Saturday, September 29, 2012

Social Skill Development - Real Keys to Success After Preschool (Part 2)

Note: This is the second installment of a multi-part series. To read the first part, click on:

In today’s world where everyone is so focused on the producing evidence of development on paper, we need to be reminded that social growth is one of the primary goals of the preschool years.  The New Jersey Dept. of Education Preschool Teaching and Learning Standards lists Social/Emotional Development goals first.  They are listed before language arts literacy, math, science or any of the other more academic goals and well they should be.   Children cannot feel secure and confident enough to build upon other knowledge if they have not developed the social/emotional skills to become confident explorers and decision makers.

I had a professor who told us that when you work with 3 year old children, you are creating citizens.  He said that to my class more than 20 years ago and I still say it today to my staff members and other professionals when I teach.  Our most important role in early childhood education is to create citizens who can work together as a community as well as individually.  The creation of these citizens takes more thought and more time than nearly any other preschool skill.  The challenge before professionals and parents is that we are trying to bring together people who are entirely egocentric.   Young children cannot see the world from anyone’s point of view but their own.  They cannot empathize.  They cannot share without facilitation and they cannot cooperate without guidance.  The ability to have successful interactions will lay a foundation of both social and academic success.   You can help your young children to build important social skills.
  • Help young children to share by understanding what they can and cannot do without you.  Young children cannot share an item until they have fully possessed it.  The command to “play together” is unrealistic before at least they age of 4.  Each child has to have the toy before they can pass it to the next person.  Once that child has possessed it, then it can be passed back.  I often tell young children that sharing doesn’t mean “give it to me now.”  Sharing means that everyone will have time with the toy.   Watch preschool children carefully and you will see that when young children seem to be using a toy together, they are really taking turns feeling as if each of them is in possession of the whole item or its parts.  Remember that you also cannot simply walk away after the first child passes a toy to the other.  You may need to stay with them to tell them when to pass it and when they can have it back.
  • Non-verbal communication is a key to social success.  Non-verbal communication includes not only facial expressions and body language but also respecting personal boundaries.  Studies show that children who can successfully express and receive non-verbal communication will have more social success throughout their lives than those who cannot.  Cartoon characters and puppets cannot teach children about the importance of eye contact or the expression on someone’s face when they are happy, angry or afraid.   Children also need to learn that every person has a boundary that is “owned.”   Social interactions will be more successful if they do not invade other people’s boundaries without permission.   Unfortunately, very little time is spent actively teaching these important social skills.   Spend time with your young children pointing out how someone looks when feeling different emotions.  Teach them to respect other children’s space.  For more information about teaching personal space go to:
  • Give your children the words to use when negotiating play.  If a child tries to tattle on a friend, empower the child by asking what he/she can say to get the result that is desired.  Adults should intervene as little as possible.  If your child wants something that someone else has, teach your child to say, “May I have that, please?” instead of taking action yourself.  Children actually do not know what to say without you. 
  • Young children are egocentric and, therefore, not empathetic.  Explain social situations from their own point of view.  When young children push, hit or grab a toy, they are using that action as a means to an end and cannot relate to how the other child feels.  Simply saying “You will hurt him” will have very little impact.  You need to start a conversation about similar behaviors by saying “What does it feel like when someone pushes/hits/takes from you?  Does it hurt?  Does it make you mad or sad?”  Young children must consider feelings from their own point of view first. 
  • Apologizing for a social misstep days later or even simply with just the words, “I’m sorry” teaches your child nothing.  Children need to be able to say, “I won’t hit/push/grab again.”  They need to say it immediately after the event so they fully remember what happened and can end the incident.  None of us like carrying bad feelings for days and the same holds true for children.  If something happens at preschool, speak with your child that day but do not force an apology 3 days later.  No doubt the teachers already handled it.  Let it be over.

Guiding your preschooler’s social interactions takes time, patience and thought.  The effort you make will help your children to more easily negotiate more complicated social interactions as the years go on.

