Stay positive: It was just 5 minutes out of 390!

A teacher’s take on positive thoughts… 

and how kids let negative thoughts consume them!


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Don’t kids usually believe what we tell them? So, if you tell them that they had a terrible day at school, did boring work, weren’t allowed to be creative, were bullied or teased in the playground and got yelled at by their teacher, they’ll probably agree, wouldn’t they? If you tell them that their day was amazing, full of fun, great times playing with great friends and learnt cool new things, they’ll probably agree with that too, wouldn’t they?

I’m having this wondering following a conversation I had with a parent this week. Lucy’s* mother came into my office before school to tell me all about an ‘incident’ that happened at lunch time the day before. Long story short, her 6 year old daughter felt excluded from a game some of her friends were playing. Alarm bells rang in my head when the mother next told me, “We talked about it for half an hour… So that I could find out exactly what happened, if it’s happened in the past and what the other girls did and said…”

My reflex (and I’m glad I asked) was “Did Lucy tell you anything else about school yesterday?” “No”, said the mother.

You mean to tell me, that Lucy was at school for 6 ½ hours yesterday, and the only thing she told you about was the 5 minutes in which she felt unhappy… And you indulged her?

She was at school for 390 minutes; 385 were positive, 5 were not. And you spent half an hour talking about those 5 minutes?

Simple Math would tell me that by talking about 5 negative minutes for half an hour after school, that you then also spent 39 hours talking about the 385 minutes of positive experiences she had? No? Wait, you spent NO time talking about the positive aspects of her day?

It was just 5 minutes out of 390, and we’ve allowed that minor incident consume Lucy’s thoughts?

 Well, of course I didn’t actually SAY any of that, but I was certainly wishing I could have. Of course Lucy’s mother and I then spent 15 minutes talking about the incident; her telling me every detail 3rd hand. We discussed the usual where we can go from here, how we can work together to make sure Lucy has a positive lunch experience, etc. Apparently being excluded from the game had completely turned Lucy off school and she didn’t even want to come in today. I wonder why? Let’s not forget that Lucy has been sent the message that if just 5 minutes out of 390 are negative, then that’s what we focus on.

 Sadly, now the 5 minute incident has been given 30 minutes of air time at home and an extra 20 in my office, and still those other positive 385 minutes have received no mention. I wonder, as the parent in the situation, how might Lucy’s mother have approached this whole situation differently? When her daughter got home and inevitably told her about the lunch time incident, could the mother simply have said something along the lines of, “Oh well, these things happen, but next time you might try ___. Now, most importantly, tell me about your FAVOURITE part of the day!” Might this have totally changed Lucy’s perspective?

Here’s a Teachling Tip – Kids will inevitably tell you first, about the part of their day that they didn’t enjoy. This is because they are still developing their ’emotional filters’. They let negative thoughts consume them. The way adults respond can make all the difference. Next time your child tells you about a negative incident that happened to them, will you indulge them, or redirect their thoughts to the positive? Remember than the incident was probably just 5 minutes out of 390… It seems silly to pay too much attention to the negative.

–       Teachling

 More from Teachling:
A teacher’s take on independence and helicopter parents…
A teacher’s take on the jargon of explicit teaching…
A teacher’s take on “How Children Learn”…
A teacher’s take on self-help and parenting advice…
A teacher’s take on blogs…

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9 thoughts on “Stay positive: It was just 5 minutes out of 390!

  1. Just a note that I’m talking in this post about those ‘minor’ incidents that kids tell us about every day. You know… He took my ball, She touched my hat, He said I was a bum head, She said that I wasn’t allowed to be the doggie and that I had to be the baby! Don’t get me wrong. If a child is being bullied, then something needs to be done about it. I’m not advocating simply ignoring or supressing negative feelings. ‘Re-directing’ children toward positive thoughts is at your discretion.

    I might sound like I am on a bit of a rant with this post, but this comes the week after I arrived back from camp with some middle school students. After a whole week away, I am saying my goodbyes to students, being thanked by parents, when a parent comes up to me… “My son tells me that another boy threw a ball at his head”. Seriously? 4 nights away from home, all of those wonderful once-in-a-lifetime camp experiences; the first thing your son tells you is that he was hit on the head with a ball, and you choose to make a big deal out of it? Again, what message are you sending your child?

  2. I love your post. What great advice it is. For all of us – not just for the children. Sometimes it is easier to focus on one negative event as it stands out from all the other wonderful things that we tend to take for granted. I agree that instances of bullying need to be responded to and dealt with promptly and efficiently, but I think the term “bullying” is grossly over-used at present when describing, as you say, a minor and isolated incident. Children need to develop resilience in order to stay strong when life’s offerings are not always to one’s liking. Some instances need to be brushed off with an “Oh well. That’s life,” and others need to be dealt with in more detail. The ability to distinguish between these is important for happiness in life, as is developing a positive approach.

    • Hi there, Yes I agree that ‘bullying’ is over used. It also means that sometimes, if we have those children (and parents) that are always, dare I say, COMPLAINING, when something more serious does happen it might be brushed off – the boy who cried wolf. It’s a hard task for us teachers to ‘filter’ such incidents, whilst also trying to remind everyone that school is actually a fun, happy, friendly place 95% of the time!

  3. I want to print this out and send it home to some of my parents! I am working so hard on emphasizing the positives in my classroom and it so frustrating when that work gets undone at home. I would love to get an email from a parent about how excited a student was about something, rather than a complaint about something that is so minor in the scope of the day. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this — I’m glad I’m not the only one feeling this way!

    • Yes, I completely agree regarding communication from parents. How rarely do parents email or speak to us just to say “Just letting you know Jim loved writing his story today”, “Sue’s really excited about the projects you’re about to start”. Plus we all probably have a few parents that we never see or hear from until they have a complaint. I’ve begun, as the last thing that happens at the end of the day as students are leaving and saying bye to me, they need to tell me their favourite part/s of their day and promise to relay that to their families! Hopefully that way at least if they do inevitably tell their parents about the negatives, a positive moment or 2 will have also made it home.

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