Kids Talk Workshops and Newsletters
Put-It-Into-Action Advice You Can Trust
Maren Schmidt, M. Ed.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Communicating Emotions

A long-term study of college students tested their vocabularies while also asking the group to rate their level of happiness. For over fifty years the test subjects with the largest vocabularies declared the greatest satisfaction with their lives.

For many of us the vocabulary to express emotions is limited to a few words. Mad, sad, glad, bad.  Additionally many people were raised to not express feelings and find it difficult to connect their emotional states to words.  

Others may say "I feel," but they are expressing a thought: I feel that we should elect a new mayor. Replace the words, I feel, with I think, and the opinion becomes obvious.

Being unable to communicate emotions, due to a lack of vocabulary or an inability to connect words and feelings, damages our relationships and prevents the creation of healthy life-long relationships.

Learning to distinguish between thoughts and feelings. We need to help our children and ourselves learn to differentiate thoughts from feelings.  

Marshall Rosenberg, in his book Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life, says that feelings are not being clearly expressed when the word "feel" is followed by certain words:

1) That, like and as if.  
Examples: I feel that nobody listens to me. I feel like an idiot. I feel as if I'm in a box.

2) Pronouns I, you, he, she, it, they, it.  
Examples: I feel I'm being used. I feel it is a lost cause.

3) Names or nouns referring to people.  
Examples: I feel John is responsible for the situation. I feel the child is being manipulative.

Interestingly enough, when we express a feeling we don't need to say "I feel." For example, I am feeling sad or I am angry express feelings and not thoughts or opinions.

Once we learn to tell the difference between thoughts and feelings, the next step is to distinguish between our self-opinions and feelings.

Learning to distinguish between self-opinions and feelings. It's easy to fall into the trap of using the phrase I feel to express who or what we think we are. I feel I'm a terrible tennis player doesn't express emotion but gives an opinion. I feel frustrated when I play tennis, I don't enjoy playing tennis, I'm disappointed with my tennis game--these statements reflect feelings.

After we begin to see the difference between self-opinions and feelings, we need to look at I feel statements to see whether they might reflect our impressions of others' opinions.

Learning to distinguish between our impressions of others' opinions and our feelings. We need to keep our antennae up when using I feel statements to understand if our words are telling us more about how we think others are behaving, or what opinions others have of us.  

I feel stupid communicates more of what you think others are thinking about you rather than your true feelings. I feel discouraged may express your honest emotions about your interaction with others.

Be aware of these words. Here are words used with I feel statements that express how we think others are thinking.  

I feel (fill in the blank): boxed-in, bullied, cheated, cornered, interrupted, intimidated, unheard, unwanted, used. These words do not express true feelings.

Build an emotional vocabulary. My seventh-grade English teacher forbade us to use the words ''good'' or ''nice'' in our writing, a great way to enlarge emotional vocabulary and to sense the truth in a situation.  

Which words better communicate feeling good? Carefree. Jubilant. Amazed. Thrilled. Pleased. Moved. Excited.  

Or feeling bad? Afraid. Bewildered. Blah. Blue. Fidgety. Lonely. Irritated. Resentful.

When we can express our feelings clearly we connect with others more easily. With authentic connections to others, we resolve conflict more simply, leading to healthy and happy people. Or should I say, merry, or mirthful, or enchanted, or satisfied, or excited....

Saturday, August 9, 2014

The Heart Of Relationships: Effective Communication

To know who our children really are, we need to observe our children at work and play.  J Krishnamurti, the Indian philosopher, wrote that the highest form of human intelligence is observing without evaluating.

The more I observe the more I understand Krishnamurti.  Observation and evaluation serve us best as separate activities.  Observing people’s behavior and keeping the observation free of the evaluating components of judgment, criticism and psychoanalysis can be challenging to say the least. 

Some might say impossible.

Observing the child having a temper tantrum, we tend to think and judge: My, what an awful child. 

Criticism enters: Why don’t the parents do something? 

Analysis begins:  Poor child.  Not enough sleep or adult guidance.  A good snack and a nap will fix that.

Even if we can avoid judging, criticizing or analyzing, other tendencies creep into our observations.  Labeling and classification begin with thoughts such as—Oh, that child’s trouble, is spoiled rotten, has bad parents, needs medication, should see a doctor, and on and on.

Name-calling and pigeonholing, though, doesn’t help the child or strengthen our relationships.  One of the inherent problems with language is the difficulty we have in making words represent a world of change, growth, processes, and other dynamic functions.  With every experience, we are all changing.  How can our thinking and language embrace that change?

Observing while withholding evaluation aids us in finding the complexity in situations, as well as understanding the inadequacy of language to define a constantly changing reality.  Language limits our perception of the whole child, the whole person and the whole world.

