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.

One… Two… Three… Then What?

While I was at the store last week I rounded a corner just in time to see a little boy pick up a plastic sword he saw leaning against the return counter and heard his mom say, “Anthony! One”.   At that moment I had several questions come to my mind,

“Will she get all the way to three or will her young son know that hearing “One” means he better stop what he’s doing immediately”?

“What will happen when the mom gets to “three”? Then what will she do”?

“Perhaps the kid knows that if he hurries he can play with the sword for three seconds before his mom does anything”.

            Actually, this whole counting to three thing has always been mysterious (or silly or interesting) to me. As parents, what are we really doing when try to terminate a child’s actions by counting to three? Are we giving them time to consider what to do? Do they know what’s going to happen if they don’t conform before we say, “three”? It’s all so arbitrary to me.

I think we should throw the whole counting thing out as a discipline technique. Rather, we should tell our child what we would like to have happen, or give them a choice. For example, the mom could have said to Anthony, “Son, we did not pay for that so we should not play with it” or “Put it back because if you play with it and break it, we’ll have to pay for it and we don’t want to buy a broken toy”. These type of comments help a child understand what’s happening better than just hearing, “One, two…”.

Of course, the tricky part comes when we give some nice explanation and they still choose to continue with the undesirable behavior. There are so many ways to explain what you would like your child to do, which do not contain any numbers or counting. For more on this see: Set the Expectation and Consequence and You Have Two Choices.

Let them know you


When I started student teaching I was nervous, uncertain, overwhelmed and so excited! I had a really fantastic mentor teacher and I knew that everything would be okay and I would learn a lot. At the same time there was a lot of new stuff to learn and get comfortable with. I remember feeling so young and thinking that if I didn’t seem ‘old’ enough or ‘professional’ enough that the kids would try to walk all over me. I knew that classroom control was the most important thing. I knew (and know it even more so now) that without solid discipline it would be hard to teach content and academics.

I watched my mentor, I worked with small groups, I started taking over the class one subject at a time. All the while I was trying incredibly hard to be professional and a good authority figure. In an effort to achieve that I became a boring person with no personality. What I mean by that is my students didn’t know me at all. I wasn’t giving them a chance.

As time passed I learned to find a better balance. I learned that kids respond really well to knowing their teacher as a human with likes, dislikes, fears and passions. I started telling little stories about my life that tied into our lessons. I let them see into my life and learn about my family, hobbies, etc.. My worry had been that if I let them see me as a person I would not be seen at being in charge. What happened was exactly the opposite! They began to relate to me. They started to see that we had things in common! They realized that if I was willing to share then they could trust me and share as well. As all of those wonderful things began to unfold I realized I was also having more fun!

Now here we are 6 years later and I feel like a completely different teacher from the scared, personality-less student teacher. My students now know me REALLY well. They know about my favorite foods, the time I felt the most scared, they know the names off all my family members and which ones make the best cookies. They cling to the little details I share. They love to feel connected to me and know that I am a person too! Let your kids know you. Your students and children are dying to know the little details that make you who you are.

Just Move the Thing!

When I was a young mom, my 8-month-old baby loved to play in the dirt of my indoor potted plant. Each time he would crawl over and get a handful of dirt I’d race over and try to catch him before he’d throw it all over the carpet. I’d move him to another room or find him toys to distract him but soon he’d find his way back to the pot of dirt. I remember wondering if I should slap his hand every time he did it. Or how many times I was going to have to tell him, “No” before he’d finally learn and stop doing it.

Around this same time of life as I was still wondering the best way to handle this kind of parenting situation I remember watching another parent in a public place in a similar situation. They stood right between their child and the thing they did not want them to touch, waiting for them to do the thing they’d been forbidden to do so they could loudly say, “No” and slap the child’s hand. The scenario played out over and over and over again. It was like the parent was daring the child to do it so they could prove to the little person that they were in charge and what they wanted would be what happened.

Now, years later I realize the answer to this situation… Just move the thing out of sight! If your child wants to keep playing in the dirt of your potted plant, or pulling the night light out of the electric socket or pulling all the books off the bottom shelf of the bookcase, just move them. It’s a waste of your time and energy (and a power struggle waiting to happen) to have a situation where you must constantly monitor your child’s actions and correct them. The more times it happens the more frustrated you will become and nothing good will come of it. Also, it’s good to remember that in reality the whole thing probably just feels like a game to your child and they might not be doing it to make you mad, they just see it as a fun game. They’ll outgrow the stage before very long and you can put your books back on the bottom shelf and move the plant back into the living room. As your child grows older there will be lots of things that you will not be able to “move out of the way” which could turn into power struggles, so don’t sweat the small things – just avoid them. Save your energy for the things that just can’t be moved out of the way, or be avoided.

