You Can’t Guide Behavior From Across A Crowded Room and Other Obvious Things that Aren’t So Obvious

Pointing out the obvious is my favorite part of speaking to groups of parents or educators.  I can rattle off educational theory.  I lecture about the importance of developmentally appropriate practice and child development.   People nod and take notes.  The room is usually serious until I point out the obvious.  We all do things that make little sense when we really think about it.  People see themselves in the stories I share and laugh.  When the laughter subsides, I always tell them to think about it.  Guiding young children successfully through learning skills – both cognitive and social/emotional – takes training, thought and years of practice.  I am happy to save you some time by sharing this list of obvious things that may not be so obvious.

You Can’t Guide Behavior From Across A Crowded Room –  Two preschool aged children are struggling over a toy.  They are too young to facilitate sharing without guidance.  We know that because they are playing tug of war with the toy, yelling and crying.  All of a sudden, a voice booms from across a crowded room, “Stop that!  Use your words and share!”  No.  That’s not going to work.  You are too far away to have any influence and the word “share” is confusing.   To young children “share” means “give it to me now.”  And from across a room?  You aren’t even in their social space.  We all have personal and social space.  You need to get in there with them.  I know I don’t like being barked at from across a room and don’t respond well.   You need to get up, go to the children, get on their eye level and guide their play.  Children of this age need to possess items before they can give them to the next person.  Facilitate the passing back and forth of the item or negotiate with them. 

Sad Children Have Something To Cry About –  No one likes to cry.  It makes your eyes puffy, your nose run and your head hurt.  Children do not wake up in the morning thinking , “I can’t wait to cry for no reason today.”  The reason may seem like trivia to you but to the child, it is real and upsetting.  It is essential that you validate their feelings.  Children need to know that what they feel matters to you and they need your help to learn to cope and calm down.  Lines of communication are opened when we say, “I see that you are sad.”  Help the child to breathe deeply to calm down.   Teach coping skills by giving your children the words for what they are feeling and by discussing how to handle the situation better next time.  Validating feelings raises self-esteem and opens the door for better child/adult relationships.

2 Hour Movies May Not Be Realistic – The movie is obviously made for children.  You think you are doing a wonderful thing by going to the movie theater with the sticky floors and enduring the predictable story.  Before you know it, your child is squirming, facing the back of the theater and plotting the pathway to the door.  They dance in aisle as you sip soda and repeatedly say, “Watch.  Are you watching?”  No.  They’ve stopped watching.  Most young children cannot sit attentively for the length of an entire movie.   The ability to sit still is developmental and dependent upon the growth of the frontal lobe of the brain.  The amount that you paid for admission has no bearing.  Going to the movies is an exciting experience even when they don’t sit through the entire thing.  If you decide to attempt it, go in knowing that sitting in the seat for that long is an unrealistic expectation.  Movie going with young children should be less about the plot and more about the excitement of the outing.  Just go with the flow.

Children Don’t Like to Wait Any More than You Do – Think about how you feel when you wait in line at the supermarket or in traffic.  Annoying, right?  That is an adult version of “Are we there yet?”  It is even harder for children to wait because impulse and reasoning is controlled by that still-developing frontal lobe of the brain.  Why do young children grab things from supermarket shelves after you‘ve told them over and over to stop?  They do that partially because they just want to and partially because they cannot control the impulse.  They cannot wait while you shop.  In school, preschool children asked to stand in line and wait will do anything but that.  They touch each other, move around and leave the line.  They cannot wait.   Supermarkets put magazines by the check-out line because they know adults don’t wait well either.  Adults start to look around, read the headlines and are tempted to buy the magazines.  When going anywhere with young children, you should always have entertainment available to fill waiting time.  If you don’t have books in your pocket, talk to them or play with them.    It will make waiting more pleasurable than listening to “Are we done yet?” and replying, “You have to wait” over and over.

Children are not born knowing right from wrong, reasonable boundaries and acceptable social skills.  Adults need to guide them with realistic expectations.  At the end of each day, reflect upon their actions and your choices.  Try to find the obvious in what did and didn’t work.

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Copyright 2013 © Cindy Terebush
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  1. Thank for your this Cindy. Years ago, I worked with a young teacher who shouted across the room and it made my hairs stand on end. I also saw her finish a child's painting which put me over the edge. I ended up leaving the school, so I don't know what she did, but I certainly hope she found another vocation.
    I so enjoy your insights Cindy.

    1. I'm glad you enjoy my articles. Shouting across the room and finishing a child's art work should be grounds for dismissal.

    2. I've been that teacher. Glad I wasn't dismissed but instead given the opportunity to grow.

    3. Great point, Sarah. Glad you weren't dismissed either!


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