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Time-Out! Coaching Preschoolers to Social Success

I know it’s unbecoming to be a braggart, but there is one thing, about which I must boast.  I won the March Madness bracket competition in my husband’s family this year.  Now, I’m no bracketologist.  I tend to make my picks based on which state the team is from, or who has the cooler sounding name, and I like to pick the underdog as much as reason will allow.  I missed a lot of picks in my bracket, but the one pick that put me over was when I chose Duke.  That pick I made based on the fact that I knew who their coach was. 

Coach Mike Krzyzewski (that’s not a spelling error)  or Coach K as he’s referred to (for obvious reasons) is one remarkable man.  He’s the “winningest” active coach in the NCAA.  He’s coached Duke to 4 national championships and multiple final fours.   The team has become a fixture in the tournament.  He also coached a struggling United States basketball team to gold in 2008.  I knew Coach K was a transformative coach.

Great coaches can make all the difference.  We as parents and teachers act as coaches as we help children prepare for, and navigate, the social world.

Practice Makes Perfect  Permanent

Coaches don’t just show up at game time.  They must prepare their players.  They run their athletes through hours of drills and training so that the skills they need in those critical minutes of play will be a natural response.  Likewise, we as parents and teachers can help children practice social skills so that they can become habit.  Practice might come in the form of role-playing, practicing scripts for challenging situations, even playing games.  We can prepare children for situations before they arise by clearly explaining expectations.  (“We’re going to go to the library.  In the library you need to use a soft voice, and make sure your feet are walking.“)  

Whether it’s a sport or social skills, a big part of coaching takes place before the critical moments.  All great coaches know that preparation leads to success.

Game Time

The coach could hope to do such a wonderful job preparing his players that he can just sit back and enjoy the game.  However, coaches know that the actual game often presents challenges that are different from those they had prepared for, or that the players get caught up in the intensity and forget their basic skills.  Sometimes players need reminders from the sideline.  Sometimes, the team gets so off-course, the coach has to pause the game, and have a serious discussion.  So he calls a time-out.

Parents and teachers coach in much the same way.  Sometimes we give reminders from the sideline (“Remember to ask if you can have a turn when he’s done.“).  Sometimes we have to “call time-out” and have a more serious discussion. 

Time-Out

Imagine a coach like Coach K calling a time-out and saying, “You guys aren’t playing very well.”  Then he just sits all his players down on the bench while he leaves to make a phone call or clean up some spilled popcorn a few rows up.  Then, when the 30 seconds alloted for that  time-out have expired, he walks back to the team and says, “OK, you can go back out now.  I want you to play better, OK?”  Any spectator would say, “He’s not doing his job!” 

Too often, the traditional time-out looks much like the ridiculous scenario I just described.  We sit a child in “Time-Out” and somehow expect that the child’s behavior will change when she returns to play.  Without coaching, the child is returning to play with the exact same set of skills she had when she went into time-out.

When Coach K calls a time-out, he gives his players a chance to catch their breath and refocus.  He gives clear and concise directions and expectations.  Then he sends his players back out with a plan.

When we call for a coaching time-out with children, we do much the same.  We first give them a chance to step out of a charged situation, calm down, and refocus.  Then we need to teach.

We have to be specific and clear as we socially coach children.  If we don’t say what we need to see, children will have a difficult time making that conceptual leap on their own.  In general, I encourage people to verbalize the thought process they would hope the child would follow.   It sounds like a long process, and you will often feel like you are stating the obvious.  But obvious to an adult is not always obvious to a child.  Just like running basic drills, this coaching helps that internal process to become natural.

The skeleton of the social coaching process might look like this:

Describe what happened, and label feelings involved.  “Karen, I noticed you’re throwing that playdough.  I know you’re excited, but we can’t throw the playdough.”

Ask/Describe what would be a better choice. “When we throw the playdough, it gets smashed into the carpet and ruins the floor and the playdough.  Where do you think we should play with the playdough?  Yeah, the table is the best place to play with the playdough.”