What’s the secret?

Last weekend I went to the lantern festival in Chiang Mai Thailand.  It was easily one of the most incredible things I have ever experienced!


We took the train up to Chiang Mai and caught a truck/taxi to our hotel.  There were a few other people in the back of the truck with us and my husband and I started chatting with a man named Ben.  We learned that he is a teacher in Vietnam and was there for the same festival we were.  After talking about the festival for a while the conversation turned to teaching.  He learned that I’ve been teaching for about 6 years.  He’s been teaching for 2 months and was feeling a bit overwhelmed in a few areas especially classroom management.  He asked, “So…How do you keep your class under control?”  That’s a question almost every teacher has wondered at one point.  It’s the foundation for a positive learning and teaching experience.  I took a whole class at ASU on the subject.  I have spent 6 years fine tuning my personal style.  Ben wanted to know how to keep his class under control, but our ride was about to wrap up.  I quickly thought about what I could tell him in the last 3 minutes of our shared ride.  I sifted through everything I could have said and I came up with the following answer:

“You have got to be clear with what you expect, set a clear consequence, and be consistent.  You have got to help them learn that you mean what you say by following up every.single.time.  Decide what the consequence will be if they don’t follow directions and make sure that you never let it slide. “

He listened intently then asked, “Even with kids as little as 5 and 6?”

Especially with kids that little!”

He processed that and asked a few more questions, but that was the bulk of our conversation.  I’ve thought back on that conversation, wondering if I should have given him a different answer.  You know what?  If I could redo that conversation with Ben I would tell him the same thing.

As I mentioned, I spend a semester studying classroom management.  There are loads of other useful and helpful things one can do.  Dozens upon dozens of different tools and tricks.  Ben and I could have easily talked for hours about various strategies to implement, but when it comes down to it I told himthe most essential part.  This situation reminded me how important it is to: set an expectation, outline a consequence and follow through consistently.  There you have it.  Regardless of your students’ age, nationality, language, school, or country the same principles apply!


Set the Expectation and Consequence

We made sidewalk chalk in my class today!  Our reading book occasionally has an ‘art link’ or ‘science link’.  It’s fun for us to do and teaches them practical uses for reading directions and instructional text.

The chalk recipe required us to grind up eggshells in a mortar and pestle.  When I asked who wanted to help grind the shells, every hand in the room shot into the air!  I decided to let everyone help.  I knew that if I told then to grind it a little bit and pass it to their neighbors, havoc would follow—some kids would take way too long.  The other kids would be yelling at them to hurry and pass it.  Kids would be unintentionally unkind as they pushed to get their turn and feelings would get hurt.  The class would get crazy loud (I’m okay with productive loud in my class, just not crazy loud).  Knowing how poorly the situation could turn out I set some quick expectations and a clear consequence.  

“Okay class!  Looks like everyone wants to help.   In order for everyone to get a chance, everyone can smash 10 times.  If it needs more you can all have a second turn.  If you choose to smash more than 10 times you won’t get to help with any of the next steps. Got it? Okay!”

They knew that they got to smash the eggshells 10 times and they knew that if they exceeded that number they couldn’t help anymore.  And you know what? It went great!  The kids counted to ten out loud for each other and nobody went over 10!  I didn’t have anyone yelling at a neighbor to hurry up and pass it.  I didn’t have anyone complaining that so-and-so got longer that everyone.

Setting the expectation and consequence took about 20 seconds and it made the next 5 minutes go smoothly.

As you become more consistent with setting expectations and following through with consequences you will find that your kids will listen the first time you ask something.  They will also know just what is expected and trust what you say is going to happen. and they will trust you more.  In my book that’s a win win!

Positive Discipline

Positive discipline

I once heard of a teacher who had a student with serious behavior issues.  She was asked to keep track of the good things he did throughout the day.  Her response was, “It’s zero.  He doesn’t do ANYTHING good.”  I have thought back to this many times.  I have especially thought about it when I had especially challenging students.  You know what?  I have discovered that you can always find a way to praise a child.  It may be something as small as, “Wow!  You are holding your pencil so well while writing!”  or “your body is facing the right direction in line!” (even if they are talking and touching the person in front of them).

Kids love attention!  It helps them feel noticed, important and valued.  The best attention a student can receive is positive attention.  It’s the healthiest and most beneficial.  When a child doesn’t feel like they are getting enough positive attention they will take any attention.  They start to act out—they try to get you to focus on them, even if it’s unhappily.

I heard in a class that people feel happy and satisfied in a relationship when the positive to negative encounter ratio is 5:1.  That really rang true to me!  This should be the case when we are interacting with children.

I try really hard to focus on the positive, desired behavior in my classroom.