As we observe we need to train ourselves to be aware of how language, a static process in a dynamic activity, makes it easy to judge, criticize and analyze other’s behavior. 

Unfortunately, recipients usually perceive our name-calling and labeling as critical and judgmental, and not as an offer of help or guidance.

The words, always, never, every, whenever, as well as frequently and seldom, exaggerate a situation and create defensiveness in the listener while confusing observation and evaluation within the speaker. A few examples follow: 

Evaluation: He always throws a fit. 
Observation: This past Wednesday, Thursday and Friday evenings for about ten minutes before dinner he has laid on the floor, cried, and kicked his feet. 

Evaluation: His parents never make him behave. 
Observation: On two occasions I saw him throw books off the shelves with no interference from his father.

Evaluation:  He is just hungry and overtired. 
Observation: He didn’t eat any lunch and was up at 5:30 this morning.

To communicate effectively and understand how to strengthen a relationship, practice observing behavior without evaluation. 

Edit out the judging, criticism, analyzing, name-calling and labeling that prevent honest expression and compassionate listening, the two key components to effective communication. 

The heart of our relationships lies in our ability to communicate honestly and with compassion.

This begins a series of articles on effective communication. 

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Announcing The Effective Communication Series

For over ten years, I have written this Kids Talk newsletter and blog. 

The name, Kids Talk, comes from my desire to help adults understand what children need, if only children could express those needs clearly.

When we, as adults, seek to understand our children, we must begin by observing their behavior. We then look for feelings. We anticipate needs. We respect the requests of our children, who in every culture and generation have said, ''Help me help myself.''

At the center of most of our problems today--within ourselves, our families, our businesses, our countries and our world--is ineffective communication. Experts who study and practice effective communication for years find themselves in the middle of misunderstandings. The challenge is immense.

The following four keys to understanding comprise the fundamental components of effective communication, the heart of all relationships.
1) Observation of behavior
2) Searching for feelings
3) Anticipating needs
4) Respecting requests

Over the next nine weeks, Kids Talk will focus on the skills needed for effective communication. Many of these ideas won't be new to you, as in some way or another these concepts comprise the Kids Talk underlying theme.

My undergraduate degree was in Interpersonal and Organizational Communication, and over the years I've enlarged my understanding of communication techniques and tools through my work with children and their families. 

I've used ideas from Carl Rogers to Mr. Rogers, Active Parenting, How to Talk So Kids Will ListenThe Seven Habits of Highly Effective PeopleWhat Do You Really Want For Your Children and Dale Carnegie's How To Make Friends and Influence People, to only name a few.

These articles draw heavily from Marshall Rosenberg's book, Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life. Rosenberg writes that the language and communication skills given in his book are nothing new. We've known this information for centuries. We need to be reminded of what we already know.

Effective communication, nonviolent communication, compassionate communication, active communication--whatever we wish to call it--is essential to the health of our families, and thus to our world.

''We must be the change we wish to see in the world,'' is often quoted from Gandhi.

To change the world, we must begin with ourselves. I urge you to read, learn and share this series of articles and to incorporate effective communication into your life everyday. My job is to remind you, and me, of what we already know.

Let us begin!

Carnegie, Dale. How To Win Friends and Influence People. Simon and Schuster. New York. 1936, 1981.

Covey, Stephen. The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. Simon and Schuster. New York. 1989.

Dyer, Wayne, What Do You Really Want For Your Children. HarperCollins. New York. 1985.

Faber, Adele and Mazlish, Elaine. How to Talk So Kids Will Listen, Avon Books. New York. 1980.

Petersen, James C. Why Don't We Listen Better? Petersen Publications. Portland, Oregon. 2007.

Popkin, Michael. Active Parenting. Active Parenting, Inc. Atlanta. 1983.

Rosenberg, Marshall. Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life. PuddleDancer Press. Encinitas, CA. 2003.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Children Love Quiet

Somehow between Madison Avenue and Hollywood, and all the places where kiddie culture is fed, we’re given the view that children are rowdy and eternally needing to be entertained.

Picture a scene of children getting out from school.  What do you imagine?  More than likely it’s children shouting and running from the school building.

Though the movies would have us believe otherwise, children actually love quiet. 

The portrayal of children in our popular culture tends to emphasize hyperactivity and hyper-noise.  Children require movement and appropriate, yet creative, methods to express themselves, which unfortunately, are not readily given.  If we, as adults, had to do what some children must everyday, we’d be portrayed as running out of buildings screaming at the top of our lungs.

Our world is a noisy place and most of us haven’t learned how to move softly through space.   Years ago after a function in our church fellowship hall, the volunteer clean up crew began to drag chairs and tables across the room in order to place them in storage racks.  The rumble deafened.  Screeching metal legs against the linoleum made chalkboards and fingernails seem melodic.

