Tag Archives: social emotional development

No More Bullies in Your Child Care Program


From a very early age, I can remember the first time in school that someone picked on and excluded me because I was heavier than all the other kids.  It was the first time I realized I was somehow different from the other children and it hurt me a lot. This continued my whole academic career with instances that included profane name calling, public humiliation, and physical harm towards me.

The definition of bullying (from the website www.stopbullying.gov ) is “unwanted, aggressive behavior among school-aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. The behavior is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time. Both kids who are bullied and who bully others may have serious, lasting problems. In order to be considered bullying, the behavior must be aggressive and include an imbalance of power; kids who bully use their power—such as physical strength, access to embarrassing information, or popularity—to control or harm others, and repetition; bullying behaviors happen more than once or have the potential to happen more than once.”

It is our job as early educators to start talking early about kindness and respect to the children in our care. One way I encouraged this in my preschool class was by having a time set aside for us to talk about our feelings each day. We had a group-sharing time where I would pass around our pillow/bear and the child holding it got to tell how they felt (happy, sad, mad, scared, etc.) and why they felt that way.  Children weren’t required to share if they didn’t want to. I always gave them an opportunity after to pull me aside and tell me something privately if they preferred. We would talk about how to help our classmates celebrate a happy feeling, or help them feel better about a sad, mad, or scared feeling. It helped some of the children to talk about their emotions and work through feelings together, not by themselves, creating a community. Sometimes I included stories and finger-play songs to help teach.

If a group time setting isn’t something that will work with your program’s schedule, below are some tips from Stopbullying.gov (with some edits for younger children) to help encourage kindness and empathy in your program throughout your day:

Model positive ways for young children to make friends. For example, practice pleasant ways that children can ask to join others in play and take turns in games. We can coach older children in our program to help reinforce these behaviors as well. Encourage children for appropriate behavior. Help young children understand what behaviors are friendly.

Help young children learn the consequences of certain actions in terms they can understand. Encourage young children to tell an adult if they are treated in a way that makes them feel uncomfortable, upset, unhappy, or if they witness other children being harmed. Teach them that it is okay to stand up for others in need if they feel safe to do so.

Set clear rules for behavior and monitor children’s interactions carefully.  Step in quickly to stop aggressive behavior or redirect it before it occurs.

Encourage age-appropriate empathy for aggressive behavior. Young children should be encouraged to apologize in their own way whenever they hurt a peer, even accidentally. Guiding questions from you may include “What can you do/say to help ____ feel better about what happened?” Some younger children are still learning what ‘apology’ and ‘sorry’ mean so be patient and respect their approach to it. Not all apologies and expressions of empathy are the same.

With patience, understanding and a positive approach, we can help children recognize that kindness and empathy can go a long way in the world today.

Helping Children say Goodbye

saying-goodbye-for-the-dayI have never liked to say goodbye to those I care about. It felt better to say, “See you later,” or “Take care,” rather than “Goodbye.”  Saying these phrases had less finality. It helped me feel at ease as I separated from my family and friends. Realizing how uncomfortable I felt saying goodbye to my loved ones helped me to understand the importance of supporting children as they learned how to cope with separating from their family for the day.

It is important that adults offer this support so that children can understand why they separate from their family and have the opportunity to learn about the emotions they’re feeling.  These feelings do not have to be avoided—they need to be supported! Here are a few ways to support children and their families as they say, “See you later.”

Create a Calm, Inviting Environment

Setting a mood in the morning can be a beneficial way of supporting children when they are dropped off. If the size of the classroom permits, provide a small couch or love seat for children to sit on with their families during a drop off routine (see below). Make sure children know where their personal items belong. When children have a space of their own in a classroom, it can add to the sense of belonging. Remember that if children are not ready to take off their coat or jacket right away, it is okay. They may need to hold on to an item from home to help them feel safe. It is also helpful to encourage families to bring in comfort items such as a blanket, a stuffed animal or photo book from home to help keep a connection between home and school.

Say Hello and Make Yourself Available

Greet every child and family member that walks through the classroom door. Make sure to use names; having a cheat sheet can be helpful in remembering everyone’s name. It is important for everyone to feel comfortable when they enter a classroom. When children see their teacher conversing with their family members, it helps to build the trust that is needed between teacher and child.

