Sunday, February 19, 2017

Building Trust With Children

Welcome to my revamped and renewed blog! I’m excited to share some of my thoughts about parenting, early childhood education, and child development with my readers. Because my book is in the middle stages of its life, this blog will provide a pivotal space in which to learn about my research ahead of my text’s publication in a more informal manner.

As a scholar and an educator, if I had to distill my “mission statement” into one idea, I would emphasize my belief that, in order to be the best that we can be for our children, we must first build and maintain a strong foundation in the adult–child relationship. No element of child development is as significant as the parent/guardian–child relationship, while other adult–child relationships are also imperative.

This first article offers an introduction to building, maintaining, and, if necessary, repairing the adult–child relationship.

Building Relationships With Children

Everything in childhood development boils down to our relationships with children. Altogether, in such affiliations, the adult’s role is to offer an unyielding presence and support that the child can rely upon, an essential element for healthy maturation.

Often, when I talk to parents about behavioral challenges they face with their kids at home, I find that the child’s trust in the adult has deteriorated for one reason or another. The love is constant but faith is simply lacking. Frequently, despite having the best intentions at heart, parents unintentionally send messages that convey a lack of trustworthiness. 

In particular, adults can undermine their credibility with children when they:
  • Tell a child they are leaving in one minute and then they don’t actually do so
  • Make promises in order to bribe a child into doing something but then don’t follow through in hopes that the child will forget
  • Threaten to take away a privilege if the child exhibits certain behavior (after which the child acts out the prohibited behavior and yet is still allowed the revoked privilege)
  • Make an absolute statement but then cave in when the child whines or begs
  • Make a rule but don’t enforce or follow up on it

Losing a Child’s Trust

Children perceive such small inconsistencies and interpolate them into how they interpret their relationships with adults. Children tend to take what their parents and other grown-ups say at face value. The problem isn’t that they overtly stop trusting adults—the problem, the big problem, is subtler than this: children no longer view their parent/guardian as reliable due to this lack of consistency in their behavior, ultimately losing their respect for the adult’s authority. Children’s loss of trust toward the parent/guardian can be indicated by the following behaviors:
  • Frequent testing of rules, limits, and/or boundaries
  • Pushing, nagging, and badgering (because the children don’t believe that adults will follow through with promised punishments)
  • Repeatedly doing things that they have been asked not to
  • Attention- and validation-seeking behaviors (because children want to be sure that they are loved—when everything else is questionable, such as during the maturation process, why wouldn’t a parents’ love be equally uncertain?)
  • Ignoring the parent (because the parent will give up or lose it and yell eventually—such a point is actually indicative of when the child feels that he or she has finally received the adult’s attention)

All of these symptoms look like a child exhibiting “bad” behavior. However, such actions actually mean much more—after all, if the parent just followed through on the little things that they, consciously or unconsciously, let slide, the child’s sense of trust would have grown rather than dwindled. 

And with that trust would come the child’s responsiveness, sense of mutual respect, awareness of unconditional parental love, and a loss of the need to test the relationship’s integrity. Luckily, all of these developments are still possible—as the adult in the relationship, you can take charge and lead the two of you to a stronger foundation.

Rebuilding Trust With a Child

Once a child has begun exhibiting symptoms that show s/he has lost faith in an adult, it is essential to work to consciously rebuild this trust.

Some small steps can go a long way in strengthening this relationship, including:
  • Saying what you mean and meaning what you say
  • Not confusing choices with directives. Note the difference between questions such as “can we leave now?” or “are you ready to come to dinner?” and statements like “it’s time to go” or “it’s time to come to the dinner table.” The former suggests possibility while the latter implies concreteness.
  • Follow through with everything you say and, if you can’t, explain as much. Don’t just hope that the child forgets a promise of punishment or reward.
  • Pay attention to the small ways in which you let things slide. If you tell a child that they can’t play with your keys but then get distracted and hand them over, your child will notice the discrepancy. You might be surprised at how small incidents like this can inform a child’s understanding of your relationship dynamic. Try to pay attention to such details—after all, if a kid can do it, so can you!

Trust is considered one of the most meaningful aspects of all interpersonal relationships. However, this element is especially important in dynamics built between children and adults. If you notice that you have lost a child’s trust, ensure that you make every effort to rebuild it. After all, you have the upper hand as a grown-up. Plus, you have enormous influence over your combined future.

