How to Teach Children and Learn from Them Too


August 30, 2007   •   Fact checked by Dumb Little Man

The bottom line is children and adults both have a lot to learn from each other. Children are a reflection of the adults around them. When they behave “badly” they are simply acting human. They need to be taught the skills to deal with life’s challenges in the best way possible. When we (adults) act “badly,” we also need some guidance. This article spells out the things that I’ve learned. Teaching and guiding children takes a lot of patience, but it’s work that is well rewarded. The goal of this article is to help us all to understand children, to teach them well, and to learn from their natural common sense that we often lose sight of.

How to Handle Children When They Act Just Like You Do

When children act “badly,” the first step is: don’t get mad. Observe. What is going on? Analyze. Why is the child acting that way? The child is likely experiencing one of these: frustration, anger, sadness, exhaustion, jealousy, disappointment, boredom, the need to exercise, over-stimulation, loneliness, lack of control, fear, worry or some other distressing emotion. These are emotions and states that all humans experience, not just children. But they are even more difficult for children because they lack the skills to handle them. That’s our job as adults to teach them and to model those skills in action. So how do you handle it? Try these steps.

    1. Observe and remain calm. 
  • Understand that there is a reason for the behavior. 
  • Try to figure out that reason. 
  • If possible, lead the child gently to a place where you can both calmly sit and talk together, eye to eye. If there are other people around it is a good idea to take the child aside for a private conversation. This will make things flow more smoothly and it will communicate to the child that you care. 
  • Help the child to identify his/her own feelings and reason behind their behavior. Ask questions calmly such as, “Tell me how your are feeling.” Have compassion and understanding. By doing this, you are not giving up power. You are not “coddling.” You are in a position of strength that the child will recognize because of the fact that you are in control of your emotions. 
  • Empathize with their feelings. Tell them that you understand how that feels and that you feel that way sometimes too. Let them know that it is ok to have these feelings and it is very good to identify how they are feeling and to express it in words. 
  • Teach them how to handle those kinds of feelings in a positive way. This is the hard part. If your child is not used to this, it might be difficult at first. Explain what behaviors are OK for letting off steam such as crying,talking about feelings, safe physical outlets such as walking, jumping, etc. 
  • Teach them the difference between crying out of frustration and crying to get something. Teach them to ask for things politely and how to handle when they don’t get something that they want. For instance, “Joey, sometimes we can’t have some things that we want. We all feel disappointed when that happens. It’s important to first of all be grateful for all the good things that you do have such as our home, our family, our health, and the things that we love (toys). There are many who don’t have the things that you have.

Now with regards to the thing that you want, perhaps there is a compromise or alternative or way to not feel bad about that. Let’s think about that together.” Then ask the child questions to get them come up with their own solutions. You may need to work on it, but have patience.

  • If, after talking things out, the child still wants to force themselves to cry or be upset, remind them that once you’ve talked things out that they need to begin to make an effort to move forward with feeling better. If they need more time, which is sometimes reasonable, then offer to let them take a break, rest, or nap before continuing on with the day. You could offer a
    hug. Another thing that works well is to try to get them laughing. I call it getting the “happy juice flowing.” When we laugh we instantly create chemicals inside our body that make it hard to be sad. So try that. It works. 
  • For tantrums that are difficult to overcome sometimes you’ll need to calmly explain a consequence that will occur if they continue to be disruptive. I suggest only using this when the child is clearly being uncooperative and you’ve made an attempt to help them through the emotion. Make the consequence something that will have impact, has a time boundary, and that you will follow through on. For instance taking away a privilege or a toy for a day. This can often nip things in the bud. If not, follow through with the consequence and when the child has calmed down go back to calmly discussing and guiding the child to understand what happened, how they felt, and how they can handle it better in the future. Having them come up
    with some of the answers themselves will make things cement better. Tell them a story about how you experienced something similar before. Let them know that you have faith in them that they will do better next time. Let them know you love and support them. 
  • And in the future when they do handle their emotions better, give lots of praise. Tell them how proud you are of their actions. 
  • Prevention Tip: Sugar and caffeine make difficult emotions 10 times worse. Children don’t need either of these. For yours and their sake consider eliminating these from their diet. And also keep in mind that a child that is able to release their energy through exercise and play will be happier than a child who has sat on a couch all day watching TV. 

The time when this is very hard to do is when you are feeling one or more of these challenging emotions at the same time as your child. That’s when you need to remember your responsibility to set the right example. At the next opportunity find a way for both of you to get a break to rejuvenate. This will keep the pattern from repeating.

Things to Learn from Children

If you are lucky enough to be around children, you’ve probably noticed that they behave differently from adults. I suggest that many of these behaviors would be beneficial for adults to re-learn. The next time you are around children, stop and notice. What can you learn from them? How would being more like them help you to be a better person. Here are some things that I’ve noticed about children that inspire me to be a better person:

    • Fully Experiencing Joy of Little Things
  • Being Completely Present in the Moment 
  • Uncensored Creativity
  • Lack of Pride – Forgive Easily 
  • Unconditional Love
  • Happiness & Silliness & Laughter 
  • Noticing Everything Around Them 
  • Play, Play, Play 
  • Eating Slowly 
  • Day Dreaming 
  • Always Moving
  • Always Stretching 
  • Endless Curiosity – Unafraid to Ask Questions 

What else can you add to this list? What are your thoughts? Looking forward to your comments!

Written for Dumb Little Man by K. Stone, author of Life Learning Today, a blog about daily life improvements. Popular articles
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