Being Bad

I was working with a kindergartener yesterday. She was loving the one-on-one attention and kept trying to talk to me and tell me little stories between practicing her letters. She let me know that she had a little brother, but that her mom wanted a baby girl, not a boy. We practiced writing some more letters and then she said, “My baby brother is bad!” I wasn’t expecting that and thought for a second before saying, “Babies don’t know how to be bad.” I know that babies can be exhausting, messy, tiring, and colicky, but they aren’t wicked. The way she had said the word ‘bad’ made it sound terrible. She insisted that he was bad and when I asked what he did that made him bad she said, “He always takes off his diaper.” I told her that I was certain that he wasn’t being bad, but maybe he thought his diaper was uncomfortable so that’s why he took it off.” I could see her really processing that idea.

This made me think two things:

1) kids are listening to everything and really soaking it up.

2) Just because kids or people make bad decisions it does not mean that they are bad.

I have really worked hard throughout my career to never say that a child was bad. I stressed to my students that we can all make bad decisions, but that does not make us bad.

How great would it be if that mother could say, “Oh, your brother took his diaper off again. That wasn’t a good choice! He might accidentally go to the bathroom on the floor and that will make a mess.” That labels the choice as a bad one, but not the person. Everyone will make bad choices occasionally, but we all need to understand that that is normal, it’s okay and it’s part of the growing process. We also need to remember we are still good and the next time we have to make a choice that we have the power to make good or bad choices. Remember, separate the person from the behavior, NOT bad choice bad person, INSTEAD, bad choice good person.




Determination vs. Determination Who Will Win?


Below is the type of conversation that most likely happens several times a day in homes that have children ages 2 to 18. The dialog is skeletal intentionally because it represents the format for hundreds of different conversations. The words may vary but the format is the same, you want one thing and your child wants something different. There could be endless variations to this conversation however each starts with two people each wanting a different thing.

You tell your child to do something.

They say no.

You say yes.

And they say no.

You insist.

They disagree.

You’re biggest and have more power so you win.

They cry a lot.

This is a classic example of a POWER STUGGLE – parent and child each trying to get what they want. Parenting would be so much easier if our children always just did what we told them to do, right? However that would produce a child/teenager who does not have the life skills to become a well functioning adult.

A very determined child can be so difficult to parent and yet a child needs lots of determination to grow up in this controversial world. So, our goal as parents should be to try not to squelch the very thing that would help them fight off negative peer pressure – DETERMINATION.

In the Sistine Chapel one whole, huge wall is filled with a huge mural titled ”Last Judgment”. An over simplified description: On one side of the painting it depicts a group of angels descending from Heaven to retrieve souls who are coming up out of their graves. There are demons sneaking out of a crevice in the earth grabbing the legs and arms of some who are trying to rise to heaven. In several cases there is a tug of war going on between the angles and horned demons with the resurrected body in the middle. In other sections some souls are trying to rise up because they want to get into heaven and the angles are pushing them back down.

I’m a little embarrassed to admit the thoughts I had when I first viewed this magnificent painting. I was definitely viewing it through the eyes of a parent, rather than an Art professor. I thought, “That’s how parenting feels sometimes”, lots of emotional pushing back and forth, a conflict of two competitors”. Then I thought, “Wait, parents and their children are on the same team so there should be no tug of war happening”. But there often is.

So, to avoid power struggles and help steer you child’s determination in the right direction, remember:  

Determination is a trait your child will need to survive in the world as they grow up.

Your job is not to break their will but help steer it in the right direction.

You and your child are “on the same team”. You should be pulling together rather than against each other.

Let your child be governed by choice and consequence rather than expecting them to do what you say because you are the parent.

Language Overextension

Three of my nephews fall in the 2-3 year old range.  One of my nephews was over today and he wanted to touch and use every new toy or object we brought out.  He kept declaring “MINE!”  It’s easy to think things like “Oh, kids are so greedy at this age” or “He is so egocentric and thinks everything belongs to him.”

