Tag Archives: social and emotional development

Where Did You Learn Those Words?

During the last several weeks, I have been busy hitting the shopping malls and fighting the crowds of happy holiday shoppers. I always wonder how all the parents handle the little ones who can only endure so much and have a few more ounces of patience during this busy time. As I was standing in line to check out, I heard a woman say, “Oh, what a darling little girl you are!”  The woman’s nice smile and thick glasses loomed within inches of this little girl’s face. The two-year old, safe in her mother’s arms, delivered a calm and steady gaze before replying, “You poo-head.” The mother gasped.

It was clearly this mom’s first experience with the Fundamental Law of Preschool Vocabulary which states that every parent imagines that his or her child will never use embarrassing language in public. But they will! It seems to happen overnight. Suddenly your own son or daughter is spouting phrases that would make anyone, except maybe a hardened preschool teacher, blush.

“Tread lightly,” the experts warn. “Losing your cool will only make your child or children in a classroom setting want to repeat the offending words over and over.” Young children do like to make interesting events happen again. And what could be more interesting to a child than making a grown-up gasp in horror, react with shock or even laugh nervously with embarrassment? Not much. So, my advice is to react calmly with perhaps a touch of boredom in your tone.

But does this mean you shouldn’t tell your children when their language offends you? That’s a different matter. Children do need to know what their parents and teachers disapprove of. So, if you don’t want your child/children using inappropriate words in front of you, say so. Use calm but firm tones and words. Still, you can’t control every word that comes out of your child’s mouth. So once in a while the best choice is to just “not hear.” While you’re busy not listening, you may notice that so-called bad language, can sometimes be a help in a preschooler’s social world.

  • You might see a three-year-old who’s learning not to hit when she is angry. She makes progress by striking out with words instead. Adults may wince at hearing insults, but for the time being, angry words are a huge improvement over hitting.
  • Or, you might notice a four-year-old who’s uncertain about how to join in laughing and joking with a group of peers. He finds his solution in that old preschool comedy routine-bathroom talk. Preschoolers aren’t especially known for their love of subtle humor.

No matter how shocked the mothers of the world feel now, they too were once children whose choice of words horrified their parents. They grew out of it. We all did.

Now and Forever

I heard a story recently of an elementary school gym teacher responding to a child with asthma’s performance in class that, “Oh, that’s good for a kid with asthma. Usually they don’t do that well.”  What if that child had overheard his teacher? What would he think? While the teacher may intend to be positive, the child may assume that because they have asthma there’s no point in trying their hardest. Our words have a powerful impact on children. While children with asthma may not perform like children who do not have asthma, words can set a child up for success or failure. A teacher might say, “We are going to run laps to the best of our ability.  Everyone try your hardest!” Seems to me like that would have a totally different impact.

There is a guide in the Devereux Early Childhood Assessment (DECA) called “For Now and Forever” that addresses the importance of the social and emotional development of young children. It explores how early development and interactions affects each child’s future. For example, if a child says goodbye without getting upset when dropped off at a program, then in the future she may enjoy and value the time she spends on her own. This speaks to the secure, positive attachment she has with the adults in her life. She trusts that mom or dad will be back for her at the end of the day, and that her primary caregiver in the classroom will be there for her throughout the day.

But there’s an opposite scenario. Without a secure attachment, a child may have a difficult time getting out of the car, or may already be crying before he gets to the door. When he gets to his classroom, his parent tells him everything will be okay and then leaves before he is calm. What may this interaction be telling the child? “You aren’t important enough right now.” “Even though you are crying, I’m telling you that you are okay because you’re feelings aren’t valid.” The words parents and caregivers use are extremely important in this case and many others.

So, what can we do to help the children in our care develop socially and emotionally? I firmly believe one of the most important things we can do is take time. Get down on the child’s level and acknowledge their feelings. Validate that he is feeling an emotion, and help him work through it using words and modeling. Children aren’t born knowing how to regulate their emotions! They only develop these skills with our help. The interactions we have with children now give them the tools they need for the future.

Leave the Costumes at Home

One year for Halloween, I was required to dress in costume at the center where I was teaching. I didn’t want to scare the children, so I decided to choose a costume I thought would be less intimidating: my husband! I dressed in one of his suits with a tie and hat and penciled in a mustache. Before I could leave for work, my 2-year-old daughter saw me in full costume and started to cry, tearing at my clothes and screaming, “You’re not my daddy! You’re my mommy!”

