Welcome to our new Growing Children blogger, 4C Professional Development Specialist Merideth Burton. Below is her first post.
People enter the field of early childhood for different reasons. Some of us are here because we had wonderful experiences as young children. We had inspiring, caring teachers that we remember fondly, and we want to pass those same experiences on to the next generation. Some of us are here because we weren’t quite sure what we wanted to be when we grew up. We may have tried other professions, but through different paths we ended up working in an early education setting – and we discovered we loved it. Some of us are here because our early years weren’t ideal at all, and we wanted to break that cycle by giving something back, by doing whatever we could to be a positive influence in the lives of young children.
Regardless of the reasons we are drawn to this field, we all have one thing in common—we see the bigger picture. We see a world often full of violence and unrest, and we understand the influence we can have on our youngest citizens. We know that we can “be the change we want to see in the world” by contributing positively to the growth and development of young children. We realize the future lies in their hands, and it’s our very important job to give them the tools they need to shape it for the better.
We do everything in our power to create a stable, positive environment for the children in our care so they can feel respected, safe and loved when they enter our classrooms. But, the reality is, we don’t have complete control. The negativity that exists in the world creeps in through television, through social media, through the experiences and the environments that the children in our care are exposed to once they walk out our doors.
How do we combat this? How do we help children process what they see and hear when they’re out in the world that may be unsettling or frightening to them? Though their exposure to these things is sometimes beyond our control, here are some ways we can help them deal with what they are seeing, hearing and most importantly, feeling:
- Limit exposure to media outlets where children may come into contact with violent or disturbing images/sounds such as newscasts, social media postings, violent TV shows or movies.
- Be mindful of what you say when little ears are around. Try to avoid discussing these events with other adults, or having telephone conversations, within earshot of young children.
- If children want to express what they see/hear/feel, let them. However they feel the need to do this, as long as they are not hurting others, is okay. They may want to talk, or be silent. They may cry, they may scream. If they’re feeling big emotions, they need an outlet for them in a place where they can feel safe.
- Help children find the words to name and express their feelings. Use “feeling” words like “sad,” “mad,” “scared,” “nervous” or “frustrated” in your discussions. Let children know that it’s okay for them to feel that way.
- Listen to what children say, without judgment, and respond with words they can understand. Answer their questions, but avoid going into too much detail that can create anxiety.
- Provide them with creative outlets such as drawing, painting, and dancing. If a child wants to share what they create with you, give them your undivided attention and ask open-ended questions: “Tell me about your drawing.” “What’s happening in your painting?”
- Share your observations about the child’s feelings/actions with his/her family. You can collaborate on what the best course of action may be for supporting the child through processing their emotions.
On the morning of September 11, 2001, I was cleaning up from morning snack with my classroom of toddlers, getting ready to go outside to the playground at our school in downtown Washington, D.C. The events that occurred that day, and the behaviors and emotions of the children in my class that appeared in the following weeks and months, are things I will never forget. I witnessed children as young as 18 months become more anxious and fearful at morning drop off. I observed children using toy airplanes to crash into block towers. I heard children talk to each other about the “fire on the buildings.” Even as I was dealing with my own emotions surrounding 9/11, I knew it was my responsibility to continue to provide the nurturing, consistent classroom environment they had come to know. We played together, we talked together, sometimes we even cried together. We got through it together.