Tell Me More


I had an awesome session today and I wanted to share a little bit about what we talked about. I think it’s something that can apply to a lot of families.


My clients have been struggling with their child not wanting to go to school—saying, “I don’t want to go to school, I’m not going to school,” and really fighting to get out the door. Then once they get out the door, they get in the car and then it’s a fight to get out of the car. Then when they get out of the car, it’s a fight to get to the door of the school, and it continues. So we’ve been talking about how to use some communication practices that may be helpful in toning down some of the escalation that’s been happening when their child is fighting about going to school.


A Suggestion

One of the things I suggested is that next time their child does have this temper tantrum or is acting out, to just say, “Tell me more.” But before the parent even says that, the first thing that has to happen, is that we need to check in with ourselves.  We need to calm ourselves, we need to remind ourselves that our child is trying to tell us something and that our we can handle this. And so, we say, “tell me more” from a place of calm and a place of wanting to connect.


If we’re frustrated and angry about the situation and maybe about other things in our lives, and we say, “Yeah, tell me more,” with the tone of frustration, it’s not going to work well. So we first need to calm ourselves—maybe that’s through a deep breath. Or maybe it’s through some other way.


When we say the words “Tell me more,” what we’re doing is opening up dialog. What we’re doing is letting our child know that they are seen and that they are heard. That they are valued and that their words, their thoughts and their feelings are important.


What We’re Not Doing

What we’re not doing when we say, “Tell me more,” is we’re not judging. We’re not saying, “It’s January, you should be excited about school. You’re always so negative about everything.” We’re not fixing the problem. We’re not saying “OK, what if we go out for ice cream after school?” We’re not coming up with a solution. We’re not shaming them by saying, “You’re such a baby, grow up. You should be able to do this by now.” We’re not doing any of those things.


An Important Voice

Again, what we’re saying is “Your voice matters. You are seen and you are heard.” And in today’s session, my clients said they had tried this. and when one of the parents said, “Tell me more,” this is what their four-year-old child said: “So I’m worried about my brother taking all my toys, and I’m wondering if there’s a place for me in this family, and do you think there’s going to be enough toys if he plays with it, but he really doesn’t like my toys.” The child just went on and on, talking about what she felt was bothering her.


Getting the Story

The back story is that there a new sibling in the family. All the parents said during the car ride to school was, “Tell me more” that’s all they said, without saying anything else. And at the end of the conversation, as they arrived at school, the child put their head in their hand, and let out a deep sigh, and said, “My brain is feeling better. My little brother can stay now.”


Seen and Heard

What that tells me is maybe, just maybe, that child just needed to let that all out—just needed to be seen and heard. And for someone to understand why it’s so difficult to go to school.  It’s as if the child said, “It’s so difficult to go to school because I don’t get the time to spend with my parents and my little brother does.”


Maybe that’s the answer. We don’t really know. What we do know, is that sometimes we can look at behavior like it’s an iceberg. The tip of the iceberg is what we see—that’s their behavior. That’s the temper tantrum, the slamming of doors, the eye rolling, the huffing and puffing. And in this case, the child not wanting to go to school. Underneath that, is the need. So the need for this child right now, based on the conversations I’m having with the parents, is to understand: “Am I loved?”


The child is essentially asking: “Am I loved? Do all these things that are changing and happening with my new brother still mean there’s enough love for me? When I go to school, I don’t feel like I’m loved. Because I miss my parents, I don’t get to see them, but I know my little brother gets to stay home and play with my parents”


I think this is a really great snapshot of how communication can be such a great tool. And this is great for kids—this child happens to be around 4 years old. This is a great tool even for children who are teens and tweens.


Opening up the Conversation

We want our kids to come talk to us, right? We want our teenager, when they’re considering doing drugs, staying out late, making friends, whatever it is, we want them to talk to us. And we know we’re going to be shut out of a lot of conversations. But if we start now at an earlier age, to start just saying, “Tell me more,” then maybe later we can have more of a discussion.


But right now, “Tell me more.”


“You want a tattoo? Tell me more about that! Tell me why you want a tattoo. Where are you thinking of getting the money for that? What do you think having a tattoo will do for you? How do you think that will change who you are?”


It’s coming from a place of curiosity. It’s questioning, and it allows the child to feel seen and heard. And for a lot of children, that really matters.


Try it out and let me know how it works for you.  But remember, first you have to come from a place of calm and true curiosity. 


So I hope this little snapshot of an inside peek at one of my coaching sessions helps, and can guide you. And if you would like to talk more about this or any other parenting challenge, feel free to reach out to me.


Listen Up! They're talking! An example of how children use behavior as a form of communication.

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The other night, we came home from school and my daughter had homework to do. It was a math assignment having to do with subtraction, and she had a really difficult time. Such a difficult time, in fact, that she was frustrated, she was angry at me, she was banging on the counter, and she walked away. And I said to her, “It’s ok that you are feeling frustrated. We’ll try again later.” (And I figured I’d let her teacher know that she was having a tough time.)


The Message


Then I made dinner, and called the girls down for dinner, and my daughter who had the homework, said, “I want to sit by myself.”


I said, “OK,” and I set up her plate at the counter near us. I gave her the space it seemed she needed.