Needless to say, I changed out of my costume and went to work without one that year.

If planning to celebrate Halloween at your center, consider activities that young children will understand.

Children under the age of 4 can focus on only one aspect of the situation, and have difficulty seeing the “big picture.” It isn’t until much later, around age 7, that they begin to develop reason and logic, and even later, around 11, that they begin to understand abstract thinking. No wonder school-agers get so hyped up about Halloween!

For very young children, Halloween can be a stressful holiday. If you’re celebrating in your center, consider what your goals are for children. Teachers and programs intend to provide a safe emotional environment for children, to offer them stability and avoid introducing stress into their lives.

Piaget theorized that a very young child’s reasoning is static, that for them the world is an unchanging place. When change is introduced it is sudden and irreversible. When mommy turns into daddy, for example, a young child will have a very difficult time understanding that this isn’t a permanent change because she can’t focus on anything beyond the current moment. When we consider what Piaget has to say about a very young child’s ability to reason, does it really make any sense to celebrate Halloween with costumes?

It is interesting to note that under the age of 3, most children do not remember holidays like Halloween unless they were traumatic or an adult tells them the story later in their childhood. So when it comes time to celebrate in your center, consider activities that children can understand. Have a special snack, paint a pumpkin or go outside and observe the changes in the season. But leave the costumes at home.


What a Pretty Picture! Responding to Children’s Art

One of the best gifts that my mother ever gave me was a large stack of drawings that I created when I was 5 years old. I was flooded with joyful memories of painting and drawing as a child, how much I enjoyed communicating my feelings with crayons and paint!

As an adult, I am comforted by the feelings that I was able to express; and more importantly that my explorations of art as a child allow me to continue to express myself this way as an adult. My parents and my teachers encouraged me, and not in the ways you might expect! When it comes to children’s art, the best thing that we can do as educators is to give the child control over what they are creating. For example, avoid labeling. Instead of telling the child what they’re drawing (“That is a great picture of an elephant!”), ask the child to tell you about their picture. You might be surprised to find that what you thought was an elephant was actually a picture of you! With the child’s permission, write down exactly what the child tells you about their picture. Storytelling can play a very large role in children’s art.

One of my childhood drawings!

Educators should also avoid modeled art, where the project has a very particular finished product in mind. Instead allow the child to enjoy the process: the flow of the paint, the movement of the crayon, and watch their imaginations roam!

Making a Connection

Recently, my daughter was seriously ill in the hospital with her husband and 3-month-old daughter at home. What could I do? I was ready to help, but didn’t know how. Should I buy diapers for the baby, flowers for my daughter, cook dinners for my son-in-law, something else? I felt so helpless, but after a short conversation on the phone, my daughter told me exactly what she needed: me. I had forgotten the most important thing, which was my connection with her, and her need to feel connected.  Now this was something I could do! I could hold my daughter’s hand, I could talk and listen to my son-in-law. And my grand daughter? Well, no one needed to twist my arm to get me to comfort, rock and sing to her.

The connections you make with families and the children in your care are just as critical, and you reinforce those connections everyday that you interact with them! As child care providers we provide responsive care giving simply by talking and listening to children talk about what they did with mom or dad this weekend, engaging parents when they drop off and pick up about what their children have been doing in our program that day.

Though I’d worried about all of the things my daughter might need from me when she was sick, simply hearing her and being with her was the most important thing. It’s the same with parents and the children in our care! Meaningful interactions like sharing a special book with a child, acknowledging when they are upset and giving them a hug have the power to impact their intellectual, emotional and physical development. And when we respect parents’ needs and values and recognize their relationship with their child, it strengthens the relationship they can have with us!

