Saturday, February 23, 2013

What Can I Say and Do Differently to Help Students Cope with Troubling Feelings and Reduce Negative Behaviors?

Essentials of Emotional Communication for Reaching the Unreachable Student:
Where Do I Start?
What Do I Say?
How Do I Do It?

Table of Contents
Introduction …..11

Part I: The Basics

Chapter 1: Understanding Emotional Communication- The Magic We Create with the Words We Say …..17

Emotional Language Within the Broader Context of Interpersonal Communication

Interpersonal Communication Principles

The Interaction Between the Verbal and the Nonverbal Messages

Chapter 2: The Role of Feelings in Emotional Communication …..27

Negative Feelings

Positive Feelings

Facts About Feelings

Table 2.1. Feelings List

Chapter 3: The Therapeutic Environment- Principles, Skills, and Steps …..35

Therapeutic Principles

The “Therapeutic Attitude”

The Therapeutic Process: Steps

Part II: Where Do I Start?

Chapter 4: Key Elements of a Therapeutic Interaction …..53

Reaching the Unreachable Child with Rapport

Guidelines to Develop Empathic Understanding and Rapport

Talking with a Distraught Child: Enhanced Interventions that Build On-the-Spot Rapport and Defuse Troubling Feelings

 Chapter 5: Therapeutic Listening …..67

Listening Levels

Listening Types

Obstacles to Effective Listening

Traveling to the Therapeutic Realm: Listening Skills that Ensure a Swift Journey






Table 5.1. Listening Therapeutically to Children

Chapter 6: The Role of Self in Emotional Communication …..85

Types of Self







Revealing Our Human Side: The Importance of Teacher’s Self-Disclosures

A Word of Caution About Self-Disclosure

Part III: What Do I Say?

Chapter 7: Fundamentals of Language- How Messages Work …..99

Actions We Perform with the Words We Say

Kinds of Statements

Kinds of Messages

Pure or Contaminated?

The Meaning in the Words We Hear

Linguistic Patterns that Prevent Us to Really Understand Each Other

Language Patterns that Limit the Positive Things Children Can Do

Language Patterns that Distort Reality

The Message Within the Message: Metamessages

Verbal Modifiers

Chapter 8: The Therapeutic Dialogue- Opening the Message …..127





More Guidelines

Chapter 9: The Therapeutic Dialogue- Facilitating the Message …..139







Chapter 10: The Therapeutic Dialogue- Making the Message Clear …..147


Checking Perceptions





Chapter 11: The Therapeutic Dialogue- Controlling the Message …..157





Chapter 12: The Therapeutic Dialogue- Deepening the Message …..163



Using Observational Cues

Getting Deeper Meaning

Decoding the Feeling


Finding Patterns


Reframing and Interpretations are Two Sides of the Same Coin

Chapter 13: The Therapeutic Dialogue- Going Even Deeper with Transformative Questions …..177


Probing Questions: Hargie’s List

Clarification Probes

Justification Probes

Relevance Probes

Exemplification Probes

Extension Probes

Open-Ended Probes

Accuracy Probes

Restatement Probes

Echo Probes

Consensus Probes

Clearinghouse Probes

Asking Transformative Questions: Paul’s Taxonomy

Questions of Clarification

Questions that Probe Assumptions

Questions that Probe Reasons and Evidence

Questions About Viewpoints or Perspectives

Questions that Probe Implications and Consequences

Chapter 14: The Therapeutic Dialogue- Resolving Discrepancies …..191


Albert Ellis and the A-B-C Model of Emotions


Disputing Irrational Thinking


Related Techniques



Chapter 15: The Therapeutic Dialogue- Shifting the Message …..205



Persuasive Techniques

Part IV: How Do I Do It?

Chapter 16: Summoning to Action Part 1- Social Problem-Solving …..225

Some Basic Principles

How Social or Interactional Problems Start

What is Social Problem-Solving?

How to Teach Social Problem-Solving

The Social Problem-Solving Model

Tips for Teaching Social Problem-Solving

Chapter 17: Summoning to Action Part 2- The Supportive Style …..243

The Supportive Style: Outlining the Steps

When Teachers and Students Disagree: Keeping Power Struggles Out of the Interaction

Chapter 18: Child Guidance Techniques …..279

Child Guidance Techniques

Taking Responsibility

Using Choice Language

Teaching Relative Reasoning

Making it Solvable

Breaking it Down

Making the New Behavior Relevant

Distancing the Student from the Disruptive Behavior

Externalizing the Behavior

Making the Angry Feeling Identity Incongruent

Making the Angry Feeling Goal Incongruent

Normalizing the Behavior

Minimizing the Problem

Using Strategic Language

Using the Language of Change

Using Tentative Language

Reframing the Student’s Perception of the Problem


Role-Playing the Behavior


Reflecting on What the Student Says

Translating the Feeling


Reversing the Feeling

Developing Hypotheses

Checking Perceptions

Structuring the Student’s Thinking

Challenging the Student

Confronting the Student

Decoding the Behavior

Teaching Self-Decoding

Making the Troubling Feeling Less Intense or Hostile

Increasing the Child’s Ability to Analyze Behavior

Using Self-Disclosures

Eliciting from the Student Ideas and Suggestions for Changing Behavior

Training the Student to Analyze Own Thoughts

Questioning the Student

Teaching Alternative Behaviors

Teaching Students to Talk Descriptively

The Doubling Technique

The Solution-Focused Approach

Identifying Exceptions

Trying Something Really Different

Role-Playing New and Improved Behaviors

References …..305

About the Author …..309


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Thursday, February 7, 2013

The Messages We Send to Children in the Words We Say- Part 3: More About Verbal Modifiers