For more content and inquiries:

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

after the election

it seems like most of us are struggling to wrap our heads around the results of the presidential election...and i think with the best intentions we included the children in this discussion.  i'm not 100% sure they're ready for the gravity of what's going on in the political arena.

i am trying to see through my own thoughts and emotions around this election and identify how we can best serve the children - how can we protect their childhood, protect them from political tensions and fears, while also using current events to extract learning opportunities that are age appropriate? 

trying to navigate all of this is literally making me head is spinning and i have no idea how to approach this nor what i need to be for the children right now.  today i will be looking to the early childhood education blogosphere for guidance on this.

and when i'm in these situations, i fall back to what i do best - let the children take the lead.

we sat down for circle time and, after singing a very lighthearted good morning song, saying each of their names with a "horray" that they came to school today, i asked if anyone had anything on their mind that they'd like to share about. not a single child talked about the election.  as we went around the circle, children shared about their upcoming playdates, injuries they've had recently, their siblings' birthday parties, where they're going to dinner tonight, what they brought to school today.  the really, really important things for the kids. 

but i still had this nagging "really, really important" thing i wanted to talk about so i just threw it out there: "anyone have any thoughts about the elections?"

since my brain and heart are too raw to go into too much theorizing and interpretation, i'm just going to jot down some quotes from our discussion:

"we were hoping that the girl one was gonna be our president"
"we were watching something on tv this morning and my mom was crying 'cause donald trump is our president"
"i was crying this morning because of that too because i really wanted the girl to be our president because it's mostly good if you were nice before you were a president"
(what did donald trump do that wasn't nice?) "he told people things" (like what?) "i don't know"
"i wanted to have a doll that was purple" :)
"so mom said for the country if they broke the whole world i could fix it up 'cause i'm strong"
"the president of the country, what was here, she is not winning"
"my dad went out to the president while i was sleeping and when i came back they brought me a special sticker"
"my mom said bad people are called bullies" (yes, bullies are people that try to do things to people without asking or try to make choices for others that aren't god for them) "and choose what they do" (that's right)
"when i went to a babysitter, my mom went to a boy's wedding, and if donald trump is president, he'll say you don't get to be married anymore" (that's right, donald trump wants to make choices for others that they don't like)
"we can watch tv and make the president" (we can vote, yes)
"ok, so, i'm gonna build blocks right in front of my house, hard blocks that are stone, and if the president comes and tries to knock them down he will get hurt" (so the short discussion that ensued was to mitigate fear that the president isn't a "bad guy" in the sense that we see in movies - and i differentiated that he'll try to make rules to take things away, like rights, but he's not going to physically go try and steal people's stuff)
"we should be nice to our president" (i agree, we have to teach him how to be nice by being nice) "and today is our chance to be nice"
"i'm not gonna be afraid of donald trump" (crap, this is the immature interpretation i was afraid of! - so i said 'well, his new job is to protect us, so we don't need to be afraid of him')
"so if we want that boy to be nice, donald trump to be nice, we should say, 'don't just be rude to people. you protect our planet!'" (we could write letters to him to tell him what we want, that's right)
"what does donald trump look like" -this little mini convo was interesting
and this is how circle time ended.

what are your thoughts on the children's comments? these are direct quotes taken from the video i took of circle time.

i really think the children are resilient to what is happening politically, and i guess my job is just to preserve childhood in the best way that i can, by doing what i do every day. play. and if they are trying to sort out stuff they're hearing and seeing, it's going to come out in their play.

my conflict lies here - in my adult world, if i'm acting as if everything is okay, trying to see the positive and see the silver lining, i feel i'm also nestling myself in my white privilege, ignoring the experience of the people that will be the most impacted - the poor, the LGBT community, pretty much every racial minority group. being a woman, i fear a country that views women like he does. but being a (mostly) white (pretty much) middle class (mostly) heterosexual american, i am also shielded from the bias and hate that is about to sweep through the country.  

and again, i go back to what i do every day. foster love. encourage children to live from their hearts and their own personal and pure sense of right and wrong. to focus on what binds us and unites us rather than what pulls us apart. to value what is important and give them a voice to express their feelings and thoughts and ideas. to be the outspoken leaders of tomorrow. and today.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Seasonal Changes in Classroom Dynamics

I'm posting this email that I sent to the children's parents yesterday because it has created many important dialogues with families about home dynamics. If this is an area that you struggle with, please talk to me so I can help you tailor this conversation around your unique family situation. This is just a brief look at a really big topic — if you have follow up questions for a future post, let me know!