But today as I heard this sweet little guy declaring that everything was his I had a thought.  While studying I read learning about overextension.  Feel free to read about it on Wikipedia.  Basically when kids overextend language they use one word to label anything that falls within a category.  For example they use the word “dad” for any grown male or “dog” for any animal with four legs.

As I heard my nephew announcing that everything we brought out was ‘his’ I thought about this principle.  Maybe, I thought, he doesn’t really think everything belongs to him, but he doesn’t have the words to express just what he wants to say.  Maybe he really means, “Wow!  This new toy is cool!  I want to hold it and use it for a while.” Or maybe he thought, “This is new to me and I’d like to figure out how it works.  Please don’t take it away before I find out how it works.”

Overextensions decrease as a child gains a larger vocabulary.  It also decreases as they receive corrective feedback.  So next time you hear a child yelling “MINE!” help model what they may be trying to convey.

When They Don’t Want to Talk…

I walked out of the reading lab to find a student sitting on the picnic bench outside my room.  Everyone else from 3rd grade was gone, but here he sat.  Serious, silent and visually distraught.  One of the instructional assistants sat next to him, looking lost.  I mouthed, “do you need help?” and she shook her head.

I walked over and crouched down to be at his eye level.  He avoided my eye contact but didn’t shy away.  I asked him what was wrong and he didn’t respond.  I told him that I would let the aide go to her next class and that I would sit with him for a little while.  I dismissed the other teacher and sat next to the 8 year old boy.  I asked him once more what was wrong.  Again, I was met with silence.  My mind raced, trying to figure out what might be bothering this little guy.  I decided that if he wasn’t up for talking to answer that maybe he could nod ‘yes’ or ‘no’.  I started in with a series of questions that could be answered with the movement of his head.  “Are you upset?” he shook his head.  “Are you hurt?”  He nodded.  I learned that he wasn’t upset but he was hurt.  It seemed like he was warming up to me ever so slightly so I tried to get a voiced answer.  “It it your feelings that are hurt?  Or it is your body?”  When the question elicited no verbal response I reverted back to the yes and no questions.  “Are you feelings hurt?” Head shake.  “Is your body hurt?” Nod.  “Did it happen on purpose?” Negative.  “Was it an accident?”  It was.  I felt relieved.  “It is your head?”  It wasn’t, so I tried again. “Is it your stomach?” Nope.  “Your back?”  Bingo.  We were getting somewhere–ever so slowly.  I kept asking and found out that it had happened that morning at home.  I repeated back what I had learned, so he knew I was paying attention and trying to help.  “So you hurt your back this morning at home and it was an accident?”  He nodded as his eyes filled with tears.

I wanted to get him to talk and tried to think about what might be holding him back.  I let him know that I wanted to help him.  I assured him that it was okay if he cried when he answered–I didn’t mind at all.  I continued and told him that I could tell he was having a hard time and I wouldn’t make him go back to class until he was ready.  That seemed to do it.  He slowly started talking and crying.  As we talked he opened up and told me more about what had happened.  I reassured him that it would be okay and I knew that being hurt was no fun.  I told him that we would walk to the nurse’s office together and she would know what to do to help with the pain.  I assured him that everything would be alright and I was glad he let me know what was going on.  As we walked he was able to tell me him name and who his teacher was.

When we got to the nurse’s office I passed along the information I’d gleaned.  The school counselor walked in and I relayed the information to her as well.  I left, knowing that he was in good hands.

The next couple hours I thought about this experience and tried to figure out what I had learned.  Here are a few things that can help when talking to a child who is having a hard time communicating.  (And many of these can work with adults as well.)

– Get on their level.  Crouch, kneel or sit so you are as close to eye level as possible.

–  Be patient. Don’t give up quickly.  Give them time to think, process your questions, and be ready to answer.

–  Ask ‘yes’ and ‘no’ questions as needed.

–  Try to think of other factors that might be hindering their communication (in this case feeling anxious about crying or having to go back to class before they are ready) and try to ease those worries.

–  Let them know you care and you are sorry they are having a hard time.

