Words that work to build strength in children by Dr. Fun

Wisdom from Dr. Lyelle Palmer

Illustration from Furry The Penguin The Little Penguins that Could

Children will typically flock to an adult who understands the nature of this situation and who encourages challenge and expressive fun. I am so excited to feature the world of Dr. “Fun” Lyelle Palmer.

Use language to build your child’s strength of character. Words to share with our children to create excitement and encouragement?

By Lyelle Palmer, PhD “Dr. Fun”

Children consider playground activities “circus performances” and they hunger for recognition.

Goal: Children are encouraged to work out on the playground equipment by the presence of an adult.

The greatest luxury of a child is to have an adult who will watch the performance with full attention. By full attention, we mean that the adult is looking and commenting to the children, rather than reading, talking to another adult, or being distracted or absorbed by internal thoughts unrelated to the children. “Being present to the children” is another way of describing this full attention condition. Adults should verbalize action or use emotional sounds or exclamations in order to intensify the experiences. For many students, the activities introduced at school will be a first experience and the only opportunity for participation.

Here are some verbal tools for adults to use in interacting with SMART children.

Voicing Emotion:

  • Wheeeeeee! (sliding/flipping)
  • Zoom! Zip! (intoned during action)
  • Boom! Bump! Ka-Boom! Splat! (Intensifying the experience)

Being Impressed (Rewarding the experience)

  • Wow!
  • Amazing!
  • You did it!

Giving Attention: (Rewarding the experience)

  • Look at you.
  • I see you.
  • Hello, (name)

Naming Experience: (Rewarding specific activity)

  • You are hanging upside down.
  • You are swinging high.
  • You are climbing up and up.


  • I see you swinging.
  • Look at you flip on the bar.
  • Hello, upside down.
  • I see you hanging upside down.

Rewarding desired action: (Attention reward)

  • You are locking your feet under the bar.
  • I see you keeping your feet on the board.
  • You are tying your shoes.
  • Good job. Give me five!

Redirecting: (Diverting attention to desired action)

  • Now I want to see how you jump rope.
  • Now it is time to use the overhead ladder.
  • Everyone is hanging. That must be fun.

Meeting Resistance: (Reversing opposition)

  • I’ll bet you can’t hang upside down.
  • You’ll really fool me if you can jump rope.
  • Don’t let me catch you doing flips.
  • You will never be able to…

Voicing limits: (Objective/non-personal control)

  • Bars are not for jumping from.
  • Gravel is not for throwing.
  • We give others a chance to swing.
  • Children are not for hitting.

Alerting to Time:   (Avoiding unpleasant surprises)

  • We go to class in three minutes.
  • You have five/two minutes left.
  • Now it is time to do flips.

Suggesting:   (Linking positive emotion to future expectation)

  • You will want to do this again and again.
  • You will hardly be able to wait to come back here.
  • You will feel so proud to tell __ about your flips.

Reminding of Skill: (Picturing past success, linking to positive emotion)

  • I remember how you flipped yesterday.
  • You are getting stronger/bigger/faster.
  • You like to see the world upside down.

Reflecting Emotions:    (Naming emotion experienced, instant rapport)

  • It’s a bit frightening to do this the first time.
  • It’s exciting to finally be able to do it.
  • It is maddening when that happens.
  • It is scary to think it might happen again.
  • You are really proud of yourself.
  • You are having a happy time.

Reminding of Rules:  (Objective reminder/refocus)

  • Remember the rule: use both hands.
  • Our rule tells us to always line up one by one.
  • Take turns is our rule

Published by jodeekulp

Jodee Kulp, is an award-winning author, producer and advocate who works tirelessly to serve children and families of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD). Her behavioral work in understanding canine fear and applying it to helping adults gain life skills is momumental and parallels our work with EAGALA Equine Therapy. It will be exciting to watch this progress. - Chris Troutt, Papillion Center Current Projects include: Pearlz Work Embraced Movement PraiseMoves LIFT (Laughter in Fitness Training) LiveAbilities Red Shoes Rock. Stop FASD PawZup Life Stories

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