Author Archives: Christine Fields

Your words matter!

“Come sit next to me. I promise I won’t bite.” My first thought is, that’s a possibility?!? I know the adult was joking and trying to be silly, but this is a great prompt for us to think about our language. Young children have a difficult time understanding sarcasm and abstract concepts. To the adult, biting the child isn’t an option. That would never happen. She was being funny. To the child, though, the thought of, “Oh my goodness, she may not bite me now but what about later?” may pop in his head.

The importance of specific directions and feedback.

Here’s another one: “Come here, I need to change your bottom.” What else do we change on children? We change their clothes. What does that mean? We take off the clothes they are currently wearing, put them in the dirty laundry, and put different clothes on the child. We change shoes. The child takes the current shoes off and puts on a whole new pair of shoes. When the child hears the word ‘change’ the picture of taking off the current and putting the new on may pop in her head. Why would it be different with their bottom? The adult is using the same words.

“Do you want me to put on your arms?” This was overheard during an art project. The adult was asking the child if she needed help attaching the paper (arms) to the paper. Were they the children’s arms? No. They were pieces of paper.

Why am I even writing about something so silly? Does it really matter what words we use with children? Well, it makes a huge difference. Sometimes it’s the difference between a child understanding directions versus not. An example of this is telling a child to sit on their bottom. We tell children to sit on their bottoms in their chairs, right? When we introduce wheeled toys (tricycle, ride-upons), we tell children to sit on their bottoms. How do we teach them to sit on their bottoms in chairs? We put the chair behind them and tell them to sit down by bending their knees. The chair typically stays stationary and they can sit. What about a tricycle? We tell the child to sit down on their bottom. They go over to the tricycle, put it behind them, bend their knees, and fall to the floor because the tricycle rolled away. To sit on a tricycle, you have to swing a leg over. You may still put your bottom in the seat, but to accomplish that, you have to take different steps.

As adults, we have the life experiences to adjust our thinking or approaches to new material. As adults, we can joke about being bitten because we know it socially unacceptable for adults to bite others. Young children do not have those life experiences yet. Young children are still building their vocabulary. To help these young children understand new concepts, adults need to use language specific to the situation. Instead of saying we need to change the child’s bottom, we can say what we are specifically going to do. “Your diaper needs to be changed.” We aren’t changing the bottom, we are changing the diaper. If a child is having a difficult time joining in an activity, instead of saying we won’t bite the child, we can give alternatives to the activity. “It looks like you are not interested in this activity right now. I see you looking at the dolls. You can pick up a doll if you want.”

As educators, we are told when there is an unacceptable behavior; tell the child what we expect. Instead of saying, “Don’t run” we are instructed to say, “Use your walking feet.” I believe this practice should be used in more situations than just redirection. We should always be telling children what we are doing and what to expect. It’s respectful to the child and ultimately makes our days so much more successful.

It is a part of my story but I am not it.

I had cancer. Cancer has become a part of my life story. In August I celebrated a year since diagnosis, surgery, and eradication of my cancer. I celebrated with approximately 80 of my friends who have supported me and my family over the last year. I have the most amazing support system. They are still supporting me, even after my treatments are done and I’m back to my old self. Cancer is a part of my story, but it is not what defines me. This has really been prevalent to me lately. Others who have gone through what I’ve been through can empathize with me. Some may feel pity. Some may feel anger about the disease as a whole.

Cancer is a part of my life story, but my life story also contains a loving family (pictured here with my husband, Jim), a job I enjoy, and a lot of other things!

Cancer is a part of my life story, but my story also contains a loving family (pictured here with my husband, Jim), and lots more!

I wonder what it’s like for children who get labeled as something. “He’s a boy. They behave like that.” “She’s a girl. Drama comes with the territory.” “He has ADHD. He can’t sit still, don’t expect him to.” “She will throw a fit if you make her clean up now.” Are we as adults, unintentionally labeling children which may be skewing our expectations of them? We receive what we perceive. If we think that child is going to throw a fit, she will. If we expect the child to not sit still, he won’t. Labels impact children not only in the present time, but in future as well. How many adults have given the child’s next teacher a “heads up” about the child? When that child enters the classroom, there’s already a preconceived notion as to how that child is going to behave and how the adult is going to perceive the child.