In today’s challenging schools, we need strong classroom management skills and strategies just to keep our classrooms operational. The better we communicate to students our rules, goals, and expectations—both for behavior and academics-- the better our management of behavior, including behavior that seems not conducive to learning. On the other hand, unspoken or misunderstood rules, goals, and expectations are an important contributor in classroom behavior difficulties. Clear communication then, is the key that opens the door to successful classroom management. Teachers that are good communicators are able to keep their students focused on goals and engaged in achieving their individual goals. Quoting Karns (1994), (good communicators) “come from a caring—not a scaring place” (p.17). Good communication skills are also revealed in the way teachers approach social problem-solving. Conversely, teachers that do not communicate well are at a disadvantage in the handling of important social or interactional issues, which translates into a bigger than expected share of classroom interpersonal conflict (student-to-student and/or teacher-to-student). Just by ignoring interpersonal problems we are not going to make the conflict go away. Ignored or mishandled, interactional issues almost invariably find their expression in misbehavior. And the more is ignored or mishandled, the faster the interactional conflict spins out of control.

 When we do not express our ideas, thoughts, and opinions clearly and assertively, our message weakens substantially. Similarly, when our message lacks clarity, we certainly are not going to communicate what we intended to communicate. A message lacking in clarity is the same message lacking in influential value or influential power; simply put, when we fail to communicate positive behavior to children, we fail to influence positive behavior in children. The good news is that the power to influence positive and constructive changes in children’s behavior was always within reach, lying in the kinds of messages we deliver to children. Rooted in this fundamental communicative and psycho-educational principle, the starting point in influencing positive and permanent changes in children’s behaviors is by us making positive and permanent changes both in the way we communicate how we feel about those behaviors and in the way we communicate what we expect done about those behaviors. In other words, we need to make long-term changes in the way we talk to children.

Good communication is a skill, like swimming or learning the long division algorithm; with practice and perseverance, we learn how to perform the skill, and after more focused practice, we are in the path of improving the skill. Like any other skill, interpersonal communication is best learned when we sub-divide it in elements or components that we learn to master in shorter and easier steps. On this blog post, I expand on the role of verbal modifiers or verbal qualifiers in changing message meaning. A verbal modifier is a word or a phrase in the sentence that restricts the meaning of the other words in the statement, most specifically, indicating how absolute, generalized, or certain the whole message is delivered. In close partnership with the tone of our voice, verbal modifiers are a main contributor in shifting all kinds of messages in either a positive or a negative direction. Some examples:

1.    I know you tried your best (certainty and positive) - You tried your best, I guess (doubt and less positive).

2.    I know you are capable (certainty and positive) - I guess you are capable (doubt and less positive) - You are capable, I guess (implying lack of capability and negative).

3.    Of course, you can do this (certainty and positive) - I think you can do this (doubt and less positive).

Additional examples:  

v You sure have a potty mouth! (Certainty.)

v You were just minding your own business. (Using a qualifier of relative quality to create doubt.)

v Naturally, you had to curse! (Certainty; presupposing that cursing is something the child does all the time.)

v Are you still angry? (Using a qualifier of time to create certainty. Presupposing that the child was already angry.)

v Supposedly, you were minding your own business. (Doubt; strongly indicating that we did not believe what the child said.)

v You boys certainly know how to disrupt this class! (Certainty.)

v If you could only listen! (Certainty and generalization; presupposing that the child is not listening. Also that, at the very least, the child needs to listen. Could is considered a qualifier of possibility: listening is possible and probable.)

v You must chill out! (Certainty about the child being out of control. This is also a qualifier of necessity: something needs to be done.)

v Now, what do you want? (Using a qualifier of time to generalize: the child wanted things before and I’m losing my patience.)

v Here you go again! (Using a qualifier of time to create certainty: what the child is doing, she does it repeatedly.)


Karns, M. (1994). How to create positive relationships with students: A handbook of group activities and teaching strategies. Champaign, IL: Research Press.

Related Blog Posts…

The Messages We Send to Children in the Words We Say- Part 1: Presuppositions. To read this blog post, click here.

The Messages We Send to Children in the Words We Say- Part 2: Verbal Modifiers. To read this blog post, click here.

Related Readings…

Watch Your Language! Ways of Talking and Interacting with Students that Crack the Behavior Code. To preview this book on Amazon, click here.

Essentials of Emotional Communication for Reaching the Unreachable Student: Where Do I Start? What Do I Say? How Do I Do It? To preview this book on Amazon, click here.

All Behavior is Communication: How to Give Feedback, Criticism, and Corrections that Improve Behavior. To preview this book on Amazon, click here.

Keeping the Peace: Managing Students in Conflict Using the Social Problem-Solving Approach. To preview this book on Amazon, click here.

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