Positive Behavioral Supports for Young Children (page 4)
Children need to know that they are loved and accepted. Even very young children develop an understanding about how caregivers feel about them. They listen to what caregivers say to them and to others about them, and they observe how caregivers behave. Children who feel secure in their environment and in their relationships with caregivers are less likely to misbehave as a way of getting inappropriate attention.
When a child misbehaves, caregivers are likely to focus on the child and the child's behavior in an effort to stop the inappropriate behavior and prevent its recurrence. It may be difficult for the caregiver to understand how the environment may be a contributing factor to the misbehavior. Environmental variables that may contribute to the misbehavior include the following:
- the behavior of the caregiver (e.g., is misbehavior reinforced?);
- the behavior of others in the environment (e.g., how do peers respond to the child's behavior?); and
- factors relating to the environment in which the child exhibits the behavior (e.g., physical environment, classroom curriculum, cognitive and social demands).
We will look at three suggestions as to how caregivers can demonstrate to young children that they are loved, liked, and accepted.
Tell Students You Like Them
A caregiver cannot assume that children know someone likes them-you must tell them! Caregivers should get into the daily habit of telling children they are liked, especially after appropriate behavior. Some caregivers may have a very difficult time saying "I like you" or expressing positive feelings to the children placed in their care. If expressing feelings in this way becomes part of the daily routine, however, caregivers will find it becomes easier to do so. Children should leave their educational setting saying, "My teacher really likes me!"
Families who communicate their feelings about each other when children are young will have an easier time expressing feelings when the children become adolescents. Thus, efforts to communicate affection when children are young provide an investment for future parent-child communication patterns.
Educators can help children establish healthy attitudes about expressing their feelings in the classroom. Talking about feelings and giving children opportunities to talk about how they feel teach children that their feelings are real and part of being a person. They also give educators a chance to teach children how to identify, be sensitive to, and respect the feelings of others. These lessons will help provide a solid foundation for the development of appropriate social skills.
Set Aside Individual Time
Set aside some special time, if only a few minutes per day, with each child. Use this time to talk and listen to the child and to let that child know how important he or she is. These private conversations also give children a chance to express any feelings, concerns, or reactions to the day's events. Moreover, regardless of how difficult the day has been for both of you/ this special time provides an opportunity for at least one positive caregiver-child interaction.
Many children do not have a significant adult in their lives outside the school environment. They may live in a single-parent household with a parent who is busy and preoccupied with trying to support the family. We all know how important it is for children to have one special adult to talk to, share their feelings, and provide positive feedback and support. Often that adult is a teacher or counselor from the child/s school. Educators need to be aware of these social needs and willing to give some time (even a few minutes each day) to show a student that someone cares.
Give Children Affection
With all the attention to and appropriate concern about the sexual abuse of children, some caregivers are hesitant to touch, hug, or otherwise express affection toward the children in their care. Some schools have even told educators not to touch their students. This reaction is very unfortunate. Children need affection to develop normally and to be emotionally happy and secure. Children in today/s society spend more and more time out of their homes and away from loving parents. Thus, the affection of other caregivers becomes even more crucial, especially for infants and young children. Schools are encouraged to develop policies that also outline acceptable touching (e.g., pats on the shoulders, handshakes).
Building Self-Esteem in Young Children
Children who have healthy self-esteem are usually happy children who feel good about themselves and others. Happy, self-assured children are likely to interact positively with caregivers and other children. In addition to its social and behavioral benefits, healthy self-esteem is positively related to academic achievement.
Demonstrating to children that they are loved, liked, and accepted is the first step to building their self-esteem. We can now look at some specific suggestions for increasing children' s self-esteem.
Allow and Enable Children to Be Competent
Hendrick (1990) states that lithe purpose of early education is to foster competence in young children" (p. 4). Competence is the self-assured feeling that one is capable of doing something "all by myself." Teachers and parents alike can help children participate in competence-building activities by allowing them to do things for themselves. Caregivers who provide opportunities for children to wash dishes after snacks or meals at low sinks or who give preschoolers jobs (e.g., feeding the family dog, being the leader at school) are providing children with opportunities to feel competent.
Tell Children About the Good Things They Do
Too often caregivers focus on children's inappropriate behaviors instead of appropriate behaviors. When this happens, children are taught to associate caregiver attention with inappropriate behaviors. As a result, inappropriate behaviors increase. Unfortunately, it seems easier to focus on inappropriate behaviors than appropriate behaviors. Caregivers must make every effort to give greater attention to the appropriate things children do. This can be accomplished by telling children, "You're such a good worker" or "I like the way you played with John," or "I like the way you solved that problem with Mary." Make it a point to attend to the good things children are doing. Teach the children that there is an association between caregiver attention and appropriate behavior.
