Meet Kids Where They Are

Featured Picture Book


(Available at your local public library or bookstores, including online stores.)

GEORGE UPSIDE DOWN tells the story of a little boy who spends as much time as possible upside down. He likes to look at the world this way even though according to the adults in his life, upside-down is not a good position for eating, sleeping, or learning. On the other hand, George has his own reasons why being upside down is very useful – if you are an astronaut or a dog, for example. George is sent to a private tutor “… so he’ll learn to pay attention,” to a nurse to be cured, and, to the school principal “… so he’ll behave.” It is the trip to the principal’s office that turns George right-side-up. After an unusual and silent reaction from the principal, George suddenly didn’t need to be upside down anymore. He did still want to be special, however – like no other little boy – so he quickly leaped into a new identity – one that was not quite so much of a problem for adults and for him.

Parenting Thoughts 
Meet Kids Where They Are.

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Dr. Mom:  Meet kids where they are – even if they are upside down. When they are crawling and their faces are never more than a few inches off the ground – meet them down there – eye-to-eye. When they are more interested in using their big muscles than using their minds – meet them outside for some activity before insisting on their working on schoolwork numbers and letters.

Darling Daughter:  I run into this in my classroom.  I find I get a better connection with the kids if I am talking with them down at desk level.  They are tuned into our conversation and more relaxed when I pull up a chair next to them.  I’m sure the first couple times my principal stopped by my room she must have thought I left my class unattended since she couldn’t find me buried in the middle of all the kids.

Dr. Mom:  BRAVO! I wish all teachers did this.

I’m sure you don’t remember (You were too young at the time.) how Grandma Mary used to run crawling races with you when you were just a toddler. You were crawling everywhere, so she just got down on all fours and did ready-set-go and off you both went. She always won because you giggled so hard you would just belly flop to the floor.  Adults that can meet kids where they are have a special place in the lives and hearts of children. They speak their language – sometimes without saying much at all.

When they want to talk endlessly about their favorite music (no matter how strange), the latest video game, tarantulas, or any other unusual special interest – meet them there – hear them out. Don’t take over the interest – listen and learn and have a meeting of the minds. Don’t become the expert. Their interest needs to be their interest. They need to be the expert. Just pay attention and be impressed.

In a lot of cases they *are* the expert.  Ezzy proved that at a dinosaur exhibit when she was 5.  We were admiring all the skeletons on display and I said “look at the tyrannosaurus.”  Ezzy, to the amazement & amusement of myself & everyone within earshot, quickly corrected me with a dissertation on the differences between T-Rex and Allosaurus including how many claws each had on their upper limbs.

When they are acting much younger than their age – meet them at that young place. Crawl with them. if you need to see they are making progress toward their first steps, you can help them walk in between crawling sessions or pull them up once in awhile as part of the crawling play. Tumble around on the floor with them, if that is what they are pulling you to do. If you are worried about them spending more time learning their words and numbers, you can play word and math games as part of the wrestling and climbing activities.

Rub their back at bedtime if they want to be babied. (No one needs to know.) No harm to their growing up will be done because you can still expect them to be responsible and independent as of first thing in the morning. Read to them once in awhile – even though they can read all by themselves. Giving them time to do those things that they know best (the younger things) and sending them the message that they are OK when they are doing them, can give them just the boost they need to help them grow up and learn something brand new (the older things).

A friend of mine had a teenage girl who was in the school marching band. Every time you saw her she was stepping-in-place, practicing her moves. The parent temptation was to insist she stand still – or even worse – sit down for serious conversations. But, what worked much better, was to meet her where she was – upright and hopping up and down. Mom didn’t need to do the hopping – that would be “taking over the interest.” But, she did stand eye-to-eye with her for those needed conversations and offer a smile or nod of recognition of her impressive “marching.”

My favorite classroom example is  an unfocused and disruptive 8th-grader that I seated in the back of the room.  She had her own space where she could stand and fidget while class was going on.  She could be at the counter and do her work or move between the counter and her desk if she needed to.  She was not in anyone’s way, and she was very good at staying in her “bubble” and not moving all over the room.  It turned out that was just what she needed.  She was one of my top ten scientists repeatedly after she got her new “seating” (or moving around) arrangement.

Need for Attention

All human beings need attention. It doesn’t mean they are self-centered – just human. We all need to see ourselves as special. We all need to know others like who we are.

