Horrified and upset, we stay glued to the news, grieving with the families and worrying about the safety of our own children. In the process we forget that they may be listening and watching, too.
We’re not bad people, we’re just concerned, but it’s important for us to remember that the news and young children don’t mix. The information and images are too frightening, too hard for them to process.
So let’s turn off our televisions and radios, our computers and cell phones, and try to put ourselves back together. Then we can focus on the children in our lives who depend on us to make them feel safe.
They have probably heard about this shooting or are at least aware that something terrible has happened. Let them ask questions and express their thoughts and fears. If we don’t allow them to do this, they get the message that we’re too scared to deal with the situation and they become even more frightened.
To find out what they know, ask open-ended questions and base your response on what they say. Let them know that it’s natural to be afraid and you’ll do everything you can to keep them safe.
Above all, spend time with them, listening, talking, reading, cuddling, and telling them that you love them.
For a helpful post on more we can do, see “Talking with Children about the Connecticut School Shooting” by Eileen Kennedy-Moore.
Challenging and aggressive behavior often seems to come out of nowhere, but the truth is that if you look carefully you can see it on the horizon–in the guise of anxiety.
Anxiety in a child is a kind of early warning system that something is amiss, whether it’s the result of being left out of a group, stress at home, exposure to violence, even autistic spectrum disorder.
It’s hard to notice in a busy classroom because it’s internal; it doesn’t usually show much, and it doesn’t affect anyone but the child himself. But anxiety interferes with a child’s ability to learn and interact with his peers, and it can easily escalate to agitation and aggression if it isn’t addressed. We will certainly notice it then.
Become Sherlock Holmes
To see anxiety, you have to become a detective. To begin with, you must build a close relationship with every child and get to know all the children well–their temperaments, developmental levels, play skills, families, and cultures; what frustrates and frightens them; what makes them happy, mad, or sad.
You also have to learn to read the subtle physiological and behavioral clues the children display as they try to cope with their anxiety. For example:
- Physiology. Tears, frequent urination, clenched teeth, blushing, pallor, rigidity, rapid breathing, sweating, fidgeting, vomiting, squeaky voice
- Behavior. Downcast eyes, withdrawing, hair twirling, thumb-sucking, sucking hair or clothes, biting fingernails, hoarding, clinging, whining, being noisy or quiet, screaming, masturbating, smirking, giggling, crying
Figuring out what the child is thinking and feeling will help, too.
- Thoughts. No one loves me; no one wants me; I’m no good; I don’t like it here; I don’t have any friends; no one will come to get me; I can’t do it; I’m bad; I want my mommy
- Feelings. Distressed, troubled, afraid, nervous, excited, expectant, sad, irritable, grouchy, mad, insecure, frustrated, worried, confused, panicky
When a child’s characteristic clues appear, it’s time to connect–to smile, to sit nearby, to offer your help, to ask open-ended questions.
Pay special attention to your body language, facial expression, and tone of voice, which all convey far more than your words. You’ll want to do whatever works for a particular child.
This tiny intervention delivered at just the right moment will save you tons of time and trouble later, and protect the child from learning that challenging behavior is the best way to solve problems.
PS. Many of these ideas come from the WEVAS program created by Neil Butchard and Robert Spencler. For more information go to www.wevas.net
I must admit that I find the NAEYC conference daunting: so many people, so many choices, so many lines.
This year Judy and I both made the trip. Our hotel was just a few blocks away from the conference center, and it didn’t take us long to figure out where to get breakfast and lunch without standing in line for hours.
Judy was amazed that although thousands of people attended—spread out in a variety of hotels and all converging at the conference center—we ran into almost every person we were hoping to see, in some cases more than once. We connected with friends and colleagues, old and new, while we were having coffee, while we were eating dinner, at our book signing in the exhibit hall, in workshops, in hallways, even in the bathroom. We felt like members of a gigantic family.
Nothing I Do Works
The conference kicked off for me at 8:30 on Wednesday morning with my pre-conference workshop, “Nothing I Do Works!”, designed to help educators understand both themselves and children with challenging behavior, build relationships, and prevent and respond to inappropriate behavior.
Although participants dribbled in slowly (those long coffee lines and a late night watching the election results didn’t help), by the time the technician figured out how to separate my speaker from the sound system in the room next door, almost every seat was taken.
Presenting to a large group always has its challenges, but this workshop went extremely well. Everyone seemed to be involved and interested, and there was a great deal of interaction among the participants. Clearly the people who showed up really wanted to be there (except perhaps for the person sitting right in front of me texting the entire time).