Children’s behavior is a part of their story. It should not be what defines them. Behaviors are emotions to be understood. Children’s physical health is a part of their story. It shouldn’t be what defines them. Adults should be able to look at each child and treat each child as an individual. Treating children the same to be “fair” is not appropriate. That’s like saying anyone who has cancer gets the same treatment because it’s cancer when in reality, there are many different treatment regimens for the many different types of cancer.

Children are building their stories. It’s important we value the story they are working on and add positive chapters to their growing story.

The family/child care provider relationship is a partnership

“They don’t know my parents. They won’t take the time to fill this out.” I hear this statement over and over when speaking to programs regarding information needed from families. My response is typically, “I understand it seems like an insurmountable task to get paperwork from every family. What can you do to change this process or to help families complete what you need?” I know this isn’t what most providers want to hear but if the process isn’t working, it needs to be reassessed.

The family/child care provider relationship is a partnership

There are a few things that I process through with providers when this topic comes up. As far as learning about a child, asking the family for information is the best choice. The family is the child’s first teacher. The family is the expert on the child. We need to tap in to the family as a resource, not see the family as a barrier. I ask providers how they have educated the family on the importance of what is needed, whether it’s the Ages and Stages Questionnaire or a sign up sheet for a family picnic. There are times we need to market what we do to get “buy in” from families. We have to discuss the intentionality of what we are doing so others can understand.

I also ask providers to process their perspective of the families. We need to assume best intentions. Families are busy. Maybe they honestly forgot to submit the form. Maybe they misplaced it and are embarrassed to ask for another copy because you’ve already given them two. Maybe they do not understand what the document is asking. Assuming that the family is purposefully being difficult isn’t going to help meet the needs of the child.   I’m sure every parent remembers a time when someone had the wrong assumption about them. It doesn’t feel good when someone thinks something that isn’t true. We need to keep that in mind when thinking of the families we serve.

As I talk to providers about this, I typically finish our conversation with assuming best intentions not only when asking families for paperwork, but in every interaction. For me, this is hard, but it’s getting a bit easier (depending on the situation). We need to remember that families want what is best for their children. I’ve yet to meet a family that doesn’t want their child to be successful. As we are discussing the importance of our needs with families, we can approach with, “In order for me to help the children be successful, this is what I need from you.” Make the expectations realistic. Let families know what they can expect from you. It’s a partnership. I also try to keep in mind we receive what we perceive. If we go into conversation thinking it’s not going to be successful, it won’t be. Thinking the encounter is going to be productive before it even starts is a great beginning to a wonderful partnership to help children, families, and providers become successful.

How can we encourage children to be kind?

I recently spent two-and-a-half days at camp with my daughter’s sixth grade class. The experience was enjoyable and definitely schooled me on elementary age children. A comment another parent made has resonated with me and I am still ruminating over it. She stated, “One parenting component I think our society is missing is teaching children how to be kind. Some of the children just aren’t kind to each other, to the camp counselors, and to adults who are chaperones. Even if you don’t like a person, it’s essential to be kind to that person.”

In order to teach kindness to children, you need to model kindness

As I think about that, I can agree with it. I came in contact with children who ignored directions. Children who talked while the adult was talking. Children who watched someone drop a pencil and just walked on by without picking it up. Children who watched another child fall down without doing anything to help. In my brain I get respect and kindness intertwined. Although I think there are similarities, I also think they are different. We do kind acts with respect.

How can we encourage children to be kind? As adults, there are many things we can do in our personal and professional lives. While driving we can not scream at other vehicles. While in the grocery store we can push the cart on one side of the aisle instead of taking up the whole aisle. In school we can talk to children in a kind tone of voice. We can give children acceptable choices. While walking to the school bus with the children we can assist the child who needs a shoe tied. Are these things respectful? I believe so. I believe they are kind acts done in a respectful way.

We can point out the actions children are exhibiting that are kind. When we see Johnny give Elizabeth a tissue because she has a runny nose, we can say, “Johnny, I saw you gave Elizabeth a tissue. That was very kind.” When we see Sylvia walk around Monica’s block structure instead of walking through it, we can say, “Sylvia, you walked around the block area. I know Monica appreciated that!” When Bobby is struggling with his math homework and we see Elijah helping, we need to make sure we make a comment telling Elijah we noticed and how kind he was being.

