Big Sister Tattling

Big Sister Tattling

Language of Listening® is a different way of speaking and thinking. It's a coaching language that takes you out of the role of managing your children's behavior, and puts you on their side as their life coach—letting them solve their own problems and helping them see their hidden STRENGTHs, so they can manage their own behavior.

Here's a Q&A dialog I had with a mom (8-mo twins, 3 YO, 5 YO) who just read SAY WHAT YOU SEE® for the first time and was feeling a bit overwhelmed. It might hold some answers for you, too.



I've been trying to say what I see, my brain hurts. I just sat down last night and read the whole book. It is so good. So on point. I kept tearing up thinking if I had been given the chance growing up to have those responses how different I'd feel.


I've been implementing them today, starting with saying what I see. It's so simple and so effective and so tough at the same time. My brain is literally exhausted from all the thinking. I truly haven't gone more than a couple minutes today without "saying what I see." My kids are responding.


There are a few things that I haven't figured out. My 5 YO daughter won't stop talking. My son is nearly 3, and my daughter thinks it's her job to make sure that I know every. single. thing. he does and what he was thinking and doing when it happened and what she was doing and why she was doing it.


For instance, we were all in the bedroom and 3 YO was playing with the fan. I said, "You're playing with the fan, that's not OK." He responded quickly and right away with OK and went to play with something else.


My 5 YO then started telling me that he was touching the fan and moving it up and down and she was standing next to him and he was doing it earlier too and on and on. I waited for her to be done and said, "Yes, I know he was moving the fan. I talked to him, and it's done" She then screamed and continued on a longer tangent explaining to me all the things about the fan.


This happens every time my son does something. If she does something, she responds right away to the "say what I see." I've tried to explain to her that it's important that I deal with her brother, and she doesn't need to tattle or tell me all the things, especially when I'm standing there watching it happen with her.


I’ve tried so many different phrase combos and nothing seems to be getting through. I'm tired. She interrupts me and speaks louder to try to get her point across.


I also am not sure what you recommend for misbehavior. Do you recommend discipline in conjunction with SAY WHAT YOU SEE? I'm just curious. Thank you so much. Any direction would be greatly helpful!


Also, do you offer bulk discounts for purchasing your book? I wish I could buy one for everyone I know! 


Elizabeth, you are taking on a lot trying to use SAY WHAT YOU SEE (SWYS) all the time on your first day!!! I can see why your brain hurts! You’re trying to change a lifetime of habits and learn a new language at the same time! That's fortitude!

It's easier if you pace yourself and do most of your practice in the easy moments when you are just noticing what your kids are doing, and not needing to set a boundary. You'll see STRENGTHs more easily that way, which can be a big help when it comes to setting boundaries.

When SWYS feels more natural, a boundary like the one you set, "You're playing with the fan. That's not OK," is a great place to start. Then, in moments of greater resistance, try adding STRENGTHS before your boundary, as in:

SWYS: "You're playing with the fan."

STRENGTH: "You know how it works."

SWYS: "You want to change where it's pointing to show me, and that's not OK with me."

CAN DO: "Hmm. Must be something you can do to show me how another thing works. The light switch! I bet you know how that works..."

In boundary-setting, adding STRENGTHs can help meet the child's need for power and connection all at once. You can start with what the child is doing, then be sure to add what the child WANTS. That helps kids feel more deeply understood and more willing to cooperate because what they want is what matters most to them. It also allows you to step onto their side more easily, and conspire WITH them as they figure out what they can do to get what they want INSIDE YOUR BOUNDARY.

I use no punishment or imposed consequences, if that is what you mean by discipline. Since those are primarily behavior management tools that stick you in the role of managing kids' behavior, I structure successes instead, so children learn to manage their own behavior out of pride in self, self-control, generosity, etc. My blog posts on Success Training will show you what I mean.

And very quickly, here's one reason why your daughter might have been so desperate for you to hear everything her brother did wrong, at least in the fan incident. If you used traditional parenting methods of correction and discipline with her, she will expect you to do the same with him, and be really confused when you don't.

One older child voiced it this way, "How come you always yelled at me, but he NEVER gets in trouble?" Your daughter may not be voicing it yet, but she probably feels like it's not fair that you don't treat him the same as you did her, so she's trying to show you why you should. Make sense?

So although what you said to her, "Yes, I know he was moving the fan. I talked to him, and it's done," was true and objective and remarkably calm given how frustrated you must have been by then, it still misses her point. She didn't care if it was done. She wasn't trying to stop him; she just wanted things to be fair.

