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Show and Tell

January 10, 2012

Adults tell children.  Makes sense, doesn’t it?  It’s our job as parents, teachers, grownups in a community.  We’re supposed to teach them right from wrong, how to be responsible, how to make good decisions, how to succeed as they make their way in the world.  We know it is our job to tell them how to do what they’re supposed to do.

Adults show children.  That’s more complicated.  Most of us have had the chance to learn how much easier it can be to “say” what to do, than it is to “show” what to do.  If we are going to show what our children need to see, we must become good observers of our own behavior.  The less we know ourselves, the greater the risk that the subtle, and not so subtle messages in our actions may speak louder than what we’re telling a child is of value.  The task of telling and showing children how to be sometimes meshes well, and sometimes leaves us in a “do as I say, not as I do” moment.  Even in a moment of contradiction we have the opportunity to tell and show our children how to go back and make it right.  How to face ourselves and adjust our behavior.  How to grow toward congruence.

We tell and we show.  We’re the grownups.  They’re children.  They listen.  They watch.  They follow.  All true.  But what if there is more to the story?  What if our teaching relationship with children is part of a multi-lane highway system instead of a single lane, one way street?

It was cold and drizzling rain this morning as I began my day.  A day of being in and out of the wet, cold weather. Alone in the car I began to grumble about the unpleasant weather, planning ahead for how cold and miserable I would be as the day wore on.  And suddenly she was there in my head.  A little girl, holding an umbrella, running in the rain…, laughing.  You may remember her from And we begin…, running, laughing, umbrella in hand.  She was there in my head, reminding me how to celebrate a rainy day.

Then I began to think of all the children, my own two and beyond, who have been my teachers.  Children who showed me how to call it what it is, including the elephants in the living room.  Kids who showed me how to be honest when I’m afraid, to try something new when I’m uncertain, to laugh at myself, to push through a hard task. Kids of all ages who have shown me what generosity, tolerance, and empathy look like.  I spent a cold, wet, dreary day smiling with gratitude each time I thought of the kids who have taught me.  Glad that teaching and learning live on a two way street.  Determined to be an authentic teacher and a good student.

“Kids:  they dance before they learn there is anything that isn’t music.”
                                                                                             ~ William Stafford

7 Comments leave one →
  1. January 11, 2012 2:38 am


    Excellent post! It is vital for me as a mom to remember that my son watches listens sponges it all in. All of it. As a new teen I find that his level of attention to verbal leading is proportionate to the level of testosterone in his body at the moment. that is when leading by action abbé silence take over.

    *sigh* this is HARD! But 100% worth it

    Thanks for the clear reminder of the ways we reach our kids.

    Peace, Jen

    • January 11, 2012 9:30 am

      Thank you, Jen. I value your feedback. I can just imagine delightful exchanges between you and your son. I know he will appreciate your authenticity, candor, and willingness to explore. If not during adolescence, when he heads into adulthood.

      Sometimes I get to hear all the ways kids love, appreciate, and look up to their parents,…because I’m not their parent. It helps when we learn to read between and beyond the behaviors and the words, to the real meaning. The hard part is sometimes the words and actions taken at face value are the opposite of the meaning. Sort of like a film negative. I may have to write about that one. 🙂

      Peace to you too, Paulann

  2. January 12, 2012 2:11 pm

    We spend too much time corrected young children, when there is truly much that we can learn from them in turn. They have a pure and sweet view of the world. If we all embraced that little kindergartner inside of us the world would be a better place.

    • January 12, 2012 5:34 pm

      Thanks for commenting, Andrea. My response is below. Just forgot to his “reply” before typing. The technology process sometimes…ugh. ~ Paulann

  3. January 12, 2012 5:32 pm

    Agreed. The children in our lives can be a doorway back to our own innocence, if we’re willing to step across the threshold. ~ Paulann

  4. January 14, 2012 5:48 pm


    It is with great pleasure that I hand off the Candle Lighter Award to you!

    Please see this post for details:

    Peace, Jen

    • January 14, 2012 9:30 pm

      Jen, thank you for your gift of the Candle Lighter Award. It means a lot that you think the GrowthLines blog worthy. I look forward to sharing the Candle Lighter with other writers and poets at a time when we will be celebrating the light that Martin Luther King and the civil rights movement brought to our country. Thank you again. I am excited about passing the award on to others.

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