During our camping trip, I was challenged significantly when children did not listen to my words. I was challenged when children talked while I was talking. I was challenged when after three miles of rafting; the children were still hitting oars while paddling. There were times when I was not kind. There were times when I blurted out, “Just listen!!!” When I calmed down, I had to remind myself that I needed to be kind. I needed to model kindness to the children. That’s not always easy to remember. For me, there are times I need to talk to children and either apologize for my words or to speak to them clearly about my expectations. I think it’s important for adults to acknowledge when they are wrong. There was one incident at camp when I was rude to a girl and needed to follow up with her regarding our interaction. It was so easy to spout the rudeness she was giving me right back at her. It was a little harder to apologize to her and say I was wrong about being rude and that I needed to be kind. It was even harder to be kind when her behavior did not change. Even though that behavior did not change, I still tried hard to be kind. No one deserves to be treated unkindly. How are you showing kindness to those you interact with?

“Why are you crying?”

Follow Darius with me for 24 hours. Mom wakes Darius up in the morning. The alarm clock didn’t go off so they are running late. Mom helps Darius put clothes on and get a pop tart for breakfast. Darius has to eat in the car.

There are many factors that can influence a child's emotional  health.

Upon arrival to child care, Mom reminds Darius that Grandma will be picking him up after school. Even though Darius loves his Grandma, he is upset because he hasn’t seen his Mom a lot lately. Darius starts to cry. Mom gets frustrated. Mom is thinking about getting to class, she’s late. She also has to go to work after class. She misses spending time with Darius. This school semester has been very stressful but it’s almost over.

Darius moves his arms and legs when Mom tries to get him out of the car seat. He hits his hand on the door. He cries harder. Mom carries Darius in to the building. She tells Darius she is frustrated. They make it to the classroom. Mom sits Darius down. He is still upset. His teachers say hi. The other children are sitting down for group time. Darius missed free play and breakfast. He is upset because he doesn’t know what’s going on. This isn’t his normal routine.

Mom leaves. A teacher pulls Darius on to her lap and asks what’s wrong. Darius continues to cry. The teacher starts to read a book Darius recognizes. He stops crying. Darius joins in play. Occasionally he looks at the door wondering if Mom will come back. Naptime comes and Darius starts to cry. When he goes to sleep at home, Mom sings him a special song. He misses Mom. The teacher pats his back and says, “Shhh.” Darius cries himself to sleep. Darius wakes up and his eyes hurt. His nose is stuffed up. He looks around and starts to cry. The teacher gets him off his cot and puts it away.

Darius is told to go to the potty. Then he sits down for snack. His Grandma comes while he is eating snack. He cries because she’s not his Mom. Grandma tells Darius to stop crying. The teacher gathers Darius’s belongings and tells him goodbye. Darius and Grandma go home, eat supper and watch the news on television. Mom doesn’t come and Grandma doesn’t mention her. Darius falls asleep. When he wakes up he is in his own bed at home.

This is a scenario that happens frequently in our programs. There are families working so hard to make a better life for themselves and their children. While doing this, they have to make sacrifices. Although sacrifices have to be made, adults can still attempt to understand and empathize. For example, when Darius was crying, an adult could say, “I know it’s hard to leave Mom. Mom is going to school just like you. While Mom is at school, you are going to stay here and play.” The child may continue to cry, but the adult is attempting to meet the child’s needs by validating emotions.

I recently heard an adult say to a child, “You are too cute to be crying.” How exactly is that supposed to be helpful? What exactly does that mean? As adults who are caring for children, we need to validate children’s emotions and attempt to help children understand their emotions. Phrases like “You’re too cute to be crying”, “big boys don’t cry”, “come here and sit like a 3 year old” aren’t helpful. In fact, they can be harmful. If you cry, does that mean you aren’t cute? Is it important to be called cute? If so, why?

As adults, we can say things like, “I see you have tears on your face. Is there anything I can do to help?” “It’s hard to say goodbye to Dad. You can come sit with me if you want. I’ll keep you safe.” “I understand you were in a rush this morning. You missed free play. You will be able to play after lunch. Right now it’s time to sit down and eat.”

Emotions are the foundation of learning. If a child doesn’t feel safe and attached, learning will not happen.

