Sunday, January 22, 2012

What to do with the Tiggers?

It happens so very quickly. He moves so very quickly. Highly-reactive, in a physical way! Today's example, he is carrying his lunch debris to the trash can; he pauses to look at the book that the Teaching Resident is reading to a small group of children. Another child moves into his line of vision. WHUMP! He throws an empty milk container at this child and then the rest of his trash. I am furious. There is milk and rice on the carpet. He just can't help himself; he never plans to react this way. If he sat and thought about it, he wouldn't do it. He is very sorry. It's just impulse. Throw! Shove! Hit! Smack!  

He sees I'm upset and he runs away, to the other side of the room.

Another day with my Tigger.

They are exhausting to teach.
They are exhausting to parent.


Yes, you in A. A. Milne's Winnie the Pooh:
The wonderful thing about Tiggers
Is Tiggers are wonderful things
Their tops are made out of rubber
Their bottoms are made out of springs
They're bouncy, trouncy, flouncy, pouncy,
fun, fun, fun, fun, fun!

For many teachers (and parents) this is truly "challenging behavior."

For many teachers (and parents) this is behavior that should be tamped down on.

I'm here to say:
Enough with the scolding! Let's seek to understand.

This is very, very common behavior.
Developmentally "within the range."
Not in the least surprising to me.
It is very common for three year old children
(often, but not always, boys)
to be highly physical, reactive, and impulsive.

In a much earlier blogpost, I described multiple intelligences as defined by Howard Gardner  (Linguistic, Logical-Mathematical, Spatial, Musical, Bodily-Kinesthetic, Naturalist, Interpersonal, and Intrapersonal).  Let's highlight one:

Bodily-Kinesthetic Intelligence. Breakfast table squirmers and the first on the playground, they pick up knowledge through bodily sensations. Athletically gifted, they show interest in sports, dance, acting - anything physical. They communicate using gestures and body language, like to act out their thoughts and are clever mimics. Occasionally they express their skills in crafts like woodworking or sewing. Without appropriate outlets, they may be labeled hyperactive. Learning comes with touching and moving. Motivate them through "role play, dramatic improvisation, creative movement and all kinds of physical activity," says Armstrong. Hands-on activities are their learning opportunities.

This year, I have several "Bodily-Kinesthetic Intellects" in my class.
They are perky and fun a lot of the time. But exhausting.
They learn with their bodies.
They discover with their bodies.
They hurt without realizing it.

What do I do in my classroom to support these students?

How do I discipline these physical, reactive, impulsive friends?

I honestly think that it is very likely that different temperaments, different intelligences require different discipline approaches.
No two children are exactly alike - why should our discipline be one rigid, unwavering way?
Tailor the discipline to the child.

With these "Tiggers", I try to:

  • let some of the small stuff go - no need to tamp down on every little mis-step
  • recognize and compliment when they show restraint, 
  • be a calm force in a reactive field (and forgive myself when I fail!),
  • minimize my words, 
  • lose my moralizing tone, 
  • take them by the hand and engage them in a moving, physical activity with a simple "Let's go..."
  • give them a physical outlet - a simple walk down the hall with me, or washing out paintbrushes, or wiping tables - before I speak to them about the "wrong-doing,
  • be present and quiet, alongside them - give them a chance to open up.

When the child is calm, and I am there beside him/her, I try to encourage reflection and amends.  Dan Hodgins  suggests that you help the child recognize the problem:

1. Ask, "what happened just before you hit Jamie?"
2. Restate what is the real problem, "Jamie took your truck and you are not done with it."
3. Help with solutions, "Jamie could ask first," "You could hit this box," or you could say, "This is mine and I'm not done yet."

I also find it helpful to teach my whole class about our different temperaments - and all the different ways that people show anger and frustration.  I teach children to give one another "wide berth" when one is frustrated or angry.  

Last, but not least, I try to step back and think about the individual child and the overall classroom experience that day - to reflect upon personal struggles the child might be having, plus, how many physical outlets I have provided, and how many "powerful things" I've allowed the children to do.  Am I providing an environment that allows children to learn self-regulation?  As Bev Bos, Michael Leeman, and Dan Hodgins emphasized in the "Good Stuff for Kids" conference this past summer:

the more "powerful" experiences that you give to children, the more self-regulation they acquire, and the less discipline issues that arise.

What does it mean to support or provide power for a preschooler? I know I already shared these from Bev, Michael, and Dan, but they are so important that I'm going to repeat them again here:

  • Jumping
  • Hammering and sawing (using real tools - with adult guidance)
  • Provide lots of physical space
  • Ziplines
  • A variety of movable objects
  • Ladders
  • Climbing walls
  • Allow children to raise their voices, to be louder than you want
  • Have a loud space (not just a calm down space)
  • Visual guidance (rather than adult voice)
  • Allow children to take things back and forth between centers/areas of the room
  • Give children choices; be flexible with them
  • Sword fighting with rolled-up newspapers
  • Ignore healthy "bullying" between children- such as - "Hey, go get that block for me" (retire the teacher's voice re: bossiness - especially if it's not an issue for the receiver)
  • Put out pretend fires
  • Construction - in as big space as possible (most workbenches are too small)
  • Crates for pulling and filling
  • Rough-housing and tumble play
  • Clay pounding
  • Singing
  • Dressups - especially capes
  • Tug of war
  • Arm wrestling
  • "London Bridge"
  • "Motorboat"
  • "Red Rover, Red Rover"
  • Boxes for kicking
  • Running
  • Handshaking!

Whew!  Yes, Tiggers can be challenging.
There's no single approach or technique that creates a perfect day every day.
Patience, understanding, and compassion are essential.

A final word of advice from Bev Bos:

When you are struggling with what to do, just gently hold the child's hand and look at it, study it. You'll know what to do, with your eyes on that sweet gentle hand.

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