It can be helpful to observe and reflect on the kind of support the child and family needs when a child is having a hard time separating from their family. Some children feel supported when their parent hands them off to their teacher. Others may just need some extra time with their parent, so encouraging them to create a drop off routine can be helpful (see below). Based on that routine, the teacher my need to remind children and their family what the routine is or to make sure all elements for that routine are available. It is best to refrain from being too forceful for the family to separate. This can be a sensitive and challenging part of the day for all involved. Sometimes a simple, “Let me know when you are ready to leave and I will help,” can be all that is needed. The important thing is to be available.

Encourage a Drop Off Routine

Children thrive on consistency. Drop off routines can be successful in establishing smooth and consistent separation. Encourage families to think about what works best for them. Are they typically in a hurry or do they have flexibility to ease a child into the classroom?  Encourage families to start off by helping children to put their items in their cubby and then washing their hands. A parent may be able to engage in some play with their child for a few minutes before leaving. Offer breakfast throughout the morning and make it a choice for children. Another routine that works well is for the family member to sit and read a book or two with their child before separating for the day. It may also be important for the adult to pick the number of books and stick to that number. This may be something that the teacher can help reinforce.

Offer Interesting Choices

Having several popular activities available for children to choose from can be helpful when separating for the day. Knowing children’s typical schedules and what their interests are can be helpful for children as they separate from their family. I had success opening the sensory table in the early morning. Sensory play can be a magnet for young children which can help children be ready to explore the classroom because it is interesting and fun, therefore saying goodbye may not feel so pressing and hard.

All in all, the most important thing is to help children feel comfortable while they are at your program. It can take some time to find out exactly what works for each child. No matter how uncomfortable separations may feel, they are important. Make sure that children have the opportunity to say “Goodbye, see you later” or “After while, crocodile!”

Social Emotional Teaching Strategies and the Role of the Caregiver

social-emotional-caregiver-roleThe school year has begun! As you prepare to teach your preschoolers this year, remember that your interactions and environment play an incredible role in children’s social- emotional well being. The social-emotional domain is foundational to all learning. Providing an experience for the children in which they feel safe and supported will give them the confidence they need to succeed. It is important to always be attentive to the child’s needs. Showing a child that you are there for them will build the trust that is needed for them to seek guidance. Keep in mind that each child will need unique interventions and support to help them develop their skills. Children flourish in environments that provide consistency. Focus on creating routines that involve meaningful activities, especially in times of transition. These can include things like games or songs to minimize problems when waiting in line. One of the most important goals as caregivers is to promote a love of learning to our children. If you follow a child’s lead, allow them to initiate activities, and remain flexible around their needs, you will create an environment in which they feel respected. This is key to motivating the desire to learn. Positive relationships with peers and adults—parents and teachers included—are critical to the development of social emotional skills in children.

Characteristics of adults who promote positive relationships.

  • Offer lessons that engages the children and relates to their lives and culture
  • Provide consistent guidance, clarity of rules
  • Model appropriate social skills
  • Provide a nurturing environment, acknowledge emotions, provide comfort and support
  • Demonstrate empathy through questions such as, “Why do you think she is upset?”
  • Promote children’s confidence by engaging them in problem solving
  • Model positive language
  • Engage with parents in a relationship to support children emotionally
  • Support autonomy and leadership, allow choice and follow children’s lead

As a teacher, you have the chance to play a vital role in the lives of preschoolers at such a critical period of social-emotional growth. Make sure you create a space where children feel valued, safe and cared about. Children’s emotional health is closely tied to the characteristics of the environment in which they are surrounded. As you plan, make sure to intentionally promote a positive place to learn. Children who develop positive relationships with their teachers or caregivers are more positive about learning, more confident and more successful in their learning environment. As you start your new school year, remember to lay the foundation children need to succeed! A smile, pat on the back and encouraging word may seem small, but will go a long way. As they say, people may not remember exactly what you said, but they will never forget how you made them feel. Children are no exception.

There’s more than one way to address a behavior

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It turns out preschool boys are full of energy and can team up together to create an environment that feels chaotic and out of control. One preschool program that I often visit has entered a challenging phase, where the boys seemingly run the room. It also seems like the child care providers in the room hardly have time to engage with all of the children meaningfully because they are constantly “putting out fires.”