If half of the class is noisy and out of their seats I say,” Wow!  I love the way Jim is sitting so quietly!  I can tell that he’s ready to learn.  Jessica, you too!  You look fabulous.”  After I have mentioned 2 or 3 positive examples the class is usually on track and ready to go.  The other (less productive) method sounds something like,  “Bill I said sit down!  Betsy you need to stop talking!”  That method never seems to work as well and doesn’t leave me, or the kids feeling as good.  I have even tried positive discipline when only one out of 20 kids is behaving appropriately.  Guess what—it worked!

This works in SO many situations. It helps kids feel validated and noticed in a positive way.  It leaves both of you feeling better and helps your children try to behave positively.

Model Appropriate Behavior

Should I bite back?

When I was a young mom, I was standing in the foyer of the church building talking with an experienced mom, who had raised several great kids. In the middle of our conversation her youngest son (who was the age of my oldest son) come to talk to her. I don’t remember why he was not happy but it appeared he was feeling like he was not getting the attention he needed. He kicked his mom in the shin. I remember thinking what a spoiled little boy he was and that I would never let my child kick me and get away with it. She looked down at him with a sad expression and said nicely, “Please don’t kick me, that hurts and it’s not kind”. Her response perplexed me and the experience stayed in my mind for years.

What should you do when your child kicks, or slaps or bites you? Instinct makes me want to lash out and hit them back.

Or, I use to wonder if I should do the same thing back, like bite, so he would know how it felt.

Now that I’m older I realize that adults should not imitate kids poor behavior, instead they should Model correct behavior. Rather than do the same thing back to them to show how it felt, kindly tell them what they did was not kind or acceptable. Express how it made you feel and what the consequences of doing it again will be.

The situation could go something like this:

Young child is stroking your cheek and suddenly slaps you.

 Make a sad face and say,

Ouch, that hurt me. It makes me sad when you hit. Let’s just love each other like this” stroke their face, or give a hug or kiss.

If they change their actions and are kind for a little while but then repeat the same negative behavior (often they will to test you to see what you’ll do the next time) tell them again that you’re sad when they hurt you and that if they choose to hurt you, they will need to be away from you (put them down if you are holding them, put some space between you and them etc).  Tell them,

“I like it better when you act sweet so we can be close to each other”.

             I don’t believe any learning happens when you scream at your noisy children, “Be quiet”. Or when you say, “Stop hitting each other” as you spank your child. That type of behavior is sending mixed messages. It’s like the old adage, “What you’re doing is yelling so loud I can’t hear what you’re saying”.

I know it’s hard to keep your cool when your child hits you, or kicks you or spits on you. But when it happens, say over and over in your mind, “I love this little person, I love this little person… Be kind… “ and try to remember to Model appropriate behavior.

You Have 2 Choices

You Have Two Choices copy

It’s likely that something like this, or a very similar situation, has happened to you.

You have a visitor at you house and you are sitting on your couch talking with them. Your toddler or pre-schooler is sitting right next to you playing a video game (or something else distracting) on a hand held device with the volume turned loud enough that it is interrupting your conversation.

Things you can say that are totally ineffective:

“Turn down the volume”.

“Please turn it down”.

“I told you to turn down the sound”.

“Turn that down or I’ll take it away”.

“Do you want to go sit down over there (pointing to the other side of the room) while 

            you play that game”? 

“Put that away and you can play it later”.

“Here, give that to me and let’s put it away”.

 OR You don’t say anything but just try to reach over and turn it down at which point your child hollers and pulls the device away from your reach.

It becomes awkward because there needs to be a change made but you don’t want to make a scene in front of your guest.

Here’s a more effective way to handle it –

1- State the problem

2- Give two choices

3- Implement the choice

Example of these steps:

(Excuse yourself from the conversation with the other adult and give your child 100% attention during this interaction)

1- Say, “The game you’re playing is too loud and I can’t hear what my friend is saying”.

2- Say, “Since I can’t hear my visitor because the sound is turned up too high, you have two choices. You can stay sitting here and turn it down or, you can keep it that loud and go sit on the other side of the room (or another suitable place)”.THEN don’t go back to your conversation with the other adult until the child has made and completed the choice. I think it’s so important that you keep your attention on the child until they have made a choice and carried it out.  That way your child knows you are not all talk and no action, and they know they can’t stall until you forget.

At this point your child has some options –

  1.  They can take one of the choices you offer and it’s over.
  2.  They can make a choice that was not one of the options you gave.
  3. They can ignore you (which is highly likely the first few times you try this).

1- If they choose option one, HALLELUJAH!  Thank them for cooperating.

2- If they want to make a choice that is not one you listed you say, “That was not one of            your choices”. Then repeat the options

3-If your child ignores you, say:

Which do you choose? Stay here and turn it down or go sit over there?”