Despite the overwhelming number of options, Judy and I succeeded in choosing some terrific workshops. I had goose bumps for 90 minutes listening to Barbara Sorrels of the Institute for Childhood Education in Tulsa, OK, share her experiences working with children exposed to violence. We all need to think about how children’s behavior is often a reflection of the lives they live outside the classroom and how we can help them to feel safe and ready to learn.
I would also like to thank Dr. James Coplan, child psychiatrist and pediatric neurologist in Rosemont, PA, for his insights regarding children on the autism spectrum. Held in a very large but half-empty room, his session should have been filled to the rafters with folks who have kids with ASD in their groups or work with them in other settings. Coplan presented a wealth of clear and useful information that will help us to understand the needs and behaviors of children with autism and permit these children to participate more fully in classroom life.
The Culture Door
My conference experience ended with my presentation of “Opening the Culture Door” which examined the influence of culture—the child’s, the educator’s, and the school’s—on expectations and behavior.
Culture often holds the key to developing meaningful relationships: When we understand and appreciate the culture of the children and families we work with, they feel recognized and valued.
Once the workshop got started, it became a real opportunity for the participants to delve into their own culture and experience, which is crucial to understanding the culture of others. My job in facilitating these sessions is to create an environment where people feel comfortable enough to share their own stories. I think they did!
You can get the handout for “Nothing I Do Works!” here
You can get the handout for “Opening the Culture Door” here
If you have trouble with these links, you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
I hope you’ll join me for “Nothing I do works!” The importance of understanding, preventing, and responding effectively to challenging behavior,” which will help you to understand yourself and the child, build relationships, and prevent and manage inappropriate behavior (Wednesday, November 7, 8:30 to 11:30 a.m., Georgia World Congress Center, Room A412).
In “Opening the culture door: Creating a caring learning environment that respects and reflects the cultural values of all children,” we’ll examine the influence of culture—the child’s, the teacher’s, and the school’s—on behavior (Friday, November 9, 1:00 to 2:30 p.m., Georgia World Congress Center, Room A410).
Last but certainly not least, I’d love to meet you at Pearson Education’s “Meet the Author” event (Exhibit Hall booth #1320) on Thursday, November 8, 11:00 a.m. to noon.
We look forward to seeing you there!
In 2006 a group of experts came together to create a program for helping early childhood educators address challenging behavior. Initiated and funded by the Devereux Early Childhood Initiative (DECI) and based on our book, Challenging Behavior in Young Children , it was called “Facing the Challenge.”
I was excited to contribute to the development of the program’s three DVDs and later to collaborate with DECI trainer Karen Cairone, who also works on special projects, on a 2½-day training module that would teach others how to use these excellent materials. Since that time we have offered the Training of Trainers workshop to groups all over the U.S., and I have had the honor of presenting it with Karen, Rachel Sperry, and Nefertiti Bruce, who are all wonderful and inspiring presenters.
Last week, after Karen and I led a training session at the Devereux site in Villanova, PA, I smiled all the way home, through two planes and five hours’ worth of air and land travel.
What made this training so special? There were many factors, but perhaps the most important was the group itself. All the participants were mental health and early childhood development specialists who are also experienced trainers, and they work with teachers, children with and without disabilities, and migrant populations. Some live close enough to Villanova to get there by car; others flew in from the West Coast. All brought their enthusiasm, experience, sense of humor, and intelligence with them. I can proudly say that over the 2½ days I did not see a single droopy eyelid.
First Karen and I presented the program’s content, covering all eight modules of the “Facing the Challenge” DVDs, from “What Is Challenging Behavior?” to “Intervention Strategies.” We used the planned presentation notes, our own styles, and of course the DVDs’ video clips, which are so full of learning opportunities.
Then the participants dug into the material themselves, learning more about Power Point, timer slides, and embedding videos. They all seemed to enjoy making the material their own and presenting it to the group.
One small group invented a culture and language of their own (which they dubbed “WaWa”) to illustrate how families who come from a different culture and speak a different language often feel left out, especially if they have a child with challenging behavior.
Another small group had us pretend that a balloon was a child and charged us with keeping it afloat so that it would come to no harm. They enabled us to realize how our work with children requires a team with common goals.
Over our days together, we talked about how important it is to reflect upon the good, the bad, and the ugly so that we can learn from our successes as well as our mistakes. What this experience ultimately reinforced for me is that the more energy we put into an experience the more we get out of it.
I want to thank the members of the group for all their energy and for helping Karen and me to provide a training filled not only with useful content and materials but also with laughter.
PS. I wasn’t the only person invigorated by this training. I just received this note from participant Susan Pollack: “The October 10-12 training has been on my mind ever since the ride back to Virginia. I can honestly say that this was one of the best sessions I have attended in my more than 30 years in the early childhood field. I am looking forward to implementing the modules with my staff. Thank you for a wonderful experience. It was an honor to be a participant.”