This week has been really amazing for me. Just seeing how grounded the social interactions have been in our philosophy and what we want for the children. Strong assertiveness coupled with sensitive responsiveness is something I aspire to myself with other adults as the children are modeling it right before me.

As a teacher, I'm constantly looking at ways I can grow in how I support the children's optimal development. As we move into a time of year when the group has congealed and created their own unique group dynamic, different from any other constellation of children before them, they get into a very comfortable space where they test each other's limits and even test their own limits. 

What we often see this time of year leading into January is that the kids start exploring power dynamics. The good thing is they are so motivated to continue their games that they often self-correct and find their own answer to the question "where does my power end and yours begin?"

We've also seen a lot of bossiness arising. This is simply because they have strong opinions and haven't gotten to practice how to express them appropriately.  They need practice!

My knee-jerk impulse is to shut it down. Pat phrases like "use a gentle voice" or "have a calm body" or "say that again more beautifully" solve one problem, but it's not the problem that Beansprouts wants to solve for the kids.  

The problem it solves? My need for them to talk the way I want them to (aka my need to control them). 

The real problem? Helping them find an appropriate expression of power. 

They can express emotions and opinions while keeping others emotionally and physically safe. I trust them to be able to do this, so I don't have to hold their hand and lead them step by step (though some younger twos may require this). I trust that if I offer gentle parameters to what's appropriate and inappropriate, they will figure it out.  I don't want to undermine my trust in them by sending a message that they are incapable of handling their own internal and external stuff. if I over-explain, over-empathize,I'm communicating my lack of trust in their ability to get thru it.  THAT SAID, they also need to know that ultimately we are there to support them.

But when faced with situations involving strong emotions — rather than correcting their tone/body language,I'm trying to do more acknowledging of their need to express something big.  I absolutely hate when I feel a big feeling and have no outlet.  sometimes I need to swear or cry or shout. and...there are appropriate ways of doing that.  I'm not gonna do it in front of the kids, or lash out at the bank teller. It's my job to find ways to appropriate handle my feelings even if they are overwhelming. With the kids, statements of acknowledgment might be — "it sounds like you have something really important to say" or "you're feeling big feelings, but we need to find another way to express them" or simply "can you say how you feel without yelling at other people?".  They don’t have the luxury of years of developing impulse control, and may need to be given some leeway, but eventually they will establish their own ways to cope if we can just hold the safe and loving (and reliable and firm), space to do so.

It sounds so basic, like preschool teaching 101, yet it’s something I must continually look at in order to avoid falling into bad habits.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

What we leave behind - a reflection on Dia de los Muertos

On this Day of the Dead, I'm contemplating what we leave behind. In the context of working with children, I'm thinking about the memories and impressions I leave with the children that I interact with each day.

When I was a child, I went to preschool. We were not a family that could afford preschool every day, so I think I only went one or two days per week. And I remember very little about it. In fact, I have only two memories. One is being told that circletime has begun and I needed to come out of the play kitchen.  My memory is not of the words, but of the feeling that I had gotten in trouble. Guilt. The other memory is of me crying at the door. Or maybe I was seeing someone else cry and taking on the emotions around it. It's foggy.

I remember small snippets of my childhood, brief interactions and the way I felt during those moments.

When I interact with children, I often reflect on what memory I will leave with them. What if this is that one memory that they carry away from preschool? What if this moment is my one chance to leave their lifelong impression of their first teacher?  What if they don't remember my words, but remember instead the feeling that our interaction invoked within them?

Today's post, this post after years of absence from this blog, is a question...a reflection. Not a statement, nor an answer.

What can I do to take each moment as an opportunity to leave behind a legacy worth remembering?

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Not Just Playing

In the realm of early childhood education, we are very aware of the fact that in quality preschool programs, children are "not just playing".  We bring so much intentionality into everything we do and every activity we offer, taking into account children's interests, levels of development, and developmental goals for each child.  