Children are in such great need for attention that if that need builds up without being met, misbehavior can be the result. Even punishment is attention to a child. Let’s look at some of our reactions to misbehavior and how they fit in with this need for attention.

  1. We can ignore bad behavior thinking that way we won’t encourage it. But, then the child still needs the attention and very well may just continue misbehaving – maybe even in bigger ways since the first attempt didn’t work.
  2. We can be upset and punish the child. Now the child has been successful. He had some not-so-good results (punishment) but he also got extra large doses of attention. It probably involved lots of emotion, time, and even touching (for example, pulling, pushing, and even hitting.) It may also continue for some time and mean telling the story to others – more attention. It doesn’t matter that it is bad attention. Attention is attention to a child, good or bad. Since the misbehavior was successful it may continue rather than stop.
  3. We can matter-of-factly deal with the misbehavior by using consequences that make sense. (You can read more about consequences at Kids and SharingKids and Sharing, part 2, or Sticking to the Rules.) Using your matter-of-fact voice to insist on consequences doesn’t create much attention. It’s a “just do it,” “NBD” (no big deal) approach. The child gets stuck with consequences he doesn’t like and not much attention to make them worth it. The misbehavior turns out to be a bad choice – consequences with little attention. The child will need to look for some way other than misbehavior to get attention. This is the solution most parents are looking for.

Have you ever thought of messages – both words and actions – as “money” in the bank? They are. The messages you give your children that tell them they are special and that you like who they are – these are like money in the bank. Think of them as big doses of attention that they can hold onto until they need them. When they have lots of these to draw on, they are less likely to seek attention through misbehavior. There will still be misbehavior because they want to test limits or just plain make some bad choices, but not so much just to fill a big empty need for attention.

Help Kids Open Doors to the Bright Side

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All the characteristics we want our children to develop have a bright side and a dark side. For example, I’ve talked a lot in this blog about how perseverance, grit, and thinking for oneself (the bright side) are things we want our children to have. But, children start developing these characteristics by walking through the dark side – doing a lot of no-saying and being resistive – “I’ll do it my way, thank you very much!”

We want our children to be interested in things and love to learn new things (the bright side). That starts with touching everything, trying things that are not always safe, and starting lots of things but not necessarily finishing anything – the dark side.

Learning how to get along with people and still be strong people who know what they need is important (the bright side). But, the path to finding your identity starts with seeing how others react to you. It can involve testing out being a sneak, trickster, whimp, and even a bully  – the dark side.

E is starting to figure out not everyone is her friend and not everyone has her best interest at heart.  She is definitely struggling with decisions about whether to try and be friends with someone that is a fair-weather only friend or move on and make new friendships.  It is very hard to stand back and watch these relationships develop or fall apart. I sometimes see that people are friends with E only when it is convenient for them or E has something they want.  I so want to jump in and tell E that those people are not worth her time and attention, but I know that won’t help E learn to make judgments about people and their value in her life.  We’ve had a few tears over this, and I’m sure we will have a few more before she figures out who has her best interest at heart.

Yes. Some of us still struggle with this as adults. Usually at the heart of it is the need for love and attention and a fear that if you have certain expectations of friendships, you’ll end up friendless. It’s not just being a good judge of others. It is also about believing you deserve good friends and are worthy of people liking you. This is one of the reasons those messages I have talked about that are just about being a likeable person are so important. These are messages that you don’t earn by following rules or accomplishing things. They are messages that say others like you and enjoy being with you. (For more information about these messages, see First Days of School.) 

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It is up to adults to avoid reacting to these dark sides in ways that will stop children from continuing to figure out how to reach the bright sides. Instead, when we see the dark sides, we can correct and teach without making the child feel like a failure. Yes, they are trying different ways of being and doing – some good and some not-so-good. Yes, they are learning through trial and error – finding what works best. Yes, they are making missteps, but adults can show them how to move forward in the right direction.

Read All About It

GROWING UP AGAIN, Jean Illsley Clarke and Connie Dawson

HOW MUCH IS TOO MUCH? Jean Illsley Clarke, Connie Dawson, and David Bredehoft

PICK UP YOUR SOCKS, Elizabeth Crary


GROWING UP AGAIN, Jean Illsley Clarke and Connie Dawson


 Surf the Internet:
  • self-esteem
  • initiative
  • developmental tasks
  • grit
  • perseverance
  • Erik Erikson
  • discipline
  • natural consequences
  • logical consequences
  • motivation for misbehavior
  • children’s need for attention

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