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!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Why tell children the schedule?

Let me continue on this topic of "bridges between home and school" - things teachers do at school that families could continue doing at home, making life with preschoolers a little easier or perhaps even more fun. Today I want to explain the thinking behind "the daily schedule" - why teachers always provide visuals of the day's routine; more specifically, why they always tell children where they are going next. Simply put: children need to know where they are going!

At the Addressing Challenging Behavior Conference this past March, Ron Roybal, speaking about Lessons Learned About Including Children with Autism, pointed out that "routines within routines are key to predictability for all children." He maintains that - in any activity, at any time of day, children behave best when they know what to expect, i.e.:

1. What am I doing now?
2. How do I know I’m making progress?
3. How do I know when I’m finished?
4. What comes next?

You will have much less challenging behavior from your child if you help him/her to understand the routine, the schedule.

(Lest you question the need to do this, let me ask you - are you comfortable in meetings where there are no agendas handed out? Most of us do better when we know where we are headed.)

The younger the child, the more this routine needs to be conveyed in ways that use a variety of senses - visuals such as hand signals, facial expressions, or pictures; or sounds such as a special clap or song; or even physical techniques such as standing and stretching, putting hands on your ears, or other fun movements.

I want to share with you a chart I created years ago for my then 4 yr. old Wade, who was sandwiched between his infant brother Bryce and 6 yr. old Keith. I was having a dickens of a time getting them all out the door in the morning, to get Keith to elementary school on time. My dear friend Carol (a teacher!) suggested creating this chart for him...when he finished a task, he moved a simple "velcro dot" to the DONE column. I listed five tasks:

1. Eat breakfast
2. Wash face and brush teeth
3. Make bed
4. Get dressed
5. Put on socks and shoes

The chart was not particularly pretty, but, boy, was it effective. The result was - almost instantaneously - no more grumbling, no more pleading, no more stress getting out the door - seriously! I couldn't believe it. (Though, in the interest of full disclosure, I have absolutely no memory of any of my boys making their bed on a regular basis - I'm sure my expectations for this were pretty low.)

Perhaps my delight in creating this was what led me to consider becoming a teacher myself? Yes, perhaps. However, the result pretty much sealed the deal - I began to see that the best way to teach a child was to try to think like the child, to see it from their perspective, and then - help them break down a daunting big thing into smaller chunks.

I began to see the power in having an inanimate object set the rules for our family! Yes, that's a joke - but there's a kernel of truth in it: I had removed "Mom" from the equation, I had taken the emotional out of the morning routine. 4 year old Wade tried to complete the tasks that were set out in front of him for their sake, for his own sake. He understood where he was headed.

The next time you need to do something or go somewhere and you find that your children are falling apart or resisting (and you are stressing out), I hope you'll consider how much information your children have. Ask yourself if you've told them where they are headed, what they'll be doing, how long before they leave, how they will know when it's time to leave, and other aspects of the schedule.

Keep your description simple, succinct, and (as always) calm. I use alot of visuals in my classroom. I am a big fan of pointing at pictures and saying "Hmmm, what do we have to do next?" or "What does this tell us?" I also use sounds - a chime, a rainstick, or a special drum to indicate I have something to say or that something is ending - "When you hear the drum, it will be time to...."

Honestly, to provide children this insight and help with routines and schedule is to show them the same respect we accord ourselves.

Monday, July 12, 2010

What do you mean by floortime?

My family and I went to see Toy Story 3 a few days back. Am I the only one who cried during this movie? I hadn't realized it was about the boy "Andy" going off to college and giving up his toys! Ouch, that hit a tender spot, me with two in college. It seems like just yesterday they were playing with their toy trains and animals....

I loved the movie's conclusion - whoops, stop reading if you haven't seen the film!

In the final scene, Andy drops off his favorite toys with a young girl in the neighborhood. What follows is one of the most tender examples of "floortime" that I have seen on the large screen. Andy sees her delight in his boyhood toys and he begins to play with her, embellishing her storytelling, moving the toys to act out their parts. It is an adorable scene - this 17 year old playing an imaginative game with this young child, perhaps 3 or 4 years of age.

Dr. Stanley Greenspan (who died this past April, 2010) recommends that you spend a little time every day playing alongside your child, not directing their play, but fully participating in it.

According to the work of Dr. Stanley Greenspan, floortime:

."...is based on the idea that emotion is critical to the growth of the mind and brain. Following the child's lead means following his emotions. What is of interest to your child? What gives him pleasure? Whatever it is, your child's interest is your clue, your window into what he is feeling. The first step is for you to observe closely so that you can tune into his emotional world. Once that you have figured out what he is interested in, you can use that to draw him further up the developmental ladder..."

My friend Mindy told me about a parenting class she attended, which touted the wisdom of this special focused play time and its' conviction that "if you give your child 10 minutes of your undivided attention, you buy yourself some 20-30 minutes of time to yourself - because your child will become so engaged in his/her play." I had forgotten that wisdom - I just remember the joy of my children, with this undivided attention from me. Go ahead, give it a try!

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Circle time is a trick of the trade?

Every day at preschool, teachers gather the entire class together for some fun community time: circle time. Often, the schedule for the day is presented, a special book is read, fingerplays and songs are sung; there may perhaps be a game or a question of the day to discuss; there is, always, lots of conversation. Different teachers have their own rhythms, routines, and preferences with this gathering time. Most teachers build in a great deal of flexibility in their circle time plans, because every day brings surprises due to different moods (both children and adults), unexpected interruptions, or just because.