My younger one said, “Hey, what’s the matter with her? Is she mad at me?”


I said, “No, I think she’s actually mad at me.” I knew what the real story was—she was mad about homework, but I didn’t want to escalate the fight. I figured, let me give us both some space.


As the younger one and I had dinner, the older one pouted for a bit. After a few minutes, the older one said, “Actually, I’m not mad at you. I’m just frustrated with myself, because I don’t know how to do my homework.”


Wow! That was amazing!


Children behave in certain ways, they tantrum in certain ways because they don’t know how to communicate effectively with words. So earlier, she was so flooded with frustration when she was trying to do her homework that she couldn’t say, “I am so angry, I don’t want to do this homework,” or whatever it was. And it wasn’t until later that she was able to—in an amazing way for a 6 1/2-year-old child—say, “I’m actually not mad at you. I’m frustrated at myself, because I can’t do my homework.”


The Importance of Space


And that makes sense, right? I understood her at that point. But it was only because I allowed her space that she was able to express herself on her own. It could have escalated in so many different ways.  She needed time and space.


We, as parents, have our own agenda of how we want things to go. I make dinner and I expect my kids to sit at the table and eat dinner, as a family, together. That’s my agenda. There’s really no reason why we can’t stray from that every now and again. This does not to be a boundary that I hold in stone and say, “There is no budging from this.” Thank goodness I was able to say, “OK, this is a boundary I’m flexible with. I’ll let you sit where you want to sit.” What I was doing in that moment was letting go of my agenda. I was letting go of my need to control the situation, and allowing her needs, at that moment, to take over—which is fine! I can’t always give in or be flexible with boundaries. But in this moment, I was able to. I was able to let go of my agenda and just focus on her needs. And at that moment, her need was to sit separately from me and her sister. That was one thing that worked really well, as far as making sure this didn’t escalate into something else.


Taking the Time to Breathe


The other thing is, of course, the breath. I talk about the breath all the time. I can’t tell you how many times I breathed that night—because I was trying to get dinner on the table. And I think all of us know what that’s like. We get home from afterschool activities, and we’re rushed, rushed, rushed. Trying to get homework done, trying to get dinner on the table, trying to get them bathed and ready for bed, and all the nonsense that comes along. Of course, I was feeling stressed. But my breath really reminded me to take a minute. My breath slowed me down.  My breath slowed down my heart rate.  My breath released the tension in my muscles. 


My breath created space, which then created opportunity, for me to think,


“What else can I do in this situation?”


Reactions Matter


The other thing is, I didn’t react to the situation with fear. With fear that, “Oh my goodness, she’s speaking terribly to me—what is she going to grow up to be like if I don’t correct her now?” I didn’t react with fear by saying, “Oh my goodness she’s not going to eat her dinner. She’s going to go to bed hungry!” A lot of us react with fear. Instead, I responded with compassion, and that’s what she needed. I couldn’t push too hard, but she needed to know, “I’m here for you; I’m here.”


After she said, “I’m actually not mad at you; I’m frustrated with myself,” all I said to her was, “I understand.” That’s all I said. And then she said, “You know what, I want to come back and sit with you guys.” I didn’t push that. I didn’t tell her what to do.  On her own, she wanted to reconnect.


Freedom of Expression


I would have been fine if we had continued the rest of the dinner with her sitting at one counter, and me and her sister at another. But I gave her that room to express herself, in whichever way she needed to work through that process, and because of some skill building that I’ve used over the years, she was able to verbalize what her needs were.


Reacting With Compassion


Giving them the opportunity, giving her the opportunity was important, and like I said, responding with compassion, instead of reacting with fear, is huge. A lot of times our reactions are knee-jerk reactions, because it comes from a place of fear, and we have to do that like fight-or-flight response. We have to get out of there or fight back, and attack our kids, which is not really the best approach if we want to create an environment of honest communication. I’m glad I was able to respond with compassion in that moment. I’ll tell you what, I don’t always do that. Sometimes I do react in a way that isn’t helpful. But I was really proud of that moment, both on my part, but also on her part.


These skills that we give our children now, they might not work every day, but with enough practice and modeling, role modeling, and examples that I give to my children that shows what expressing your feelings should look like—and can look like—in a healthy and safe way, those things work. It just takes some patience on our part to trust that our children will do the right thing. That’s just one example I wanted to share with you, that my agenda did not take over. It was really me focusing on her needs.


The Approach


The breath that I took made that space, which created the opportunity for me to look at the situation from a different perspective, recognizing that this behavior was her form of communication. The way she tantrumed and mouthed off to us was her way, at the time, of communicating what her needs were.


She had a need, and her need was,


I need someone to help me feel like I’m not so stupid because I can’t get my homework done.


 And the final thing is responding with compassion, instead of reacting with fear.


I hope those things are helpful. I hope this example was helpful. I would love to hear from you. If there has been a time that you saw a behavior, and you knew that that behavior was really your child’s way of expressing themselves, and whether you handled it the way you wished you would have handled it, or maybe handled it the way you didn’t really want to handle it, please post it! Send me a message—I love hearing from you, and I love being able to share some of what you share with me with others. It’s helpful to know that we’re not alone in this parenting thing.