The 5 A’s of the Heart

I recently overheard an interaction between a child care provider and the children in her toddler classroom that made me a little bit uneasy. The sounds of children crying were eclipsed by their teacher saying, “Those of you who are crying, go away. My friends who aren’t crying want to have circle time.”

In Lynn Staley’s Nurturing Positive Behaviors In Your Classroom, she states that “children need mentors more then they need critics.” This has always rung true for me. Too often I observe child care providers speaking at children but not with them, using language that does not guide positive behavior but condescends and devalues. While I feel it’s important to point out that lengthy circle time is not appropriate for 2-year-olds, what’s most important for me to note about this interaction was the lack of empathy in the child care provider’s statement and her tone.

According to the “5 A’s of the heart,” also discussed in Staley’s book, children need affirmation, attention, acceptance, affection and appreciation. All children deserve affirmation, to hear positive reinforcement and praise. Regardless of behaviors, each child has strengths that we should emphasize.

Children also need attention. Every child wants to know that their caregivers are happy to see them each morning. Sometimes children “act out” because they are desperately seeking attention, and even negative attention is attention! When you have many children in your care, it’s important to recognize and value each child.

My personal favorite is acceptance. All children need to feel accepted and not just by their friends, but by you, too! Children will react by mimicking your behavior, so remember that if you are constantly saying a child’s name or calling a child out for challenging behaviors, the other children may not include that child in play and may even tell that child that she is “bad.” I like to think of Staley here, too: “When we speak every child’s name with kindness and respect, it is the truest demonstration of our sincerity.”

Research has shown that warm, responsive touch positively influences a child’s development, so show them some affection! With the child’s permission offer high fives, hugs, lap sitting and other appropriate touching as much as possible. Remember that not every child welcomes touching, so when we ask we’re showing that child appreciation, too. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that children want to feel valued and appreciated. All people do.

Let’s be honest, anyone who has ever worked in a child care setting has experienced circle time like the one I described in the beginning. I know I have. However, the best professionals (in any field) want to learn from their mistakes and do better. If you’ve ever wanted to tell a crying toddler to “go away,” consider this: the “5 A’s of the heart” will help you to have a classroom that supports a child’s growing identity, shows each child how much you value them and are there to comfort them and will hopefully keep you from reaching a place where you feel you need to tell any child to “go away.”