Speak to Children Appropriately
Many caregivers do not understand how their own behaviors teach appropriate and inappropriate behaviors to children. Caregivers influence children's learning every time they interact with them. Two things are important to keep in mind when speaking to children. First, what you say is important. Sarcastic, negative statements promote feelings of worthlessness. If a child does something inappropriate and you must say something, talk about the behavior, not the child. Although their behaviors may sometimes be bad, children are never bad. To maintain a child's dignity and self-worth, describe what the child did that you dislike, but do not criticize the child as a person. Inappropriate statements from a significant caregiver may severely damage a child's self-esteem.
Second, how you speak to children is very important. Some caregivers believe that the louder they shout, the more effective they will be in changing children's behaviors. However, talking to children firmly, but calmly, is more effective in both the short and long term. In addition, when caregivers stop shouting, the environment becomes a calmer place for children to learn and develop. Children exhibit less inappropriate behavior within calm, positive environments where they are getting lots of attention for appropriate behaviors (Hetherington & Martin, 1986).
Teach Children That Mistakes Are Normal
Everybody makes mistakes. When children make mistakes, tell them that everyone errs and that no one is perfect. Caregivers have opportunities to model appropriate ways to deal with mistakes whenever they commit an error—for example, by saying, "I was wrong and I am sorry." Children who observe this behavior are more likely to say "I was wrong" or "I am sorry" when they make mistakes because they will feel confident that it is all right to make errors. Also, children will not be afraid to try new things when they are not worried about making mistakes.
Teaching young children that it is normal to make mistakes and to talk about them will help them confront and talk about mistakes as adolescents and adults. Being able to say "I was wrong and I am sorry" will serve as a functional behavior throughout the child's life and across all social settings.
Allow Children to Have Limited Choices
Children will learn how to make good choices if they are allowed to practice making choices from an early age. Some choices young children can make include selecting books or stories to read before bedtime, choosing juice to drink during snack time, deciding what clothes to wear, and so on. Giving children choices is an excellent way to reduce power struggles. Caregivers frequently feel that, to be in control of children's behavior, they must resort to giving directives. Sometimes, directives are appropriate; however, young children who are struggling to develop their independence may respond negatively to a lack of choices, leading to a cycle of caregiver-versus-child battles. Of course, caregivers should limit the range of choices. For example, when we say that children may decide what to drink, the caregiver first limits the choice ("Do you want orange juice or apple juice?"). In this way, mature adults remain in control while providing opportunities for children to make safe choices.
Everyday events provide opportunities to discuss choices. For example, when children fight over a toy, caregivers can use the event to help children think about alternative behaviors and choose appropriate behaviors on their own. Asking questions about their behaviors (e.g., "Can you think of another way of telling her that you want to play with that toy?") and giving them an opportunity to explore alternatives and consider the consequences of their behaviors ("How do you think he would feel about that?") are other ways to teach children how to make choices about their behaviors.
Hendrick (1990) notes that children who are allowed to make choices are more creative. She says that "for an experience to be creative for children, it must be generated from within them, not be an experience 'laid on' from outside" (p. 250). For example, rather than providing children with coloring books during art activities in a classroom, the teacher could provide collage materials for children to create their own original artwork. Sometimes, caregiver-directed activities provide limited opportunities for problem solving. Indeed, children who are given choices may have an advantage when it comes to solving problems related to their social behavior. For example, the child who divides and shares blocks with a friend is able to plan a solution to the problem (i.e., both children wanting to play with blocks), rather than acting on the immediate impulse to be possessive.
Let Children Know You Value Their Opinions
When children are reinforced for expressing their own opinions, they learn the value of their personhood, in addition to the value of their feelings, beliefs, and opinions. Children can be encouraged to develop their own feelings and ideas and to express their own opinion when caregivers ask, "What do you think?" or "How do you feel about that?" These kinds of queries let children know that they (and their feelings) are important, too. In addition, this is a great "way to teach and practice how to interact and converse appropriately with adults and other children.
© ______ 2008, Merrill, an imprint of Pearson Education Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. The reproduction, duplication, or distribution of this material by any means including but not limited to email and blogs is strictly prohibited without the explicit permission of the publisher.
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