–  Reassure them that it will be okay.

–  Acknowledge that you realize that it was difficult for them to share.  Let them know that you appreciate them opening up and sharing.

Car Time

The longer I’m a parent, the more I realize how precious time in the car with my children can be!  We are in the car a lot and I used to dread the rides when my children were little because they would mostly cry or fight.  I wanted to give them media devices or install TV screens in my car so I could just have some peace and quiet!!!  Then I decided there were better options.  I started with Books on CD.  My children were quite young when I played them the reading of “The Polar Express” for the first time. I will NEVER forget how quiet and mesmerized they were by a deep voice reading a book to them in the car.  They were a captive audience because they were buckled in and there was nowhere else they could go, but it kept them quiet, entertained and was teaching them all at the same time. They couldn’t do the really long chapter books at first, so we did some fun Disney stories, Jumanji, and other short ones we could check out from the library.  We would have the cutest little conversations after the book was finished.  As they’ve grown a little older we’ve transitioned into listening to chapter books and it has surprised me how well they listened and retained.  We have listened to:  “Old Yeller”, “Little House, Big Woods”, “Where the Red Fern Grows”, “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe”, Prince Caspian”, and several other great classics including the Old Testament (for children).  If we come to a part in the book they might not understand I pause the reading and explain and they can ask me question.  We have had so many amazing discussions in the car because one question would always lead to another. Often times I don’t even turn the book back on because we get so caught up talking. I find out so much about my children and their curiosities during these conversations in the car. I talk to them about so many things, ask them questions and they can talk to ME about anything.

Now that some of my children are older and can read on their own I love to have library books in the car next to them so they can read to themselves instead of just listening.  Some of my friends have kids who get carsick easily and can’t read in the car so that’s where the CD’s would come in handy. Did you know the public library carries a book/CD combo that enables the kids to be able to listen and/or follow along in the book?

I have learned that the car is also a great time to introduce good and uplifting music to my children. Everybody has their favorite kinds of music however I try to feed my children a variety of all kinds of music. I love playing CDs from musicals or great Broadway shows and explaining the basic story to my children. They love hearing the stories behind each song.  It’s fun to see what type of music each child prefers. I let them each choose their favorite track on the particular CD we are listening to and even my little 4 year-old has a definite preference.

Sometimes at home, there is too much going on to have a good long conversation with my children. Our car rides have become our uninterrupted conversation time. My husband and I don’t even bring a video player on long road trips anymore and my kids don’t expect it because they know we will either read, talk or listen to great music.  I never thought that could be possible!!

Our time in the car is so precious!  Listening to good books and music has completely changed the way we fell about out time in the car.

Thanks to my daugther-in-law Karlie for contributing this post!

Soft, Soft


When I was a young mother I was standing in the foyer at church with a friend whose youngest child was the same age as my oldest child. She was an experienced mother who had raised several well-behaved, happy children. We were in the middle of a conversation when her 4-year-old son kicked her in the shin. My first thought was, “My child will never get away with that”, and felt like she should stop talking to me and punish him right then. But she just looked down at him, made a sad face and said, “Oh, please don’t kick me, that hurts”. I thought, “What…” she didn’t spank him or even get really angry with him.

Side note: she also told him that she knew he was ready to go home because that was the reason he was trying to get her attention. Likewise hits can also be a result of an underling, unresolved problem that needs to be addressed.

Now that I’ve parented a little longer I realize that if a child is yelling it is ineffective to yell, “stop yelling”. Or if they hit someone it’s not a good example to spank them and tell them to not hit. So what should you do what should you do when your child hits?

Modeling appropriate behavior and teaching empathy can be ways to teach a child to be kind and not hit. Empathy is defined as “the ability to understand and share the feelings of others”. If your child hits you, or another child let them see how it made you feel. Make a sad face and tell them it hurt and made you feel sad. If they are old enough to understand ask, “Do you like it when someone hits you”? “How do you think it makes your brother feel when you hit him”?

