A farmer had some puppies he needed to sell. As he was putting the sign ‘Puppies for sale’, he felt a tug and looked down into the eyes of a little boy.

“I want to buy one of your puppies. “, said the boy.

“Sure,” said the farmer, and with that he let out a whistle.

Out from the doghouse ran the mother followed by four little puppies. The little boy’s eyes danced with delight.

As these puppies made their way to the fence, the little boy noticed another little one appear, this one noticeably smaller. Down the ramp it slid. Then in a somewhat awkward manner this little pup began hobbling towards the others, doing its best to catch up….

“I want that one,” the little boy said, pointing to the runt.

The farmer knelt down at the boy’s side and said, “Son, you don’t want that puppy. He will never be able to run and play with you like these other dogs would. “With that the little boy stepped back from the fence, reached down, and began rolling up one leg of his trousers. In doing so he revealed a steel brace running down both sides of his leg attaching itself to a specially made shoe. Looking back up at the farmer, he said, “You see sir, I don’t run too well myself, and he will need someone who understands.”

A friend of mine once asked, “Who is a good teacher”? I said, “According to me, a good teacher is one who understands her children, just like an effective parent is one who understands her child”.

My friend was puzzled, “But doesn’t each mother understand her child”? Not necessarily and this is because we confuse understanding with ‘knowing’. Understanding is not the same as knowing. I remember long back, there was a little conflict between me and my mother and my mother said, “Who understands you better then me!” But I thought, she did not understand me at all – she only knew what I wanted and she knew what she wanted. And knowing is not the same as Understanding.

I can know how much is 3×4, but that does not mean that I understand what multiplication is. Knowing and understanding are very different. In knowing we are interested in question WHY? Why are you crying, why are you thinking like that, why are you not studying and so on.

But all of this is just trying to know what happened, know what the thinking of the child is; know what the child feelings are. We think once we get the answers to these questions we will be able to understand the child better. But really what we are getting is knowledge about the child (or the situation), and hence not surprisingly we end up in advising, giving solutions, or lecturing the child. This is definitely not understanding!

In understanding we are not trying to know the thoughts or feelings of the child. We are trying to make the child realize that there is somebody who is with you, who relates to your frame of mind, who accepts you first and foremost. If a child is SAD, I need not know why the child is sad. I possibly just need to sit with the child, hold his hand and simply be with the child till he feels better or wants to talk about it or deal with it in any which way he wants. I would give advise or solution only and only if he asks for it. When somebody understands you, that person is not trying to investigate you, not imposing her thoughts on you, but rather helping you explore your own thoughts and feelings and deal with them. That is what I would like to do to children!

If I understand the child, then I am NOT interested in ‘knowing’ WHY the child is feeling that way. I am only interested in understanding HOW the child is feeling. Isn’t that what is more important. The why is for the child to figure out, to look into inside his or her own self. I am only here to help the child look inside. Not do it for the child. This way I would possibly make the child emotionally strong and resourceful.

But more importantly for me, as a parent or a teacher, understanding the child leads to acceptance, to openness, to flexibility and to child centered approaches – all of which leads to effective teaching, parenting, learning and development of a resourceful child. So how do I understand the child, or give an understanding approach to the child.

I do this primarily through how I INTERACT with the child. Look at all your interactions as an archery target board with concentric circles:

The outermost circle is the least important – all the news, gossip, and events. What you did in school, what did you make, how many children were there, did you finish your tiffin box etc are purely anecdotal questions – they build least amount of understanding. The next circle is all about judgments, opinions, advice and commands.

In a restaurant, a mother told her children, “You decide what you want to have”. But as soon as her children starting blaring out their preferences she started her objections – that is too spicy, this is too large and so on. A lot of parenting happens at this level. No wonder children by age of five start judging things as boring, ugly, horrible etc. The worst part is that this kind of interaction is what we call as intellectual chatter – and mostly destructive – we get into put downs, criticisms of people and things etc.

The next circle is the LEARNING circle – the circle of ideas, creative or generative thinking, problem solving and decision making. In this circle we invite children to think, we respect their thoughts and encourage them to thaw out problems or explore their perspectives. We also make children reflect on their experiences and learn from them. We ask questions like “how we can make this better”? “How would you do this differently”? “What did we learn from this experience”? etc

At the bull’s eye is the circle of needs and feelings – of understanding. Here most interaction happens in the form of listening or being with the child. When we do talk, its usually an acknowledgement of feelings and the needs behind them. This is no need of negation, no discussion, no analysis – only acceptance and support. I am not suggesting that we can be all the time in the inner most circles. What I am suggesting is how much time I spend in each circle is important.

Here are some guidelines:


Chuck out the why – we are not interested in why the child is feeling whatever the child is feeling. Typically why is historic, it’s already happened, we really can’t change it now and even if we had an advice based on that data, it’s our advice (not child’s own idea).


We are interested in what the child is feeling – is he feeling big, or small or little or high or low and so on.
We are interested in how the child wants to move his or her life ahead. What are child’s thoughts and solutions.

Replace BECAUSE with SO

Instead of “I feel sad … because … mama is not there” ask the child to complete “I feel sad … so …”

“Because” is again backward looking – only makes us feel the feeling more. ‘So’ is forward looking, focuses the child to look at solutions, pushes thought into action and hence leads the child to the state of mind the child wants to move to. “I feel sad … so … I want to sit in your lap and cry”


Create a feeling board in your home (or try in your organization also). A place where anybody can write – how they are feeling, anytime. The board rules are: a) Nobody is allowed to question the emotions;

b) The owner of the emotions is allowed to rub or cancel the emotion anytime;

c) Others are allowed to write next to the emotion, something like “I care”, “I am with you,” “A listener is available” etc

d) ALL (so called positive and negative) emotions should be freely posted. All family members are encouraged (if required gently reminded) to post emotions on the board.

The best way to start is for parents to initiate the posting of THEIR feelings first.

Finally LISTEN; even better HOLD and LISTEN

We forget the most intimate sense is touch. Apart from with small children, we forget the amazing dimension of a HUG. Hold hands, hug, lock arms – anything. Get the tactile connection going and then let your ears give the child the emotional understanding he needs.

Remember emotional strength comes from a feeling of being understood. Also people who feel understood are able to give that emphatic response to others – making it a virtuous cycle. Millions of adults across the world are monetarily successful, but are unhappy because they are not understood and possibly lost their capacity to understand others.

There is a saying, ‘Its not the mountain ahead but the grain in your shoe which wears you down’.

Take off your shoes. But do not try to get into my shoes. Take yours off and sit beside me. No hurry. Just to be with me.