Wait several seconds 

“You can make the choice or I’ll choose for you”


“It’s time to decide now. If you can’t decide what to choose I’ll choose for you”

The first time you do this your child might think you’re just talk

and won’t follow through. So there might be some resistance on

their part. But if you do this consistently, they will know they

might as well make a choice because it’s not going away.

“Okay, You didn’t choose so I’m going to choose you turn it down then you can stay sitting close to me.” Then physically reach over and turn down the volume.

 At this point you might have to physically (gently) take the device and turn it down. There may be some screaming and a tantrum. To which you calmly reply, “You had a chance to make a choice and you choose not to”.


In Review:

State the problem

Offer two choices

Repeat the choices if they don’t act

Stay calm

Keep your attention on the situation until it’s over

Be consistent – use the same word pattern every time.

Teaching a child to make choices is SO important. It will serve them well as a child and an adult.

Try to create other situations where your child has an opportunity to make a choices, such as:

“Would you like to eat cereal or pancakes for breakfast”? (follow the same word pattern as       described above).

“Do you want to buckle you seat belt or would you like me to do it for you”?

“Would you like to wear the red shirt or the blue shirt today”?



Back to the {discipline} basics

As you probably know, I am here in Thailand teaching. IMG_0771 IMG_0811 I started teaching 3 weeks ago and let me tell you something; the first week was really rough!  The last couple weeks have been really great though.  Do you want to know what made all the difference?  DISCIPLINE. In the past, classroom management and discipline were strengths of mine.  Then I came here and promptly forgot to implement the things I should have.  Maybe I thought they’d already be trained to behave well (they’re not—kids always test the limits with someone new), maybe I thought Thai kids were different (they’re not), or maybe I was mainly focused on the new curriculum and style of teaching.  Whatever it was, I didn’t go in with a strong enough framework and the kids were not behaving well.  Lucky for me, I’m a problem solver and come up with a plan when things aren’t working.  The other fortunate part is that I already knew what I should have been doing; I just had to do it!  So now I’m here to share some discipline basics with you teachers and parents. Discipline-basics

  1. Be clear with what you expect.  It’s easy to fall in to the mindset that since kids have been in school for years already they know what to do.  That may be true, but they need to be reminded (a lot).  Have classroom rules and review them ridiculously often.  I feel really strongly that ‘be respectful’ should be a rule for every kid.  It covers a LOT in one rule (less rules are easier to remember and review) and is a good trait to have throughout their whole life.
  1. Have consequences.  It’s great to tell them what you expect, but if there aren’t consequences afterwards then none of that matters.  If they do what you’ve asked be sure to recognize that.  Anything from a quick “Sam, you look fabulous, thanks for following directions so quickly!” to a behavior chart  on the wall can be effective.  Make sure you have consequences for both positive and negative behavior.  I have seen a lot of teachers who have consequences for negative behavior but not for the good.  Kids respond really well to positive attention—so well that it can prevent a lot of the negative behaviors.

This is what I had the hardest time with here in Thailand.  I set the expectations but didn’t have consequences in place. I just expected them to do what I asked.  When they didn’t I said their name and reminded them what they should have been doing. Then if they did it again I did the same thing.  They quickly realized that I didn’t have a plan for what to do if they didn’t listen to me.  Now that we have a reward system in place they know that if they do great they get to earn a couple stars and if they aren’t they lose the stars one at a time.  They are excited about the things they can save up to buy and they are invested in it!

  1. Follow through.  If you say you are going to do something you need to do it!  If you tell them they need to stop touching the person next to them or they need to move seats you NEED TO HAVE THEM MOVE SEATS when they do it again.  If you don’t they will know that you aren’t telling the truth when you tell them something.  They will try to get away with more and more and you will feel frustrated quickly.  The really great thing about this is that if you DO have good follow through the kids will                            a) Realize you are serious and follow directions more quickly                                        b) Trust you because they know that you will be true to your word                                c) Start to monitor themselves
  1. Be consistent.  I fell like this is so simple and so crucial at the same time!  This goes hand in hand with the point above.  Make sure that the rules are the same for every student and you are being fair.  Be consistent by responding the same for each student and the same from day to day.

Guess what.  Kids are the same all over the world!  My classes still have students who have a hard time focusing, a couple who aren’t real invested in their education, a class clown, someone who thinks they’re smarter than everyone else, a few that are so excited to be there and are always ready, one that can’t sit in a chair for a chunk of time, a couple who can’t seem to control their mouths.  And just like everywhere else in the world they are all capable, crave boundaries and consistency, and want to have fun and be loved. Now that I have implemented the discipline basics things are going fantastically!  I feel like this has been an experience to help me rediscover things I already knew.

Teachers, is there anything I forgot that you have found to be helpful? Also, if you want to read about my adventures over in Thailand feel free to head over and take a look!