Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Please stop these challenging behaviors!

There's one part of our new playground where children are continually in competition,
all wanting to use the same piece of equipment.
We call it "the motorcycle,"
with its bike-like seat and
companion chair -
you hop on and rock, rock, rock.
One child is particularly fond of this, heading immediately there as soon as we enter the playground, and
she will spend the playground session on this one seat,
if we let her.

Of course, she's not alone in her interest in this motorcycle,
so a long line of children forms around her and
we practice all sorts of ways to take turns.

I wish there were more than one of these darn motorcycles! I am spending so much time in this vicinity, helping children negotiate the sharing.

The other day, she came running up to me,
smiling with delight, and explaining,
"Ms. Ingram! I let my friends have a turn!"

Every day previous,
after she had been on the motorcycle for a good long while,
I had gone up to her and said,
"It's time to let your classmates have a turn,"
as I simultaneously extended a hand to help her off the bike.
Usually, she would burst into tears, saying,
"I want to do it! I want to do it!" and
I would persist in helping her off,
throwing in both comfort and teaching words such as,
"I know it would be fun to stay here all day long!"
"Thank you for sharing with your classmates."
"I know you want all your classmates to have a chance to play on the motorcycle."
"I wish there were more motorcycles out here - imagine if there were! How fun would that be!?"

On this fine day,
she had shared the motorcycle on her very own,
without my instigation.
I gave her a big high-five, saying
 "I am so proud of you - what a great sharer you are!"

When I think about it, there are so many, many small challenging behaviors in a single day in a preschool classroom -

grabbing toys from a classmate
leaving toys and other things on the floor
stepping on books
moving too fast (for example, running in the classroom)
moving too slowly (for example, taking too long to line up, showing no interest in clean up)
hurting a classmate
shouting or screaming
tantrums and crying (with sometimes unknown causes)
misplacing an item
knocking over a toy
and all sorts of refusals, such as refusing to
  • share,
  • put away one's things,
  • do something for oneself (for example, put on one's shoes)
On and on.
Truly, anyone who teaches preschool knows -
this is just the beginning of a list of challenging behaviors…
there is an endless list.

Because these behaviors are so commonplace, daily, and, even, developmentally normal, here's where teacher's voice and overall classroom tone comes into play.

What do I want my classroom to feel like? 
What do I want my children to sense, as they enter my room? As they play alongside me?
How will I respond to these challenging behaviors so that my classroom remains an overall joyful place?

I find it so much more effective and pleasant to lead children to more appropriate behaviors
by focusing on the positive,
by explicitly stating the larger goal,
by giving them a specific action,
rather than simply 'bossing' them into stopping the challenging behavior.

[But - to be honest - there is an internal voice screaming "STOP!"]

One of the things that makes the start of a school year so challenging for me is all the new staff. Each year, we have many new adults because of a new cohort of Teaching Residents, additional new faces at our before and after care programs, and, often, new folks leading the various specials.

And, each year, at the outset of the year, I hear so many reactive voices, and
they are, for me, like fingernails on a chalkboard -
"Stop putting that in your mouth."
"Stop running."
"Pick up those toys."
"Don't say that."
"Don't touch that."
"Give that to your classmate right now."

I understand it completely.
You -the adult - are in the midst of doing something, and
up comes some challenging behavior from the seemingly endless list …

However, I've learned,
no matter what I am doing,
the most important teaching is really my response to these challenging behaviors.

I am their role model and
what I do and say means so much to them.

What do I want them to know and understand?
What is the behavior that I want to stop?
What would I rather see? 
Can I name this replacement behavior?

I try to restate the desired behavior in the most positive action words,
setting positive expectations.

We are all the happier for it!

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