What makes this situation difficult is that it’s not only one or two children who need some very intentional proactive strategies to feel successful, it’s like seven. What I have observed is, these particular children, who happen to be boys, like to impress each other. It’s almost like they feel peer pressure to act a certain way. It’s become a pattern that some children will run around the playground when it’s time to line up to go inside. Every day some children do this. They run around the playground and taunt the child care providers, saying things like “You can’t catch me!” At first the providers tried a trusted strategy—get to children before it was time to line up, to hold their hand. In some situations, this works for those children who are “runners” because they do not want to have to hold the teacher’s hand, so this method takes one or two times to be effective. However, in this particular situation, that strategy didn’t work. The biggest reason is there are more children that habitually run than there are providers’ hands to hold.

What we know about children this age is that they have become increasingly more aware of and connected to other children. Other children become much more important than they were in earlier years. Most preschool children have friends and value being a friend. Fortunately, this program has access to an early childhood professional that has a strong knowledge base on the social and emotional needs and development of young children. After observing the behaviors and interactions of the children all day, he had a great insight that made perfect sense. Instead of talking to the children about their own good or bad choices (which I have used as an effective strategy in similar situations), talk to the children about what good friends would do. Whether the behavior was running around the playground when it was time to line up or hitting another child, most children of preschool age (and in particular the boys I’ve been referring to) know what kind of behavior is right and what kind of behavior is wrong. Good friends help their friends do what is right. Children at this stage are still learning what it means to be a friend. If asked, these particular children would likely say that the other boys are their friends. They would also say they want to be a good friend. So, encouraging them to help their friends do what is right might be effective. While they are focusing on supporting their friend, they are also doing what is right themselves.

In any situation where children are “misbehaving,” it’s important to be flexible. Just because one strategy to address a behavior worked with a different child (or group of children), doesn’t mean it will work every time. Sometimes you need to be open to trying a different strategy!

Don’t be sorry, be a problem solver!

Does forcing children to say they're sorry teach them what being sorry means?

Does telling children to say they’re sorry teach them what being sorry means?

Sorry is just a word. I feel that people use this word way too often—so much that it has lost meaning. People use it as a quick fix, “I said I’m sorry…” Are they really sorry? Do they even know what sorry means? The word sorry is defined as feeling sorrow or regret, but too often people repeat that same action or behavior. It becomes a “sorry cycle.” I feel that if someone was truly feeling sorrow or regret, the behavior would stop—ending the cycle. There is a tendency to slap on the “sorry band aid” instead of learning from one’s behavior or actions. Sorry is just a word; it doesn’t fix anything.

Think about this word through the eyes of the child. Do you think young children know what it means to be sorry? Do they understand regret and sorrow? Jean Piaget’s theories of development indicate young children are egocentric. Once children begin the third stage of cognitive development, concrete operational, they begin to use more logical thinking and eliminate egocentricism. Egocentrism is the inability to differentiate between self and others. More specifically, it is the inability to understand or assume any perspective other than their own. For example, a child who takes the block from her peer is so focused on her own needs and desires; she may not even be aware or concerned with the needs of her peers. The child has no regard for her peer because of her own focus. Children during this stage of development are still processing and identifying their emotions/feelings; they cannot fully comprehend the emotions of their peers or the idea of empathy. As educators, we understand that children are egocentric and these skills are emerging, so why are we forcing children to say, “I’m sorry”?

More and more educators are recognizing the importance of emotional and social development and its everlasting benefits on children. Often I work with teachers to help them strategize ways to increase children’s self esteem and self control. We discuss problem-solving strategies, appropriately expressing emotions, and encouraging children to begin to recognize the emotions of their peers. Instead of forcing children to say “Sorry,” let’s help them to become problem solvers and to learn from mistakes. Would it be more beneficial to encourage a child to focus on what he can do next time, what he can do to help fix the problem, or what he could do to help his peer feel better? Instead of just telling children to say they’re sorry, ask these questions:

  • Can these issues be solved through actions from the child? For example, should the child help rebuild a peer’s block structure?
  • Does the child need adult/peer modeling?
  • Should we ask the child’s peers what solutions they think would help?
  • Do we need to provide the words to help the children begin the problem-solving process?

In early childhood education, we are helping children build skills and construct a strong foundation that will last a lifetime. Instead of creating more people who are sorry, let’s create children who are problem solvers. Sorry is just a word.

Are hugs babying our preschool children?