Once when I was holding my toddler while he was being really rough he hit me on the jaw. It really hurt and my natural instinct was to feel angry or physically punish him. Instead I tried something different. I made a frowning face and kindly said, “Oh no, don’t hit, be soft” and then, smiling I softly stroked his cheeks and repeated, “Soft”. He imitated what I did and said “boff”. After that when there would be hits he’d remember and say, “Soft” and he’d want to gently stroke some ones arm or cheek.

Now, the bad news is that this is not usually a quick fix. It can take a long time for a child to learn not to hit when they are feeling frustrated, mistreated or uncomfortable. But if you are able to muster enough self-control to not strike back, or get angry, they will eventually learn by example to be kind and not hit.

To learn more about how to teach children to appropriately deal with feelings in a kind way, take a look at the last post Lindsey wrote titled, Feelings.


Growing up my mom used to say, “feelings are not right or wrong, they just are.”

I think that it’s easy to see how others respond emotionally to a situation and think, “they shouldn’t be feeling that way.” But you know what? Their feelings are not wrong.  Many times we can’t help how we feel.

I talk to my students a LOT about feelings.  We talk about how our actions might make others feel.  We talk about how good choices make us feel good inside and bad ones make us feel bad inside.  We also talk about how it’s okay to feel mad, or sad, or hurt.

I remember one day a few months ago our lesson talked about getting mad and how we deal with those feelings.  As I told the kids that it’s OKAY to get mad every child became perfectly still and all eyes were on me.  There are times when kids are listening completely and absorbing every.single.thing you are saying.  It doesn’t happen often, but when it does if feels almost magical! I told them that feeling upset, mad and angry was normal.  I told them that even I feel that way sometimes.  I told them that feeling that was is okay.  They took it all in.

I took the opportunity to take it further.  I then proceeded to talk about what we do with those feelings.  I told them that while it is okay to get mad it’s not okay to react certain ways.  They listened as I told them that it’s not okay to hurt someone, or break something, or yell at other people.  We proceded to talk about some acceptable ways to deal with anger.  The kids shared how they cope with those types of feelings.  One student said he liked to hug someone.  Another student said he likes to go to his room and be away from everybody.  Another student talked about how it helps relieve his anger if he can run or move his body.  I let them know that those were all great ways to deal with anger.  I told them that there have been 3 or 4 times in my life when I felt so angry that I couldn’t take it.  I told them that I liked being alone, just the way that one of them had talked about.  I also told them that those few times I put my face in my pillow and I screamed!  I screamed as loud and as long as I could.  The kids chuckled, but I knew they were really thinking about it.

It’s healthy for kids to hear that adults have feelings just like them.  It’s good for them to know that they aren’t alone in the way that they feel.  It’s also really good for them to hear the right way to deal with those feelings.

I read this article the other day.  I thought it was really good.  That’s actually what got me thinking about all this.

Talk to your children and students about their feelings and reactions.  Just remember that the heat of the moment is not the best time to talk about it.  Talk about it afterwards or when you have time in the car.  It’s hard to think and take in new ideas when you are feeling emotionally charged.  Let your kids know that their feelings are normal and brainstorm good ways to deal with them.  Hey!  You could even talk to your peers or spouse about it since everyone has feelings–they are a part of life and aren’t going anywhere.

6 by 4

Jack be nimble,

Jack be quick.

Jack jumped over the candlestick.

He jumped so high he touched the sky,

And didn’t come back till the fourth of July.

There was an old woman….

Mary, Mary quite contrary…

Peter, Peter, pumpkin eater…

How many nursery rhymes do you know?

In my job I work with children 3, 4 and 5 years old and part of my work involves literacy. This week I was working at a library and saw this poster on the wall:

6 by 4

I have always liked nursery rhymes but I never considered them to be so educationally beneficial. So I did a little research and found that some benefits of teaching children nursery rhymes are:

  • Builds vocabulary
  • Language development
  • Creates phonemic awareness
  • Teaches memorization skills
  • Teaches how language works
  • Teaches rhythm and patterns of language
  • Teaches kids how to memorize

So to help your child be ahead teach them nursery rhymes, read books that are written in rhyme, or sing nursery rhyme songs with them. As they get older do activities that teach rhyming skills.