If necessary, help the child make retribution.  “Ok Karen, let’s get this playdough picked up and back onto the table where it belongs.”

Remind again about that better choice.  “Remember to keep the playdough on the table this time.”

Return the child to play.  Believe she can succeed.  Be there to support.

Basketball coaches are given more than one time-out per game.  Similarly, when a child stumbles again socially you might need to call another time-out again and repeat the process.  Very young children usually need multiple learning opportunities to create independent skills.  However, just as a coach will eventually make adjustments to help his team run more smoothly, if problems continue you may need to redirect(“Karen, we’ve talked twice about keeping the playdough on the table and you are still choosing to throw it.  It looks like you’re going to need to find another area to play for a while.  Let’s go build something with the blocks.”)

Coach K says, “Discipline is doing what you are supposed to do in the best possible manner at the time you are supposed to do it.”  With time, coaching, and practice, we can hope to be transformative coaches as well, and instill that same discipline in the children that we love and teach.

For more on Positive Guidance, click here.

Whistle photo by juliaf.

Soccer photo by je1196.
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Positive Guidance Tools of the Trade – Modeling

Charles Barkley is notorious for saying he is not a role model.  While this provided for an interesting campaign, and has the best intentions (implying parents should be a child’s primary role models, not athletes) it’s still a bit flawed.  (Sorry, Chuck.)  The truth is, any adult in view of a child, is to some degree a role model.  I mean, break down the word.  A role model is someone who demonstrates how a role is filled.  They are modeling behavior.  This is contingent upon a child being able to observe you, not upon your willingness or objection to being considered such.  Children are watching all around them and picking up cues on how to navigate social situations.  They are looking for social behavior to emulate as references for navigating their own social situations. 

They watch the clerk at the grocery store and file that away in the “How to Be the Clerk” part of their brains.  They observe the bus driver as an example of how to fill the bus driver role.  They see their grandparents filling the grandparent role.  And yes, back in the day, children even watched Charles Barkley and filed him into a role as well.  As they watch adult behavior, children are picking up cues for social behavior, social roles, and social speech.  They note how Mom takes care of Sister Sue, and next thing you know, they’re imitating that with a doll in a dramatic play situation, internalizing and making sense of what they’ve observed.  As the observations are refined and assimilated, parts begin to appear in their own behavior, even outside of play situations.  As parents and teachers, we’ve probably all had the experience of hearing one of our children lecture another child, a doll, or even ourselves, using the same tone and words (though sometimes in exaggerated caricature) that we have used ourselves.  They are constantly looking to adults and even peers for social examples.  It’s a simple truth for better or for worse.  Let’s talk about the better part.

One part Sir Charles did get right, is that loving relationships can increase the potency of a role model’s influence.  Parents and teachers can be extremely influential role models.  As we become cognizant of this, we can use our examples to shape and scaffold positive social behavior in the children we love and teach.  Here’s an example.  I was training a group of teachers recently, when one shared that she had spilled some milk during snack time with the children earlier that day.  She said the children were absolutely astonished!  “Teacher!  You spilled the milk!”  Their response displayed utter disequilibrium.  First of all, teachers are perfect, and don’t spill, right?  And secondly, this teacher was completely and perfectly calm about it.  Another confusing response in the view a young child who might panic or have a meltdown during such a calamity.  This teacher simply calmly said, “I did spill the milk.  Teachers make mistakes too.  How do you think we could clean it up?”  A simple incident, but a huge learning tool as well.  Through her mindful, positive modeling, this teacher taught:  1) It’s OK to make mistakes.  2) You can stay calm when you’re disappointed.  3)  We can fix our problems.  4)  Because of observing 1-3 with this teacher, a child knows it’s safe to take a risk with this teacher.

If you are working with a difficult behavior in a child, be sure to model the behavior you would like to see.  For example, if the child is having tantrums, model being very calm.  Particularly when the child is having a meltdown!  If the child is being aggressive, be sure you are not responding with aggression yourself.  If you have a shouter, model using a soft voice. 