My daughters covered their ears, wondering out loud, “Why don’t they carry the chairs quietly?”

“Because, “ I said, “I don’t think anybody’s shown them how.”

My daughters looked at each other quizzically.  As if on cue they each picked up an end of a table and carried it across the room.  As they moved across the floor, the noisy volunteers stopped to see youngsters carrying a six-foot table, quietly.  Very quietly indeed.

Our children love quiet, but as the church volunteers demonstrated, we neglect to show them how to move quietly, how to appreciate the quiet, and how to listen. 

Children enjoy a listening game where everyone gets quiet for about two minutes, which is a very long time for three and four-year-olds, and for some 34-year-olds, too. 

I’d set an hourglass type egg timer in the middle of our group to give the children a focal point and concept of how much longer they should sit and listen.  In the quiet the children heard each other sigh, squirm, and change positions.  In short the children became aware of how a simple movement disrupts the mood of the group.  At the end of the two minute period I would go around the group and ask each child what they heard as they listened.

Without exception, the children were amazed what they could hear.  Birds outside even though all the doors and windows were shut.  Cars at the stop sign a block away.  A fire truck leaving the station a mile away.  The rumble of a train.  The neighbor’s tractor or leaf blower.  The refrigerator.  The heat clicking on.  The air going through their noses.  The clock ticking in the adjoining room.  The faucet dripping in the bathroom. 

In the quiet the children listened.

After this five to ten minute listening exercise the children appeared more confident and controlled in their actions, left the group lesson with a tranquil smile, and worked rest of the morning with deeper concentration than before the lesson.

Children love quiet.  All they need is to learn how to listen and to be heard.  Just like the rest of us.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Noise Surrounds Us

Blaise Pascal, the 17th century philosopher and mathematician, wrote, “All man’s miseries derive from not being able to sit quietly in a room alone.”

Almost three hundred years later and human misery still stems from not being able to listen to oneself think.  

An edition of Ode magazine was dedicated to the topic of silence.  Several journalists detailed their journey into being alone and quiet.  One writer found being in a sensory deprivation unit not quiet at all, but disturbingly noisy, as he listened to his heartbeat, his pulse beat in his ears, and paid attention to his breathing.  What each traveler into the quiet world found is that there is no silence.   

Noise surrounds us.

Sitting quietly with our thoughts and listening to our inner being is unsettling at first.  

How easy it is to distract ourselves.  Turn on the television, the computer, and the video game.  Pick up the phone, or our music devices.  Open the refrigerator door hunting for something because we feel hungry not for food, but for the quiet.

Paying attention to our inner sensations of feeling, hearing, seeing and thinking takes focus and concentration.   Sitting quietly alone is the key to discovering where and who we are in the universe.  It’s much easier to party than to sit and open the package.  What a gift we have though when we can sit, as Pascal suggests, alone in a room and not feel lonely.

Our world today is filled with more distractions than in Pascal’s time, distractions that help us avoid direct confrontation of who we are.  We let “noise” distract us from our dreams, our desires, and ultimately our lives, because we fear hearing our breath, our heartbeat, and the blood rush through our ears. 

Only in the quiet can we listen to that voice that coaches us to be the person we were meant to be.  If only there weren’t so much noise. 

Today take five minutes to listen to your breathing and to your heartbeat.  Listen to your dreams.  Tomorrow listen for another five minutes.   Listen everyday until you are quiet for twenty minutes a day.

 “Learn to be silent.  Let your quiet mind listen and absorb,” Pythagoras recommended over 2500 years ago. 

Sit comfortably in a room alone and your children, and others around you, will be affected by the concentric waves of peace and quiet that you create.

In today’s world our children are at risk for never having the opportunity to learn to sit quietly.  Movement is crucial to child development, but being still and quiet is also of vital import.  Without a sense of direction, movement is misdirected.  Without movement, inspiration is never fulfilled. 

What are those things that keep our children from having quiet time?  Take a few minutes and make a list of all those activities that prevent quiet from being in your family’s life.  Television. Radio. Computers.  Personal music devices.  Cell phones.  Video games. Over-scheduling.

Don’t let the noise of life prevent your children from having the opportunity to listen to themselves, and discover who they are.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Brains Need Plenty Of Quiet Time

A sign in my father’s office read, “Sometimes I sits and thinks and sometimes I just sits”. 

Ungrammatical, but it captured the essence of my father.  My dad spent a lot of time thinking and planning, but he didn’t hesitate to take the down time of “just” sitting and doing nothing.  Dad understood what was good for him, as well as for all the grandchildren that loved to sit on his lap, and just sit. 

Children need opportunities to simply sit, rest, observe, quietly explore and be.  My dad understood a child’s need for this quiet time.  With our children we need to balance activity with tranquil and undisturbed time.