Recently, I was observing in a preschool classroom when I was approached by a young child. This was a new program for me, it was my first classroom visit, and I had never met or formed relationships with any of these children before. Occasionally, on a first visit in a new classroom, children will approach me asking what my name is or if I’m a new teacher. Today was different. No one asked questions as I tried to blend into their environment undetected. All the children were engaged with activities. Then I was spotted by one child. This child just watched me for a few minutes, then stood up, and slowly walked towards me in silence. He didn’t smile or show any facial expression, he just walked. As the child approached me, I smiled. I wanted my smile to illustrate that I wasn’t someone to be alarmed by or fear. This classroom is his environment, his safe place, his territory. I’m just a visitor in his domain. Then it happened, he hugged me. As he hugged me, he squeezed tight and I could feel the tension in his body being released. No words were spoken. I let him hug me until he was finished. It was obvious he needed this emotional support. He slowly walked back to his activity and resumed his work, but occasionally would glance over in my direction and smile.

Immediately after this event, I began to wonder, should I have let him hug me? Was I being unprofessional? Is this hug “babying” him? Soon I began to realize I did the right thing for this child at that moment. He just needed a hug! Yes, you can still facilitate independence with children and be nurturing. Giving a child a hug does not mean you are babying them. I’m a firm believer in the power of touch, everybody needs a hug sometimes and this child was no different. Research proves the importance and everlasting benefits of building strong emotional development during the first five years of life. It begins during infancy; infants and children need to have their basic needs met which includes forming relationships with parents/caregivers. These relationships are necessary to a child’s emotional foundation. This foundation can influence them positively or negatively throughout their life. It has a huge impact on children’s future outcomes.

Sometimes a child just needs a hug—and that's okay!

Sometimes a child just needs a hug—and that’s okay!

As professionals in this field, we understand the importance and the impact of these first five years. As educators, we aspire to help them build that strong foundation. We want them to learn all their shapes, colors, letters, numbers, etc., before they leave our classroom—but what are we doing to enhance their emotional development? Are we building strong relationships with children? Do the children feel safe, secure and protected in our environment? What tools are we teaching or modeling for children to express their emotions appropriately, construct independence, and boost their self confidence? Can we foster independence and be nurturing at the same time?

Building meaningful relationships with children is the foundation piece needed to foster emotional growth in children. They need to feel safe, secure and protected in our presence and environment. As we truly listen and converse with children (not just talk at them) we are valuing them as people. It’s important that we help children acknowledge feelings and model empathy. We need to help children learn how to help themselves and others. Allowing children the opportunity to do things independently demonstrates we trust and respect them as individuals. Not only do we need to be physically present for children, we need to be emotionally available. We as educators need to embed ways to strengthen these skills throughout our curriculum and take advantage of these teachable moments. I encourage educators to put as much emphasis on helping children structure a strong emotional development as we do with all areas of development, and please do not be afraid to hug a child!

The magic of learning about emotions

Children have the right to be able to understand why they are feeling they way they are feeling.

Children have the right to be able to understand why they are feeling they way they are feeling.

Last month I wrote about steps to end temper tantrums. In step number five, I mention that “When children know they are in a safe, loving environment, they will learn how to calm down. They will know you will be there for them. This is when the real magic will happen.” What do you think that real magic is? Is it enough for a child to know what emotion he or she is feeling? What do children do with the knowledge that they were angry or frustrated? How do we help them understand why that feeling occurred in the first place? The why behind the feeling is how we help children learn what they can do the next time a child might take their toy or react to a situation calmly and say, “I don’t want to join group time. I want to keep building with blocks.” Whether it’s a choice for that child to continue building or not, all children should feel safe and capable enough to express themselves through words.

As children learn about their emotions and the “why” behind them, they are more likely to gain confidence in their ability to express their feelings. They can learn how to negotiate and work with their peers to solve problems. They can also learn to know that if they are frustrated they can ask for help. If they are angry they will have the skills to use words or stomp their feet rather than hit or kick another person.

This doesn’t happen overnight. Children need A LOT of practice along with consistency, empathy and compassion from adults as they learn these new skills. This process starts from the earliest days of life. Teachers have to meet children where they are developmentally and support what they may need in that moment. Teachers can then scaffold their learning and help them to the next step in their social/emotional development. It is also important to remember that children need practice from situation to situation. Just because a child has learned how to say, “Give my toy back,” in the dramatic play area doesn’t mean they will know what to do or say if a child knocks over their block structure.

The true magic to supporting and helping children to calm down and learn about their feelings and emotions also includes helping them learn what to do with those feelings as they happen. Children have the right to be able to understand why they are feeling they way they are feeling. This support will help children learn how to become socially successful and emotionally secure.

Southwest Ohio ECE providers, do you need support in learning how to teach children about their emotions? Check out these upcoming 4C for Children workshops: