Saturday, February 23, 2013

Helping Young Children to Build Emotional Intelligence



Experiencing a variety of emotions is an important part of the early childhood experience.  As parents, we want our children to always be happy but we cannot shield them from every experience that will cause a plethora of emotional reactions.  It is not our job to prevent them from feeling sad, angry, afraid or disappointed.  It is our job to help guide them through the many ways that they feel.   If we allow them to feel and then guide them, children learn that they can be in control and can cope.

The first and most important thing that parents and caregivers need to understand is that children’s feelings are real and need adult validation.  A child who is laughing finds something funny.  Likewise, a child who cries finds something sad.  We need to acknowledge that they are entitled to feel their emotions and give them the words to use to describe what they are feeling.  Adults tend to use approximately five words when naming emotions for children – happy, sad, mad, scared and upset.  Yet, we describe our own emotions with so many more words – frustrated, elated, terrified, annoyed, angry.  Our adult list of emotion words goes on and on.  We need to help our children to express their feelings with words by more precisely naming the emotion for them.  When your child is crying, it could be a sign of sadness, anger, frustration.  Say to your child, “I see you are frustrated” rather than the general words “mad” or “sad.”  Saying that you see the frustration accomplishes two tasks.  Your child will know that you recognize and validate that there is a problem.  The child will also start to identify that set of physical reactions as something called “frustration.”  Giving children a large emotional vocabulary helps them to more precisely communicate their feelings.

When children are feeling unpleasant emotions, they often feel out of control.  Crying is not fun.  It is acceptable to cry and it is also acceptable for them to know that when they are ready, they can regain control and stop.  The escalations of crying and temper tantrums have a physiology.  Children start to breathe with shallow breaths and their heart rate increases.   This sends a signal to the brain that there is an emergency and the brain releases hormones that intensify the reaction.  When children are crying, encourage them to make eye contact with you so they feel connected and less alone.  Encourage them to take deep breaths to reverse the physical process.  Teach them that they can control their breathing and, therefore, be able to stop on their own.   If we try to shield our children from every sadness, they never learn this important self-help skill.

When young children are angry, frustrated or otherwise feeling badly, adults need to help them to problem solve.  Critical thinking skills are developed may ways.  Children develop critical thinking skills while they play, build with blocks and do puzzles.  Children also develop those skills by solving an emotional dilemma.  Don’t solve it for them.  When the emotional outburst is over, strategize with your children.  Ask them questions like “What can you do so that doesn’t happen again?” or even just “What should you do next time?”  Make your children part of a decision making process so they develop the skills to make social and emotional decisions when you aren’t with them.

One of the biggest mistakes we make when trying to teach children to cope is dwelling on their last negative reaction.  We don’t want them to cry so we remind them of how they felt last time.  When we remind children not to cry, we actually perpetuate the notion that there is something to cry about.  Saying “Remember, don’t cry” raises a child’s anxiety level thus having the opposite effect both physically and emotionally.  Anxiety has the same physiology as frustration.  When we say “Remember not to cry this time,” anxiety sets in and their heart rates increase.  The brain reacts and they are no longer in control.  We should proceed with the confidence that all will be well and, even if it is not, the children will see that we are not afraid.  Having calm and smiling adults around them helps to reassure them that they can feel safe and secure.

Practicing emotional vocabulary and skills as preschoolers helps children to feel confident as they enter the elementary school years.  They will know it is just as acceptable to be elated as it is to be disappointed.  It is wonderful when they are joyful and it is fine when they are afraid.  They will leave their parents for the long kindergarten day better able to navigate the ups and downs of daily life in a larger world.


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Read this blog for more articles and learn about early childhood workshops for parents and early childhood professionals - www.helpingkidsachieve.com
                                                      
Copyright 2013 © 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.

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Monday, February 18, 2013

Safeguarding Realistic Expectations for our Preschools



It has taken a long time for the importance of the preschool years to become widely acknowledged.  Today, we read about it in newspapers and magazines.  We heard about it during President Obama’s State of the Union Address.  It is, at the same time, exciting for those of us in the profession and a little frightening.  In our quest to give children the best early childhood foundation for future learning, it is essential that we do not lose sight of realistic expectations for our youngest learners. 

The most important skills that children learn during the preschool years are social and emotional.  They go from having the undivided attention of adults who care for their every need to becoming part of a group.  They learn the art of functioning in a community and begin to find their place in a larger world.  Early learners need to be in an environment that is based upon the reality of how young children learn and how their need to develop individually is best fostered:
  

  • Every child develops at a different rate.  Some children will be very verbal while others will be more analytical.  Some children will be ready to write or read during the preschool years and others will not.  Some children will have a vast vocabulary while others are still mastering the ins and outs of language skills.  The development of cognitive skills takes place at different times for each child.  Potty training, zipping clothes and tying shoes cannot be scheduled on a calendar.  Learning to read and write cannot be scheduled either.  While children should be offered opportunities to practice new skills, we need to be careful that skills which are developmental do not become mandatory.  We need to ensure that unrealistic testing does not enter the preschool classroom.
  • Young children need the opportunity to make decisions and solve real problems in order to gain self-confidence and become critical thinkers.  The majority of a preschooler’s day should be child driven and not directed by adults.  Children need to be able to freely explore and ask questions.  It is the teacher’s job to expand upon their natural curiosity by asking more questions and encouraging more exploration.  Adults need to be presenting opportunities for children to add to their own knowledge and not trying to pour facts into their students’ heads.  This cannot happen if too much time is spent at adult pursuits.  We need to recognize that what looks like learning to adults – test scores, 100% on workbook pages – does not create learners. 
  • Children need the freedom to test societal boundaries.  Children test the world around them in a variety of ways.  They try out new behavior and imitate the behavior of others to see if the adults will react.  They set up pretend situations to experiment with power, emotion, acceptance and rejection.  The most important part of their day is when they pretend.  They are egocentric and must become something in order to see how it feels.  They cannot simply observe their parents or friends to understand their feelings.  They have to be the people around them.  Thus, they will watch someone be corrected for inappropriate behavior but will immediately do the same themselves.  They will pretend to be their parents, teachers, doctor, sibling and even their pets.  They have to have the time to do this and their behavior has to be gently guided.  It is through imitation and pretend that they develop empathy and decision making skills.  We need to be careful that we recognize that “free play” is actually the most important learning time of the day.  No amount of writing letters or numbers can outweigh the lessons learned during “free play.”

So many parents and teachers bemoan the product based, test driven environment that has become so pervasive in our elementary, middle school and high school classrooms.  Teaching to the test takes time away from deeper, more meaningful experiences.  The near elimination of recess and socialization time has taken away the time that children need to unwind and explore on their own.  As our society embraces the importance of an early childhood education, we must work to ensure that the focus remains on how to help our youngest students become empathetic, self-assured critical thinkers.  We must encourage a system that gives parents choice as to what their children will experience in their most formative years.

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Read this blog for more articles and learn about early childhood workshops for parents and early childhood professionals - www.helpingkidsachieve.com
                                                      
Copyright 2013 © 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.

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Thursday, February 14, 2013

Is There an Increasing Disconnect Between Adults & Youth?



Three times in the past week, I was taken aback by what was said about the relationships in a classroom.  First, I spoke with a school administrator about a staff workshop on the topic of project based learning.  She bemoaned the fact that children “don’t care about learning anymore without bells and whistles.”  Days later, I attended a workshop at which the facilitator commented that being a teacher in a classroom is “lonely.”  Finally, I received an email from a prior workshop attendee asking if I would comment for an article about the difficulty of the increased number of special needs students in typical early childhood classrooms.  I do not think children have stopped wanting to learn.  I have never seen teaching as lonely.  I see the increased number of special needs children as a way to challenge our preconceived notions and educational skill set but not as a difficulty.  Needless to say, I had much to contribute to that article that probably won’t be in the published version.

I see a disconnect.   When did teachers stop being a part of their students’ world?  I would like to blame the standardized testing, product producing environment that has penetrated too many classrooms but I’m not convinced this is the only issue.   While the ever increasing technology has produced a generation with a different skill set and perspective than the one before, both teachers and parents are still obligated to reach toward and connect to our youth.  We are one community in the classroom and in our homes.  Early childhood through college, teachers and parents should be a part of the learning process.  It is not only my job, as a teacher or parent, to impart wisdom and manage behavior.  It is also my job to figure out what makes the young people I interact with curious, engaged and participatory learners. 

There is a give and take in any adult/child relationship.  We all have to figure each other out.  Young people need to figure out the boundaries in every situation.  They test us all the time.  They need to understand exactly how much each adult will tolerate in their behavior, actions and conversations.  It is their job to push us.  That is where their job begins and ends.  It is my job as a parent and as an educator to reach to them.  I need to figure out what makes them curious and expand upon that.  I need to figure out what activities give them ownership over their learning so they can get lost in it.  I need to listen more than I talk and look for the deeper meaning in the questions they ask.  Their questions are just the top layer of their curiosity.  We need to probe to find out how and what they are thinking.

I don’t believe that children don’t care about learning without bells and whistles. The bells and whistles – computers, tablets, smartphones – when used properly and not in place of human interaction, are merely their research tools.  They don’t make children less curious.   All animals are naturally curious.  We need to give them the confidence gained from being right, the chance to make decisions without critique and an environment that promotes exploration rather than correct answers on a worksheet.  If children seem less curious, it is because we have failed to probe and to listen.

Special needs students are our teachers.  They force us to think outside of our boxes.  They are not in any way required to get into a box with us.  Just when I think I know how to connect with young people or address a behavior, a student comes along and proves me wrong.  I am forced to take time out of my everyday obligations to think and consider how to change what I do to include and engage them.  I don’t always succeed and I have to accept that I cannot change who they are in order to make this life easier for them.  If special needs students are perceived as difficult, it is because we have failed to take an opportunity to learn and to find what gifts they offer the world.

Teaching is anything but lonely – unless, of course, you don’t see yourself as part of the learning environment.  For me, lonely would be sitting in a cubicle piled high with papers that I don’t care about and don’t make me think.  Classrooms are full of human interaction, questioning, discussing, challenging and learning from one another.  We need to join with our students and not expect them to join with us.  In early childhood classrooms, I sit in the small chairs and become a part of their world.  I take this background with me when I teach older students and even adults.  When I give speeches or lecture, I am always uncomfortable behind a podium.  I tend to walk away from it and toward the audience.  The podium separates me from the community.  When I am not tied to technology and the limits of how far a wire or cable will reach, you will find me walking through the room and sitting among my students.  I don’t do this to merely manage behavior and watch for sneaky cell phone users.  I do this to create a room psychology that includes me.  I am a part of them.  I am facilitating but I am also an active listener and learner.  The knowledge I have is best imparted when students are spoken with and not at.  In all the years that I have taught all ages, I have not for one minute felt lonely.  If you think teaching is lonely, you have failed to join the class.

When children are babies, we reach to them all the time.  We pick them up.  We bend down to help them.  We are contortionists trying to satisfy their needs when they are strapped into car seats.  We have to keep reaching toward them as they grow.  Just because they are too heavy to pick up, doesn’t mean they don’t need us to connect with them.  
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Read this blog for more articles and learn about early childhood workshops for parents and early childhood professionals - www.helpingkidsachieve.com
                                                      
Copyright 2013 © 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.

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Wednesday, February 6, 2013

What's In A Name In A Preschool Classroom?



When you walk into the early learning center that I direct, you find children making choices, producing only child-created crafts and participating in a great deal of exploration & self-discovery.  The atmosphere is relaxed and allows children to build their knowledge at their own pace by choosing from a plethora of offered experiences.  It is a place where children acquire a foundation that matters – one of self-esteem, self-help, critical thinking & decision making skills and a love of learning.  A parent pointed out to me recently that she admires that in this child-centered environment, we teach the children to call us by last name.

In my school, I am Mrs. Terebush.   I am not Miss Cindy.  I have heard the argument that first names are easier to pronounce.  No.  The youngest children in my program, age 2 ½ years, do a really good job of saying Terebush.  It may not be perfect but it is always understandable.  They learn it like they do every other word – by hearing it over and over.  Surely, a child who can say, “Crackers, please” can master many last names.

I have also heard that many preschools use Miss with a first name to create an atmosphere of friendliness.  I don’t understand why Miss Smith is automatically less friendly than Miss Jenny.  Over the years being a teacher, then director, then consultant, I have seen some Miss Jennys and Miss Sues speak to the children in a tone that was less than friendly.  A warm atmosphere is created by warm people and not by the decision to use a first name.

One of the goals of preschool should be to help prepare children for the upcoming elementary school years.  We teach them to put on their coats and open their own lunches.  We teach them to sit nicely together and to negotiate play.  We take individuals and show them how to function as a class.  None of these children will go to kindergarten and be able to call the teacher Miss Anne or Mr. Joe.  Calling the teacher by last name is a part of being in a school in this country.

Calling a teacher by last name may be one of the last vestiges of a time when all adults were referred to by last name as a sign of respect.  I am always impressed when my son’s teenage friends speak to me and say “Mrs. Terebush” without hesitation.  My immediate response is to think that the teenager was raised to be respectful of adults.  I will tell teens that they can call me “Cindy” but I appreciate the fact that I need to give that permission.  We are not equals.  There is and should be a societal pecking order.  At the very least, people should be afforded the respect they have earned.  Teachers are authorities and are educated.  Just as we teach preschoolers to call their doctor by his title and last name, so should they be taught to call their teachers by last name.  It is not wrong to teach respect.

I sit in the small chairs to interact with our preschoolers.  I laugh with them and play with them.  I hold upset children and comfort them.  I give them every opportunity to learn, grow and feel loved.  I teach them respect by respecting them.  I am proud to say that I am loved by them even though my name is Mrs. Terebush.
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Read this blog for more articles and learn about early childhood workshops for parents and early childhood professionals - www.helpingkidsachieve.com
                                                      
Copyright 2013 © 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.

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