Take note of your own behavior.  Is it being reflected in the children you love and teach?  Is it behavior you would want reflected?  As one test, imagine if a child spoke to you the way you speak to him or around him.  How would you feel?  If you’re uncomfortable, reconsider your own behavior.  Think also of the challenging behaviors you’re trying to modify in a child.  Can you teach through modeling, either explicitly (as in role playing) or implicitly in your every day encounters with the child? 

There’s a quote (though I don’t know the source) that states, “Your actions are so loud that I can’t hear your words.”  This is so true with young children.  Their language centers are still developing, so some of what we say may not always get through.  But they are also keen observers; what we do will almost always be noted.  These little ones can be like mirrors in a fun house.  We see our own motions and actions but in another form in front of us.  Make sure your own behavior is such that you would be OK seeing it again in the children around you!

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Positive Guidance Tools of the Trade – Validate and Reflect Feelings

Have you ever frustrated or angry?  I mean really frustrated or angry?  Almost beyond words?  Doesn’t that just add to the aforementioned frustration?  Well, imagine being a child.  (It shouldn’t be too hard, I’m pretty sure you were one once.)  Young children are bombarded with emotions just as intense as our own – if not more so as they are not tempered with the same reason and justification we can sometimes muster.  These little ones feel just as frustrated and angry as we ever could, but have even less of an ability to verbalize it.  Too often, that results in some other manifestation or communication of the emotion.  This is when we usually see the tantrums, the biting, the hitting, the kicking, etc., etc., etc.  How do we as adults usually respond?  We swoop in, console the victim and cite the offender, lecturing them about that behavior.  We see it as a failure to behave properly, when often, it is a failure to communicate properly.

While I’m not saying that consequences should be ignored, I do think we are too frequently jumping past a critical first step.  In any highly emotional response for a young child, the first reaction we need to have is to label and validate those emotions.  We need to help them understand what they are feeling and let them know that the feeling is OK – even when the behavior is not. 

Think about it.  We all get angry.  I’m sure you’ve all had a turn feeling “righteous indignation”.  You’re angry, and you know you have every right to be angry.  Heads of State and geniuses get angry.  Well, children get angry too.  And many times for good reasons.  Getting angry is not a problem.  It’s how we respond to the anger that often causes problems.  We need to teach children how to properly respond, without sending the message that their feelings are wrong.

Here are some ways this may play out:

“Adam, I understand that you feel very angry right now, and it’s OK to feel that way, but hitting other children is never OK in this classroom.  Can you think of a better way to act when you feel angry?”  (Talk about simply saying “I FEEL ANGRY!”, or squishing all your anger into some playdough, or finding a quiet place for some deep breaths……etc.)

“Sandy, I know that you feel very sad because the other girls didn’t want to play your game.  I would feel sad and disappointed too.  Maybe you could ask if they’d like to play after they finish painting. – OR- Can you think of someone else you might like to invite to play your game with you-OR- Can you think of something that you like to do that makes you feel happy?”

By first helping them to label the feeling, it gives them tools to use to communicate in the future.  It also helps them to know they have been heard and understood, which is sometimes all they were looking for in the first place.  Lastly, it teaches them to recognize the feeling and to connect it with more appropriate behaviors in the future. 

Read here for more on Verbalizing Emotions.

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Positive Guidance Tools of the Trade – Problem Solving

Teachers and parents of young children are notoriously good problem-solvers.  When discontent arises, we swoop in, assess the situation, and set timers, create turn-taking lists, grab another item for sharing, or utilize some other method from our bag of tricks.  We are so good at problem solving because we get so much practice!  This is all well and good, and at times a skill of survival, but to truly benefit children for the long run, it is ideal to involve them in the problem solving process.  It may slow things down a bit, but eventually you will find that you are “swooping in” less and less as the children build their own sets of social problem-solving skills and become more independent.

