Basic Processes Adults Use to Influence Children (page 3)

By — Pearson Allyn Bacon Prentice Hall
Updated on Jul 20, 2010

Managing the Child’s Environment

Adults influence children by setting up the physical environment of the classroom well and by providing clean, safe, and appropriate learning materials. Teachers also influence children by developing an appropriate time schedule and by developing appropriate classroom routines and structures. It is possible, for example, for children to learn social skills such as conflict resolution through direct instruction—skits and scenarios. Learning the skill, however, does not guarantee that children will use the skills on the playground, in the cafeteria, or in other place outside the lessons directly focusing on specific skills (Johnson, Poliner, & Bonaiuto, 2005). Children need to practice their new skills through the school day.


The teachers at Oakwood manage the environment so that children have opportunities to practice skills. They use a morning meeting (Kriete, 2002), a structured beginning to each day for children to get to know one another, to feel welcomed, to shape the classroom culture, and to practice social skills. They value social interaction in learning activities and use learning centers. They reflect on routines like recess and lunch, and decided to have recess first and then lunch so that children might unwind and have a quiet transition to afternoon activities. They plan transitions, realizing that good transitions reduce stress for children.

Such developmentally appropriate practices can improve children’s achievement in urban settings (Huffman & Speer, 2000). Fawcett and Garton (2005) found that both social interaction and children’s explaining how they solved a problem helped children develop better problem-solving skills. At-risk 5- to 6-year-old children in Hamre and Pianta’s study (2005) improved in achievement scores and their relationships with teachers when they were placed in classrooms with strong instructional and educational support.

Stating Expectations of Desired Behaviors Example.

“Ryan,” called Mr. Claiborne, “wash your hands and then you can join the group and help us cut up the fruit for our snack.”

Mr. Claiborne makes a conscious effort to define cooperative, helpful behavior. Authoritative adults like Ryan’s teacher develop good rules or limits and then communicate them clearly to children. Authoritarian adults, on the other hand, tend to set too many arbitrary limits, and permissive adults may fail to communicate expectations at all.

Encouraging Children to Modify Attitudes and Understanding

A young child’s brain enables him to process information and make sense of the world. Children can act cooperatively when someone takes the time to present them with additional or different information in a way that is appropriate to the child’s particular level of development. Focus on teaching children to understand why they should or should not do certain things. Be gently firm about the need for the children to act more appropriately, and make it clear that there is a reason for acting more appropriately. Be kind at the same time, though. Authoritative caregivers are firm and kind.

An effective way to do this is to help a child become more empathic. The goal is to help a child to understand gradually how his actions affect others and to be able to take somebody else’s perspective. Like most learning, this occurs gradually over a period of  years and begins in infancy. The goal here is not to induce excessive guilt or to shame a child. A good way to arouse empathy is to describe another’s situation in an open, direct way that still validates the other person and that does not accuse him.


Mrs. Vargas said to Ralph, “I see from the job chart that it’s your day to feed the gerbils. I’ll bet that they’re hungry. So get the gerbil food and I’ll help you put it in their house.”

Mr. Lee, the third-grade teacher, said to Rory, “Name-calling hurts feelings, Rory. Remember our class rules? That’s right. Treat each other with respect.”

Each adult avoided sarcasm, threats, and accusations while focusing on how the other person or animal might have felt. Arousing a child’s empathy—having her “walk a mile in somebody else’s shoes or tracks”—is a powerful technique because it encourages the child to examine and begin to understand how her behavior might well have affected someone else.

A common thread linking different forms of antisocial behavior, including child abuse, is the perpetrator’s inability to take another person’s perspective (Chalmers & Townsend, 1990). Preventing abuse involves helping abusive adults learn social perspective taking. Helping children become empathic, to take the perspective of others, then, is an important task for teachers and parents during early childhood.

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