Coming soon – Part 3:  Emotional Development - Building Self-Esteem

Copyright 2012 © Cindy Terebush
All Rights Reserved
Please do not sell, post, curate, publish, or distribute all or any part of this article without author's permission.   You are invited, however, to share a link to this post on your webpage, Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, and other social networking sites.


Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Real Keys to Success After Preschool - Part 1: Create Confident Decision Makers

People seem frantic about how much children will learn in preschool.  Parents are worried if their children cannot read and write fluently by the time they are 5 years old.  Many public schools are doing entry interviews to determine skill levels before children enter kindergarten.  It is not age appropriate for children entering kindergarten to be fluent readers and writers.   If a child can read and write by age 5, that is lovely.  It is also wonderful when young children are amazing architects building intricate block structures because they understand spatial relationships.  Children with vivid imaginations are equally incredible because they are practicing early literacy skills such as oral language, use of symbolism and drawing conclusions from self-started stories.  Adults tend to assess success by that which they can measure.  Adults can see letters on a page and listen to reading.  They can quiz children on rote knowledge.   Studies show that when comparing students in 3rd grade, early “academic” preschool success or lack thereof becomes inconsequential.  The achievements of the early years become less a part of future success as the children develop higher reasoning and thinking skills.  The ability to read or write fluently at age 4 or 5 years old is not an indicator of sustained success in school or as adults.  A foundation for continued success is based upon skills that are far less tangible. 

Preschools and parents need to ensure that young children become confident decision makers.   Confident decision makers become confident critical thinkers.  Confident critical thinkers are problem solvers who can reason, create and understand complex tasks.  Help your child to build self-confidence by allowing them to make decisions.
  • Allow children to freely choose play activities.  Their access to toys and their ability to move from one toy to another should not be restricted at home or at preschool.  If there is a toy that you do not want as a choice for play, it should not be accessible.  Be sure that a variety of acceptable toys are within reach.
  • Ensure that crafts are child created.  When doing craft projects, offer your children a plethora of materials.  Sheep, for example, are not really made of cotton balls.  There is no reason why children cannot make sheep from materials of their choosing.  Allow them to choose materials, mix the play dough and make a mess with paint.  They will learn so much about cause and effect.
  • Allow children to choose their own clothing.  There may be some occasions for which a child’s clothes must be chosen by adults but not many.  Mismatched outfits worn by proud preschoolers are the best!  There should not be a right or wrong to clothing being worn for play or for other everyday activities.  As they enter the elementary school years and naturally become less egocentric, they will care more about what others are wearing.  They won’t continue to mismatch crazy outfits unless it is in style, of course.
  • Take opportunities to have children determine the course of their day.   There are school days, appointments and other lessons filling the schedules of preschoolers and their parents.  Sometimes, however, there are days when the mornings or afternoons are free.  Take advantage of those days to help your children feel some control and make decisions.  Give them two choices of possible activities and let them decide.  Adults don’t need to always determine the course of every day.

When adults give up some control, they give a gift to young children.  They foster self-confident, active thinkers.  Self-esteem and decision making skills are a foundation for success that children will have for a lifetime.

Coming soon – Part 2:  Facilitating Social Relationships in Preschool

Copyright 2012 © Cindy Terebush
All Rights Reserved
Please do not sell, post, curate, publish, or distribute all or any part of this article without author's permission.   You are invited, however, to share a link to this post on your webpage, Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, and other social networking sites.


Saturday, September 8, 2012

Coping With Tantrums

Tantrums are an emotionally charged reaction that can send shockwaves through a room.  Young children, usually up to age 6 years old, have tantrums for a variety of reasons.  They may be frustrated and overwhelmed.  They may be unable to successfully communicate a need or solve a problem.  They are sad and angry at the same time and feel out of control.  Young children are egocentric.  They want what they want when they want it and cannot begin to relate to why they cannot have it.  They cannot see an adult point of view.  Empathy, higher reasoning skills and coping mechanisms are often out of their realm of development.