Our children today seem to be bustled off to gym class, to swim, to dance, to lesson after lesson to try to maximize their learning, or, heaven forbid, prevent them from being bored.  

Instead of trying to cram learning with activity after activity, it is better to have an environment where children can explore, investigate and inquire with help from a guide.  

If a child is interested in looking at rocks, an adult to offer a bit of information by perhaps pointing out the different structure of the rocks—igneous, sedimentary or metamorphic—and then retreating, offers the child the quiet opportunity to do further exploration, thinking, or simple consolidation of new and old information.

A child’s learning is deeper when it comes from within versus being crammed in by using flash cards, worksheets, questioning and on and on.  

If we each look at our individual style of learning, we’ll perhaps see that we learn best when we choose our activity, do it to our satisfaction, and then have a period of rest or contemplation to unify our thoughts.  

My grandmother resisted numerous attempts to buy her a dishwasher, saying that washing the dishes by hand gave her time to think.  My grandmother enjoyed that half hour to reflect on the day’s events and to begin looking forward to the next activities.

Children’s brains need this time to consolidate new experiences, and then choose what activity to do to create meaningful learning.  By the process of selecting what to do, our children reveal to us who they are.  

With time to choose, learning becomes personal and powerful.  Through their choices, our children are telling us their likes, their dislikes, their interests, their passions, their weaknesses, their strengths.  

It all begins with being quiet, and having time that is unencumbered with activities that aren’t evaluated, judged or prioritized by adults.

When we fill up our children’s days with busy work that does not tap into the brain’s powerful way to learn through quiet reflection and choice, we do our children a disservice.

Our children need this valuable unstructured time for contemplation and true learning.  

The brain for proper development needs quiet time, to sit and think and sometimes to “just sits”.  One could say that a child and a child’s brain need time on grandpa’s lap.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

The Best Brains Require Good Nutrition

Are our children getting the right kinds of food for maximum brain development and health?  

Most parents believe their children are getting adequate nutrition but data shows otherwise.  

Peeking into a few lunch boxes gives some indications and insight into the issue.

Recent research is showing that high levels of fructose contribute to obesity and Type 2 diabetes in children.  High blood sugar levels adversely affect the function of the hippocampus, the part of the brain that helps organize memory.

Children need a diet of complex carbohydrates versus a diet of sugar and foods that have a high glycemic index such as potatoes, white rice, white flour, and white sugar.  Data shows that 25 percent of children under the age of six eat French fried potatoes every day.  One nutritionist recommends avoiding any food that’s white because those foods act like sugar to the brain. 

Current research is showing that certain diseases and conditions have their roots in poor childhood nutrition.  For example, the low intake of calcium rich foods—milk, cheese, broccoli, spinach and other green leafy vegetables—during the first eighteen years of life may predispose women to osteoporosis.

Fresh fruit and vegetables, and whole grains take longer to digest but offer important nutrition that may not be found in the empty calories from the refined carbohydrates in soda and processed foods.  For the young child under age six, certain foods should be avoided, and perhaps we all should avoid them. Two big two no-no seem to be sodas and foods that list sugar in the first five ingredients. 

For sodas, their sugar content is too high and the active ingredients in soda work against bone development.  Soda drink consumption has risen to over sixty gallons per person annually in the United States.  In a study of teenage boys, ages 13 to 18, about 60 percent reported drinking two sodas or more per day, with over 95 percent reported that they drank soda regularly.  In teenagers, over 25 percent of daily calories may be from sodas.  The teenage habits begin before the age of six.

Water is the best liquid for our children to drink as effective brain growth and functioning is dependent on the brain being well hydrated, since the brain is over 90 percent water.

The second no-no: foods that list sugar as one of the first five ingredients include breakfast cereals, breakfast toaster pastries, and more.  High sugar consumption is linked to tooth decay, obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and other ailments.  Serve fresh fruit, vegetables and whole grains to satisfy a sweet tooth.

Make sure that a child’s diet provides adequate protein.  Too much protein can be as bad as too little but inadequate protein affects brain development and overall health.   Children from one to three years need about 1300 calories per day with 16 grams of protein.  Four to six year olds need about 1800 calories per day with 24 grams of protein.  Seven to ten year olds require around 2000 calories with 28 grams of protein. 

Common protein rich foods include milk, soy milk, eggs, cheese, yogurt, peanut butter, lean meats, fish, poultry, beans, tofu, lentils,  grains, nuts and seeds.
Another nutritionist recommends only shopping the perimeter of your grocery store, as all the nutritious and fresh food is there, and you won’t be tempted by all the fancy packaged processed food in the center aisles.

As my Granddad used to say, pay the grocer or pay the doctor.   Yes, I’d much rather spend my money on blueberries than meeting my medical insurance deductible.  It tastes so much better, and my brain loves it.