And more than that, she probably wanted you to tell her that she was right that those things were wrong, because she probably prides herself on knowing what's right and wrong in your home, having learned those lessons the hard way...which explains her exasperation when she couldn't get you to see that.

Adding validation of her intention (SWYS thinking) might sound like this:

SWYS: "You want me to know you know all those things he did were wrong. You try hard to do things right, and you think he should, too."

Then if you are ready for it, or in a separate conversation with her at bedtime, you might say more about the deeper concern she is likely to have:

SWYS: "You might wonder why I don't get as angry at your brother as I did at you when you did something wrong at his age. That can't seem very fair to you..."

See what she says, then validate how she feels about that, and tell her in simple terms that you are trying to learn a kinder way to be a parent that you hope will work better for you all. You can add that it's hard to change old habits, and it may take you a while, but you'll keep trying.

Tell her that she can help you by pointing out the things that she and her brother do right, since she's an expert in that. You can even call her a "right-spotter." Kids love titles like that, and it can help shift her and your focus toward finding STRENGTHs. ("Danger-spotter" is another empowering title that worried/fearful kids love. It makes a huge and instant difference in how they feel about themselves.)

If you haven't watched my workshop videos in the Online Training Center, I recommend you sign up. It includes a Mini-eCourse to help walk you through the workshop with lots of great tips which come to you every 3 days for about a month.

Let me know if this helps. You certainly recognized the power of Language of Listening right away. Your determination to use it demonstrates a strong commitment to raising kids who feel good about themselves. You inspire me!

This is the link to buy the SAY WHAT YOU SEE® handbook in bulk.


Wow, thank you SO much for responding so thoroughly! I so much appreciate all your insight and look forward to having that talk with my daughter, that makes a lot of sense. She does have a strong sense of fairness.


I will look into that class. Thank you again so much. It's truly amazing how quickly they're responding to it. They keep looking at me like, "And?" I'll try to ease myself in better, too.


Glad to help, and glad to hear you will take care of yourself in the process.

Here's a bit more coaching on how to meet that "And?" Stop and think what it's telling you, and say that. Or add another SWYS statement that points toward the child's STRENGTHs like, "YOU NOTICED I'm doing something different," or "Yep. There I go again, talking differently," or "Looks like you're wondering why I said that. I'm just noticing what you are doing, and I'm seeing new things like... (add a STRENGTH like: "how interested you are in that," or "how you like to do things the right way," or "how careful you are," or "how you really know what you want/need," or "how you already know what to do," etc.).

Or skip the part about you and just respond by going straight to the child's STRENGTHs. Practice SWYS enough, and you will become a "right-spotter," too!

I hope SWYS gets to be more and more fun for you as you see their little faces light up over and over. Kids learn the rules very quickly and especially when you change toward something they like, they are a bit suspicious at first, not really sure what you are up to, if it will last, or even what to do without your constant direction.

When transitioning from traditional parenting methods, it takes time to build their trust so they know that you are really on their side to help them shine, not to control them.


Wow, I didn't expect another response! Every time you say something it makes me choke up, that's why I know it's going to work! You are so on point!

I love that you clarified that "and." I truly didn't know what to make of it. It truly is a different language and way of thinking. My husband's totally on board, too. I'm so excited, I think it's really going to help with my daughter's lying as well.


Very glad to hear your husband likes it, too. Yes, lying stops when kids can say what they want and know you will be on their side, and when parents' communication with them becomes more authentic, which is what SWYS does!


Your advice was good. I had a talk with my daughter today, and she told me that she wants to tell me everything her brother is doing so I know he's not being safe cause it's her job to keep him safe.


I explained that's my job and her job is love him and lead by example. She seemed to really connect with that. Fingers crossed.


Aww! She thought it was her job to keep him safe. That is so loving in itself (STRENGTH). You took the burden of responsibility off of her, and with your clarification gave her a more appropriate role. That's got to feel good to you both. It sounds like she may be a danger-spotter already and proud of her super-power, so she will still want to use it.

You might want to help her find ways to point out danger that you like (CAN DOs), e.g. at cross-walks, in stores with breakables, etc. And be sure to point out related STRENGTHs a lot, like aware, observant, careful, etc. since those are the skills she is probably trying to master.

Part of what she was doing with her brother may have been practicing those skills for herself. Staying safe in the world is a big deal at her age when she is beginning to venture out on her own more and more. Thank you for the update!


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