Parents are a Child’s First Teachers

4C’s Debra Chin knows you want encourage the children in your care to be independent, but if you give them too much freedom, they may get confused, misuse the freedom or make the wrong choices.  On the other hand, if you use the benefit of your experience and make all their choices for them, you could compromise their ability to make their own decisions. Read on for Debra’s experience as a mother and educator! What’s yours? – Karen

Many times, people have told me that I should back off and let my child do everything for himself, that it would help my child to learn about responsibility and become an independent individual. There is no doubt about it, as a parent I want my child to become responsible and independent. Yet, as much as I appreciate parents advocating for children, this advice sometimes makes me feel a little uncomfortable. I question how I define responsibility and independence, how it is defined for my family. I can’t stop wondering if I am a potential obstacle to my child’s learning. For me and my family, true responsibility comes from humbly consulting with the experienced, respectfully taking input from unfamiliar perspectives and supporting each other’s needs as a group or as a family. In the process of coaching my child to become responsible and independent, am I training my child to consider only his opinions, or to learn from others’ perspectives, as well?

Thinking of how I communicate with other parents made me think of how we communicate with families in the early childhood field. I reflected on how I responded to parents when I saw them spoon feeding their child, helping their child get dressed or immediately providing a solution to the problem that their child encountered. Do I confront those parents? Because I am knowledgeable in the early childhood field, does that mean I am right? Do I say “Excuse me, I don’t baby children. I let them feed themselves, dress themselves and do many things by themselves. That’s developmentally appropriate practice!”

If I did say these things, how would those parents feel about the program or about me? Many families may not define independence the same way that I do, and some things may be more important in other families, like mutual helping, interdependence or obedience to elders. In my family, we believe that children won’t be able to develop a true sense of responsibility nor become a truly independent individual until they learn to work through conflicts collaboratively with others, to take care of others’ needs and knows how to serve as a helping and contributing member in a group. But that’s just us, and I need to remember that it’s different for every family, and every child.

Family is our children’s first group experience in their life. Honoring each family’s way of life and valuing each family member in each child’s life is essential to building positive relationships. From there we can begin to meaningfully support a child’s learning and development as a whole! Only through a positive relationship with families, who have built a foundation for the children in our care, can we call what we are doing developmentally appropriate practice.

Swing, Batter Batter, Swing!

“Dad, Charlie REALLY needs that baseball bat,” Danny said to his father as his brother cradled a beautiful wooden baseball bat. Danny and Charlie are my twin four-year-old cousins. We were in Cooperstown, NY, the home of the Baseball Hall of Fame, for a family trip this past weekend. As you can imagine, the town was filled with baseball fans young and old, and every other shop featured baseball mementos. Charlie is a “sports nut” and can name members of the Boston Red Sox and swings a baseball bat better than most adults do. Charlie fell in love with that wooden baseball bat in the store and cradled the bat in his arms. His twin brother Danny looked on, as though he was building the case to convince Dad to buy the bat for his brother.

Charlie is busy, athletic and expressive in every gesture and comment. Danny is a caretaker and is able to understand the perspective of others. During the ice cream social that the hotel put on, Danny escorted every member of our family to the table and helped us to select toppings for our sundaes. He told me as I mulled over the topping choices, “Julie, I think you will really like the cookie crumbles, they are yummy.”

Typically at ages three and four children are developing an understanding of what they are capable of and they relate to the world from their own point of view. It is difficult for young children to understand what another person is thinking or feeling. That is why it isn’t always effective to say, “How do you think Susie feels when you hit her?” Danny seems to have developed this perspective-taking skill on the early side of his development. He knew that his brother really likes baseball, and that the bat would make Charlie happy.

Danny and Charlie live in Boston, so I have not been able to witness their development first hand. I wondered how Danny has been able to develop this selflessness and empathy. I imagine he has often been given specific praise for his kindness to others. “Danny, that was very nice of you to give that toy to Charlie when he asked for it” (followed by a hug). I imagine also that he has seen his parents and other adults showing kindness to and caring for one another. When adults show children how to do something, it is called modeling. Children learn best when they are shown how to do something and then try it themselves, rather than just being told what to do.

Life skills such as empathy, independence, cooperation, turn-taking and confidence are the foundation that “smarts” are built upon. To navigate successfully through life, we need the life skills and the academic skills.

In the end, Dad did not buy the baseball bat for Charlie that day, because Dad knows that it is also an important lesson to learn that sometimes we have to wait for what we really want. Dad and the boys played tee ball on the lawn on the hotel later, with the same wiffle ball bat that Charlie has always loved. Charlie and Danny took turns, shared the same bat and cheered for one another like their parents have shown and praised them.