater Good. Good teaching is about using our time wisely, bringing all the education and psychology philosophies into play as required – required to meet the needs of the students.

And now.. now I need to find someone who is intrigued by statistics. I’ll let them read the book and fill me in with the details that I missed. There is more than one way to learn from a book! I look forward to hearing more about what Mr. Schneider has to say.





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