To be sure, problem solving is a complicated task.  Let’s be honest, there are plenty of adults who don’t have these skills!  Encouraging children to be problem solvers is more than saying, “Let me know how that works out for ya!”  Depending upon the individual child’s level of language skills and cognitive skills, we will coach them along at varying levels of support, scaffolding them through the process.  In essence, we are simply going through the process out loud and giving them a part in it.  Here are a few ways that I help children learn to problem solve, spanning across developmental levels.  Pick and practice those that apply best to the children you love and teach.

Describe the situation.  Come down to the child’s level, and put your arm around her if she seems comfortable with that.  Without passing judgement, describe what’s going on.  Keep your voice calm, and the child will likely follow.  “You look angry.  Tell me about it.”  Younger, less verbal children benefit greatly from this labeling process as their ability to feel very intense emotions far outweighs their ability to verbally express them (read more on Verbalizing Emotions).  In situations where there are two parties, you should encourage each person to tell his side.  “Lee I’m going to have Jesse tell what he thinks the problem is, and you and I are going to listen, and then Lee, you’re going to have a turn to tell Jesse and I what you think the problem is.”  If they’re fighting over an object, first say, “I’m going to hold this until we get things worked out.”  Gently remove it, and hold it out of sight if possible, so that the children can focus on talking rather than gaining possession. (For more on sharing, read here.)

Gaining peer feedback helps the children see things from another child’s perspective.  This is a very difficult task for young children, but hearing how their actions have affected another can help them make this leap.  It helps them to realize that their choices are not without consequences for themselves as well as for others.  When working with less verbal children, or a child who is too upset to speak, we must use adult feedback, where we as adults speak on behalf of the child.  “That really hurt Flora when the ball hit her.  She didn’t like it at all, and it made her feel really sad.  Do you see her face?  That looks very sad.”

What can we do?  Once you’ve clarified the problem, ask the children, “What can we do?”  As the children make suggestions, refer to the other party again, saying, “What do you think about that?”  Your job during this phase is to simply referee.  Make sure each party gets to make suggestions and weigh in on the other child’s suggestions.  Help them to be objective and find a solution that everyone can live with rather than getting overly emotional and waging personal attacks.  (Perhaps the political world could use some of this coaching…..but I digress.)  If the children are struggling, you may make some suggestions yourself.  “Hmmm.  We could set a timer and then take turns, or we could play with it at the same time, or we could put it away and paint instead…..” 

For very young children or children who may struggle through this process, you may simply present a solution and give them a smaller part to negotiate.  “It sounds like Tara had it first, and Sasha would like a turn.  Tara, I’m going to set my timer, so we know when it’s Sasha’s turn.  Should I set it for 3 minutes or 5 minutes?  OK Sasha, Tara will be done in five minutes and then it will be your turn.  Does that sound fair to you?” or “It sounds like you were just very frustrated because you needed help building the tower.  Who could you ask for help? OK, say, ‘Lisa will you help me build this tower?'”

For children who are more capable and familiar with the problem solving process, you may even get them started and then say, “Let me know when you come to an agreement.” Though you should still stay relatively close in case tempers flare again.  You’d be surprised as to the creative solutions children can come up with on their own when they’re given the tools and the space to own the problem!

Giving children an active part in the problem solving process- even if it’s just hearing the process out loud as you guide them through with simple questions- helps them to build the social skills necessary to problem solve in the future.  It also helps them to own their behavior, recognizing that you as an adult are there to help, not to fix things for them.

Not just in the heat of the moment.  Hopefully now you see the benefit of guiding children through the problem-solving process as conflicts arise.  Problem solving and negotiating is hard to do, particularly when the stakes- and tempers- are high.  Give children practice with these skills in other moments when they are in a less vulnerable position.  As an example, with my own boys, when we go to the library, they love to pick from the assortment of DVDs.  I allow each to pick one, and then allow them one additional DVD that they can agree on together.  If they can agree, great we get a bonus DVD.  If not, I simply respond, “That’s OK, we can try again to agree next week.” (Though that generally spurs them on to try negotiating one more time.) I often remind them that “I want this one, but I want that one” is arguing, not negotiating.  Then I tell them they need to share their ideas.  “Tell the other what you like most about the one you have, and maybe you’ll find some things you both like.” This is great practice in a safe situation.