Children’s tantrums can be equally frustrating for adults.  We have all seen and/or experienced the discomfort of a public tantrum.   The emotional outburst itself is not a reflection of poor parenting skills; yet, people tend to judge families based upon one behavior that actually is considered typical for young children.  One tantrum at home can change the timing and complexion of an entire day.  Dealing with young children’s emotions as simply and productively as possible is a skill that adults can develop.  It takes thought, time and patience to help children deal with the emotional storm.

Once a tantrum begins, it is very difficult to stop it.  Young children cannot process information when their emotions have taken so much control over their bodies.  Not only are tantrums emotional but they are also physical.  Just like when an adult feels a great deal of stress, a child’s heartbeat will increase and adrenaline will be released.  The majority of adults have developed coping mechanisms to deal with both emotional and physical changes but young children have not.  If your child tends to have strong emotional reactions, watch for the signs that a tantrum may be on the way.  There is a small window of time when they begin to feel stressed but before the physicality takes over.   In my experience as both an early childhood professional and a parent, that window is the time to facilitate coping skills.  Catch the beginning of the emotions and encourage the child to take deep breaths. The deep breathing and increase in oxygen will lower the heart rate and send signals to the brain that no further physical reactions are necessary.  When helping your child to breath deeply, encourage eye contact.  Speak calmly and acknowledge the frustration.  We can give children the words to express how they feel.  Say “I know you are frustrated/sad/angry” to teach them the emotional vocabulary that they lack. 

It is essential that parents/caregivers to not get trapped in the tantrum with their children.  Reacting emotionally will exacerbate the emotions of the child.  Tantrums end faster when the adults remain calm.  If you miss the opportunity to avoid the peak of anger, unfortunately, the child must go through it. Their bodies have taken over and they cannot process what you may say or do.  Contrary to what you may see on well-meaning television shows, talking to a screaming child or isolating them in time out does not solve the problem because it does not stop the body’s physical reaction to stress.  Rather than send an out of control child from the room, it is safer to stay nearby.  If need be, you will be close enough to step in and prevent possible injury.  Children in the full thrust of a tantrum cannot reasonably decide that flinging themselves or other objects may be dangerous.  In fact, they should know that you are nearby and that they haven’t been left alone while out of control.  Being so out of control is frightening for young children.  There are psychological studies that have shown that time out seems to work because the isolated child has become so terrified that the body actually swings in the other direction.  This extreme reaction to terror is not teaching your child how to cope.  Stay nearby, calmly say their names and tell them that they will be okay.  They really don’t know that.

Just as emotions and physicality have a build-up and peak, they also have an ending period.  It theorized that the peak of a tantrum occurs when anger exceeds sadness.  At some point, the sadness overtakes the anger and we see what appears to be calming.  I have seen children go through an entire tantrum of screaming and body movements without tears – until they start to calm down.  The sobbing often begins when the sadness takes over.  When you emotionally step back and observe this pattern, it is even sad to watch.  It is, however, the deep breathing during heavy sobbing that slowly returns the heart rate and other bodily reactions to normal.  It is only after the children regain control that they can process what you might want to teach them.
After they are completely calm, you can revisit the original problem – the source of their emotional reaction.  As with all behavioral situations, consider this a chance for instruction rather than punishment.  Teach them what to do to solve the situation so they don’t have to feel so stressed next time.  Give them the words to help express what they were feeling so both of you can use them in the future.  Above all else, always remember who the adult is in the room.  You have years of practice in controlling your reactions and emotions.  There is no better time to use that skill than when your child needs you.

Copyright 2012 © Cindy Terebush
All Rights Reserved
Please do not sell, post, curate, publish, or distribute all or any part of this article without author's permission.   You are invited, however, to share a link to this post on your webpage, Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, and other social networking sites.