Dealing with different perspectives

A coworker recently challenged my thinking by saying that members of our 4C coaching team are early childhood education (ECE) snobs. At first I was offended. Of course I’m not a snob. I believe I have an open mind when working with teachers. I believe I attempt to meet teachers where they are and not pass judgment. The more I thought about it, the more I understood. She wasn’t meaning to be rude or disrespectful. She meant to challenge perspective.

Dealing with different perspectives on raising children

As an ECE coach, I have an ideal classroom, philosophy, interactions, environment, etc. When I enter a classroom, I should put my ideals aside and ask how I can support the teachers. I must meet them where they are regardless if their philosophy matches mine. I need to coach toward Developmentally Appropriate Practice, not my idea of what should be done.

I may ask clarifying questions. “Tell me more about how you believe children learn.” “I’m curious about your lesson plan. Can you tell me what prompted this focus of study?” The questions I ask are meant to prompt the teachers to explain why they are doing what they are doing. Teachers need to have an intention behind every action.

I may ask the teachers to reflect upon an activity. “I saw that you closed the sensory table. I wonder what would have happened if the table were left open for the children?” The purpose of the reflective question is not to embarrass the teacher but to get the teacher to think of the situation from a different perspective. The teacher may have closed the sensory table because children were fighting over a measuring cup. If another measuring cup were brought out, would the fighting have stopped? Did closing the table solve the issues at hand?

While I was processing my role with teachers, I couldn’t help but think of teachers roles with families/parents. As adults we have beliefs on how children should be raised. We have beliefs about toileting, pacifiers, food, separation… the list goes on. As teachers, we may know more about child development and best practice in group care than some families, but those families are the experts on their child. The family is parenting their child according to their beliefs, their philosophy. As teachers we need to meet families where they are and not pass judgment.

Teachers can do with families what I do with teachers. Ask questions. Find out more about the families. “Can you tell me what you like to do as a family?” “Tell me about your bed time routine?” “What did you do over the weekend?” Questions aren’t to grill families about where they were and what they did or what they didn’t do. Questions are for building a relationship. Teachers and families must have a trusting relationship to meet the needs of children. We must meet families where they are.

Why does a child react negatively to change?

When I am talking to adults about children and their experiences, I typically try to think of ideas on how to connect the “adult life” to the child. I want adults to think of their own experiences and feelings and realize that children go through the same process.

Sometimes children react negatively to the slightest change in the classroom. What's a teacher to do?

For example, I recently finished 6 weeks of radiation therapy. Every Monday I would have to see the doctor after my treatment. There is a group of nurses that work in the department, so I could have 1 of 3 people take care of me. The first time I went Amy, the nurse, took my vitals, walked me to the exam room, and prepped me for the doctor. After that visit, I was always a little aggravated if Amy wasn’t the one going to take care of me. Even though we had only met once, she was “my person”. She was the one who started off my relationship with the doctor. She set the tone for the whole appointment. If I didn’t get to see her, the visit wasn’t as comfortable. Don’t get me wrong, the other nurses were completely competent. They were nice and friendly. They just weren’t Amy.

As I thought about that it really hit me that as an adult, I had a choice. I could choose my attitude during my visits. I could choose to be happy about the care I was receiving. I always received quality care, regardless of the nurse. Or, I could choose to be mad that Amy wasn’t available for me.

Compare this to a young child. Can a young child choose to make the best out of any situation? My belief is no, they can’t. Young children are still learning how to self-regulate. Think about the young child who has a primary caregiver. Every day this caregiver is with the child–feeding, diapering/toileting, talking. Then one day the caregiver isn’t there. What is done to help this child adjust? Is the absence of the caregiver explained to the child? Is the child prepped for the caregiver’s absence? What do the adults do to respect the relationship between the child and the caregiver?

Can some young children self-regulate? Of course, some children have a temperament that is easy going and they just go with the flow. Other children, however, have a harder time regulating their emotions, regardless of their age. I believe as adults, we should prepare children for changes and transitions regardless of temperament and age. When the school-age teacher is leaving for the day and another teacher is coming in, the children should be informed of that change. When the toddler teacher is going on lunch break, the children should be told the teacher is leaving and if the teacher will be back. This is just respectful. The children rely on the adult for security. That security means that the children can interact and learn throughout the day. Without security, learning won’t happen.