Free play is offered to children in abundance at Beansprouts Preschool. However, free play is observed and guided appropriately when children are unfocused or seem to need more grounding.  A high level of awareness is necessary to assess where the children are on any particular day, and what they need from us.  It is only on my very worse days as a teacher that I am just "getting through the day", meaning the activities aren't happening but they just aren't presented with the usual level of intentionality behind them. Most of the time, we plan specific activities, areas of the classroom, new works, and new games for the children with specific developmental goals in mind.  Sometimes, this is intuitive. Sometimes we plan it out weeks ahead of time.  Some days, the best thing for the children is to allow them to fully direct their own play. On other days, more teacher facilitation is needed. To the untrained eye, all of these approaches could look exactly the same. However, we work hard to implement a program that is "right" for each child.  So while it looks like the children are "just playing", they are playing in an environment that we have set up with utmost care.


In this photo, K and C are using boats in a muddy river made by Sh.  Just playing? No way! This is a two-year-old and a four-year-old completely engaged in give-and-take of truly cooperative play.  The dialogue was rich with inquiry, as they checked in with one another to ensure they were both aligned with their self-created rules. Not to mention that they are playing in a river that Sh spent an hour digging and directing.

In the next photo, K is putting on dress-up clothes.  In the safety of a costume, children get to take on other roles (which has much significance in their cognitive development), explore different parts of themselves, and interact in new and highly flexible ways with others. In pretend play, anything is possible!

If the significance of this activity seems obvious, well it is. Puzzles offer multi-level brain development. But the most important part of this activity was the teamwork involved in putting the puzzle together!  

We make our own board games with our own goals in mind. For instance, in this board game, the sea creatures are trying to make it to the birthday party at the end of the game.  But it takes more than one to have a party, so they wait for their friends to arrive at the birthday party before ending the game! This encourages team-playership and a sense of camaraderie.  

Loose parts like these pool noodles are important in allowing us to tap into the world of the child. When they have loose parts to play with (blocks, sticks, rocks) that are completely open-ended, we get to see where their minds and hearts take them. We really get to know the children by observing their open-ended play.

Structured activities like this tracing and numeral matching work are offered as children begin to show interest and readiness in fine motor and academic learning. Because we work with a mixed age group, we don't impose a "way" to do this, but offer an option and allow them to use it in whatever way they are ready.

 Sensory tables tap into parts of the brain that other activities simply cannot. The way children gravitate toward sand, water, and mud ensures us that these sensory materials fulfill something vital for them.

They aren't just playing, and we aren't just watching.  There is a whole symbiotic, synergistic flow at work that allows the children to teach us exactly what we need to teach them.  As one of my mentors used to say, everything we need to know is right in front of us. We just need to look to the child and listen for the answers.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Back To Basics

Sometimes, between Pinterest and my obsession with preschool blogs, I lose track of the simpler things that children can enjoy each day.  Over the past couple of weeks, and in the wake of our holiday curricula for Valentine's Day, Chinese New Year, and Purim, we're getting back to basics.

Good Old Fashioned Painting

Sensory and Science Play
(this is the remnants of one afternoon of dropping liquid colors into slime--exactly the type of mess that reflects the development of scientific inquiry!)

Sand Play 
(we finally re-created the sandbox and the children spend lots of time there, as this picture depicts well)

While we haven't been keeping current on our blog, we're still here doing fun things with the children each day (and of course, pinning a bazillion things on Pinterest!).

Until Next Time,

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Our Surprise Pumpkin

Last year, as part of our science curriculum, we left a pumpkin to rot in our whiskey barrel garden.  We watched for weeks as it got softer, moldier, and darker. Eventually, it went away completely except for a moldy little stem, not unlike the witch's hat left behind in The Wizard of Oz.  However, unlike the wicked witch, our rotting pumpkin left behind something magical. Can you guess what that was?

A fertile seed, which sprouted this year.  Nobody knew what was growing there, but over time we were certain it was a squash of some sort.  It took a while before we even saw the fruit, as most of the flowers were snipped off at the stem by our local animal population.  Birds and squirrels make our garden part of their regular morning route.

But one day, we saw something green and round...and now we have a big orange pumpkin! It wasn't until Guada pointed out that the seed came from our rotten pumpkin last year that we even made the connection.  We got to watch the full cycle of reproduction in the most natural, seasonal form, right in our garden.  Just one of many lessons inherent in our finely tuned relationship with mother nature.