Nursery rhymes can be fun AND have educational value.

This is the end from the parent-writing partner of our team, the teacher partner, Lindsey adds:

I use “eenie, meenie, mynie, moe, catch a tiger by the toe…” with my 2nd grade students. Every time I do it they are SO INTRIGUED! Some of them have tried to learn it and it’s so cute to hear them say.

Your Child IS Your Work

One of my fellow grandma friends told me that her daughter-in-law would always ask her to babysit her child when she went to the grocery store. My friend was trying to figure out if it was really necessary because she had always taken her son to the store with her.

That said, I know that it’s a LOT easier to do things without having a little helper or two around. But I think it’s important to remember that your child is not in the way of your work, rather your child is your work. We need to go to work to have money to buy the things our families need. Making healthy meals is important for our families. It’s nice to have a clean, organized house and cute job chart for our kids. However we do all of those things because we have kids.

In the book Letters of CS Lewis he suggests that a housewife’s work is the most important in the world. He writes, “What do ships, railways, miners, cars, government, etc. exist for except that people may be fed, warmed, and safe in their own homes?… So your job is the one for which all others exist”.

So next time you’re trying to do the dishes and your 2 year old is hanging on your leg, pull a chair up to the sink next to you, take off their shirt, put an inch of soapy water in the sink with a few plastic cups and let them help you do the dishes (throwing a towel on the floor to mop up all the water they spilt was often my version of mopping my floor). If you’re trying to fold clothes and they are unfolding faster than you can fold, dump out the clothes, put your child in the basket (my kids loved to sit in and be pushed around in laundry baskets), put the clothes on top of them and call out what article of clothing you want and have them throw it to you as you quickly fold it and put it on the couch behind you. If you’re mopping or sweeping get them a toy mop and broom and let them imitate what your doing while you’re doing it. I’ve heard it said a child’s play is their work – that’s how they learn. So let them play house cleaning while you are working. You get the idea, rather than think of what movie you can put on for your child while you work, try to figure out how they can be constructively involved in what your doing.

I know moms cannot do this 100% of the time. At some point you are going to have to stop and sit down and read them a book or play a game for a few minutes. But just remember that your children are the reason you’re doing all the housework in the first place.

For more ideas on grocery story trips: A Little Helper at the Store or Now What Do I Say?


Classroom Jobs

It’s good and healthy for people of all ages to work! Many of you readers work full time (in or out of the home). Today I want to talk about helping kids learn to work. I don’t have any kids of my own yet, but I do work with lots of children every day and I am helping them learn to work.

In my classroom we have class jobs. Obviously my job is to teach, but I want to help my students learn to be responsible and learn to help.

Most kids naturally love to help. I will often say, “Who wants to help me…” and before I can finish my sentence lots of tiny hands shoot into the air. Kids want to help and feel useful and jobs can fulfill that need. (It also makes my life easier, so that’s a benefit too!)

I have seen many different job charts in people’s homes and classrooms. There are lots of places you can buy classroom job charts, but I just like to make my own. In my classroom I have found a system that works best for me. I make a big pocket chart. Each pocket has a job written on it. Then I write my student’s names on popsicle sticks. I slide a stick into each pocket and I am done! I choose to rotate my jobs weekly, so when class is done on Friday I just shift each stick over one slot.

My students can hardly wait to see their new jobs on Monday. They rush into the room and huddle around the chart. They look to see what job they have, what job their friends have and who has their favorite job!

Not only does giving my students jobs help them have a chance to work, but it also helps me have less to do at the end of each class and day. I no longer have to go find stray pencils around the classroom or straighten the books on the bookshelf. I don’t have to pick up trash or erase the whiteboard. My kids love doing their assigned job and helping remind their friends to do theirs as well. They enjoy it and I have less to do. It’s a win-win situation!