Tuesday, July 27, 2010

How to help children feel better?

One more blog with the theme of "bridges between school and home...."

Both preschool teachers and parents are only too familiar with the way children's behavior can fall apart, sometimes within seconds. Worse yet, sometimes children just have a bleak mood for the day. As the responsible adult, you have to deal with children who are whining, clinging, crying, yelling, or just plain needy. How can you change the mood? How can you get children to relax, take a deep breath, "chill"? Is there any way to teach children to self-soothe, calm down, or decompress?

What if you are in a bad mood, and you simply can't deal with your child's?

I received lots of great information on this during my teacher certification course at Montgomery County Childcare Association's Teacher Training Institute. My first day of class - which ended up being cancelled - was September 11, 2001. As the class continued that fall, Jacky Howell and Debbie Lebo reminded us repeatly about how important it is to keep young children cushioned and safe from our adult world problems. Many of my favorite techniques "to brighten the mood" are from this training:

Dance Party - put on your favorite dance music, announce "We need a Dance Party!," and begin boogying. All the more fun if you have special scarves for you and your child to hold onto as you sway to the music. I have changed the sour mood in my class with one stanza of Van Morrison's "Moon Dance" - children love to dance. The key is to put on music YOU enjoy, so that you will put your happiest heart into it.

No, Yes, Maybe (courtesy Debbie Lebo) - this is a very silly chant that can be done while sitting or standing and loosens up your neck and shoulder muscles. It goes as follows:

No, No, No!
(shake your head from side to side, and give a stern face)
Yes, Yes, Yes!
(nod your head up and down, and give a smiling, delighted face)
I don't know, I don't know, I don't know!
(roll your shoulders, up down, and give a perplexed face)

You can chant this over and over, faster and faster, and I promise, children will start laughing (and, hopefully, start mirroring your movements, letting their bodies relax).

Pretend Lotion (courtesy Debbie Lebo) - Here's one for you to practice your dramatic skills:

Open an imaginary bottle of magical relaxing lotion.
Squeeze some into the child's hands.
Put some on your hands, too.
Then, pretend to rub the lotion on your hands, arms, face, feet, and legs,
as the child mirrors your actions.
This is relaxing play!

Blow Bubbles - this childhood favorite, available at any dollar store, is always a hit. My colleague Michal recently shared a wonderful anecdote about the power of bubbles:

At a parenting workshop at a homeless shelter for young single mothers, Michal gave everyone a little gift of bubbles...later that evening (as told to Michal by the shelter's director), one mother, responding to her whiny, crying toddler, got out the new bubbles and blew them over the child's head, without saying a word. A magical mood-changing moment occurred: the toddler began to squeal with delight and the mother smiled and laughed.

Most preschool teachers keep bubbles at the ready in our curriculum cabinets - for the same kind of mood improvement. Bubbles are great!

Debbie Lebo notes how a sweet, soft hug or touch can improve a child's mood. She suggests these (and other) loving activities for one-on-one, adult with child:

Baby in the Bed:

Now's the time to go to sleep
(Child holds up one finger for "baby")
Put the baby in the bed
(Child lays finger on your open palm)
Cover the baby in the bed
(Fold your palm gently)
And kiss the baby goodnight
(Kiss child's finger in your hand)


Spiders crawling up your back
(Run fingers up the child's back)
Spiders crawling down your back
(Run fingers down)
Three big bumps!
(Touch fist gently 3 times on the child's back)
Cool breeze
(Blow on the back of the child's neck)
Warm squeeze
(Hug the child's shoulders)
Now you've got the chillies
(Tickle once around waist)

Don't forget the easiest mood-changer of all: go outside. If you are cooped up inside, take your child out and run, run, run around. Even if the weather is yucky! A few moments outdoors can do wonders for everybody.

These are just a few of my favorite mood-changers. There are many, many more. I hope you will give them a try!

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