I think circle time builds the foundation for my class as a community. It is so important to simply gather together, to get to know each other, to learn the give and take of people together.

Circle time (or, more accurately phrased, "gathering time") is another bridge between home and preschool - something teachers do at school that families could continue doing at home.

I sometimes hear parents say, "Oh, she's so little, we would never make her sit with the family." Or, vice versa, when the child in my class is the oldest in the family, parents might say, "I'm really frustrated at how she won't sit still with us, she gets down from the table."

Remember, if your child's teacher is gathering the children every day, your little one is able to sit, wait, listen, and talk together at home, too. This is an expectation that is important to repeat at home, helping your child with his/her self-control. That being said, keep in mind your child's age, temperament, mood, and any other extenuating factor. Help them be successful and don't expect it to be a success every single day.

Here are some ideas to help it be more successful for your little one -

- let them hold something in their hands,
- let them have a job or task (for example, help set up, hand out things, or call everyone together) ,
- let them have a shorter participation time,
- let them sit and play with something else, quietly, alongside the gathering (they'll still be listening!).

All you really need to do is establish the ritual - create the opportunity to come together. A great time to get-together is a meal that everyone shares, but there may be another ritual time, for example, book reading or storytelling or an evening game before bedtime. When you gather together, be sure to give everyone a chance to talk (and everyone learns to listen to one another). Make it a daily event! It is important to gather together as a family. You will never regret laying the groundwork for family discussions when your children are very young - and it will serve you well as your children grow.

Another gathering time ritual that you should consider introducing while your children are young is the "Family Meeting." The idea of these weekly sessions was introduced by psychiatrists Alfred Adler and Rudolf Dreikurs, who emphasized authoritative parenting versus the extremes of autocratic or permissive parenting. There is a lot of info about family meetings available on the internet (see the links I have provided) and there are many excellent parenting classes that offer training about this important ritual. I took a class through my local Y many years ago. These meetings provide a calm forum for discussing the family schedule, upcoming events, possible conflicts, hopes, and expectations. Begin this ritual when your children are young - when your children want nothing more than your smile and attention - so that it is routine and entrenched when they are teenagers. Remember,

Little kids, little problems, big kids, big problems.

Here's hoping circle time is a "trick of the trade" that you might consider using at home!

Thursday, July 1, 2010

What are some tricks of the trade?

Happy July! Summer is in full swing.

I thought it might be fun to explore bridges between home and preschool - things we teachers do at school that families could continue doing at home. I hope that these ideas make life with preschoolers a little easier or perhaps even more fun. At a minimum, they may help you see why we do certain things at school. What are these bridges? I'm thinking:

• basics of how teachers talk and interact with children;
• our use of meetings - “circle time” – to discuss things as a group;
• why and how we help children understand today’s schedule;
• teaching children to self-soothe, calm down, decompress; and
• a variety of activities and games.

Yes, I'm going to share a few "tricks of the trade."

Today I'll offer five basics of how teachers talk and interact with children. (I'll discuss the other topics on future days.)

Through the years, I've noticed that there are a number of things that preschool teachers seem to do automatically when they are working with 2, 3, 4, and 5 year olds...there is a special manner of speaking, a typical way of interacting that is often successful with young children. Perhaps we were trained to do them, perhaps we learned by experience (doing the opposite first!), but, for whatever reason, these little tricks help us through our busy days with youngsters.

1. When the voices are loud and raucous, we respond in a quiet voice. Children will typically lower their voices, too. Is it too loud in here? Model what you want to hear. Give a small clap and wait quietly. (I ring a small chime - you may not have one!) Always use a soft voice, even a whisper, in response to a loud one. (And, similarly, is it too wild or rough/rowdy in here? When a child is moving fast, perhaps getting ready to hit someone, we reach softly but assuredly for the child, and hold him/her, speaking in a calm voice.)

2. State the action you want. Keep your words succinct: Let's walk, rather than NO RUNNING! We state the behavior we want to see. Young children get very confused by negatives - it often seems as if they hear the noun or verb you are NOT wanting them to do, rather than the fact that you don't want them to do it. So, train yourself to express your desires in a positive manner - "We are gentle with our hands."

3. Re-direct inappropriate behavior, before it accelerates and takes over. Preschool teachers are great at improvising tasks that we'd love a mischevious (or simply tired) child to do right then - "Johnny, would you help me rinse these paintbrushes?" or "Want to make this puzzle with me?" This "preemptive strike" catches a child being good, helps them be successful, and wards off many an ugly scenario.

4. Model respect and fairness. When two children are involved in a conflict, we approach in an even-handed manner, not assuming anyone's guilt (no matter how sure we are!) and we get down on our knees and speak to the children at their eye level. "What's going on? Do you need my help?" Often, we place a gentle hand on each child's back or shoulder, a physical indication that both children are safe and you will be fair.

5. Play with your child. Follow your child's lead, uncritically. Preschool teachers succumb to child's play - we allow the child to "be the boss of us," to direct the activity, for some part of every day. We have tea parties, play with cars and trucks, and dance to silly songs. As Stanley Greenspan noted, playing with children and giving them your undivided attention sends children the powerful message that they are understood and cherished.

I'll close with a cute little rewrite by Becky Bailey:

A wonderful woman who lived in a shoe
Had so many children,
And she knew exactly what to do.
She held them,
She rocked them,
She tucked them in bed,
"I love you, I love you"
Is what she said.