So give it a try.  Find ways you can encourage your children to problem solve in safe situations, and coach them through the tougher conflicts they have with each other.  You’ll find that as they become more capable, you’ll be putting yourself out of a job! 

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Positive Guidance Tools of the Trade – Choices and Consequences

Sorry about the delay on Positive Guidance Posts!  Hopefully the combination of a few topics here will make up for my paucity of posts!

I mentioned in an earlier post about the importance and power of choice for children.  Giving children the opportunity to make choices builds their esteem, their independence, and gives them practice for future, more critical choices.  Here, I’d like to add to that by discussing how offering choices can be used to guide behavior, and how the consequences of a child’s choice can also shape current and future behaviors.

Guiding behaviors.  There are several ways we can use choices to guide behaviors.  The first is by redirection.  When a child is engaged in an inappropriate behavior, say running inside a classroom for example, we can use choice to redirect that behavior by giving appropriate choices.  We might say something like, “Sarah, running inside isn’t a choice today.  There are too many people and things in this room, and I’m afraid someone might get hurt.  You can choose to go outside and run, or you can walk with me around the room to find an activity you might like.” 

We can also use choice to guide behavior as we clarify the choices that are available and their accompanying consequences.  For example, if your child is supposed to be dressing but is not, you might say, “Damon, if you choose to get dressed right now, I will be here to help you.  But if you choose to keep playing and do it later, I will not be able to help you.  You will have to do it all by yourself.”  Be sure to pay attention to your tone of voice.  Don’t state the choices as threats, merely as a matter of fact statement.  Another example might be, “Abbie, this is snack time.  You may choose to eat with us, or to keep reading books.  Either way, there will not be another snack time today.  If you choose to eat with us, you probably won’t get hungry later.  If you choose not to eat with us, you might get hungry later when there is no snack time.”

Choices are not without their consequences.  As a matter of natural law, choices have consequences.  Too often we, as parents or teachers, are tempted to rescue children from those consequences.  We offer “one more chance” again and again.  (And I include myself in this category!) We just hate to see those sweet little ones upset and disappointed.  We avoid the meltdown in the short-term, but we also avoid the teachable moment.  We must remember that our responsibility is not to keep children from feeling any sort of discomfort in life.  It is our responsibility to teach these children and help them to gain the skills necessary to succeed now and in the future.  Sometimes that learning and growth requires a bit of discomfort.  There are far too many people in this world who struggle in life, in large measure, because they do not consider the consequences of their own actions, or do not feel personal responsibility for those consequences.  Learning that can take place in these early years can prevent such behaviors.  Particularly when we have outlined the consequences of specific choices, we must be willing to love children enough to let them experience the consequences they have chosen.

Consequences versus punishment.  Consequences are not really about punishment.  It’s not about exerting authority or inflicting unpleasant  conditions.  Allowing consequences is simply a matter of giving children the opportunity to learn about choices.  It’s about giving them ownership of their behavior. 

When we come from a punishment mentality, we tend to think that if the child doesn’t throw a fit, or exhibit disappointment, as a result of his punishment, then he hasn’t been  punished enough.  We, as adults, come from a position of authority and often try to control the situation, perhaps too much so. 

When we implement a mentality of choice and consequence we come from a place of love and support.  We allow the children to choose, and to fully experience that choice along with its consequences.  We are there to support and coach, but the choice and the consequence are owned by the child.  Just because a child deals with the consequence without so much as pouting, doesn’t mean that it has been a failure.  It likely means that the child is learning to accept personal responsibility and to deal appropriately and independently with those consequences.

As we talk about consequences, there are two types: natural consequences and logical consequences.  The two will be discussed and clarified here.

A Natural Consequence.  Sometimes, all that is necessary to implement a consequence is simple hesitation.  All we have to do, is do nothing.  The consequence will occur on its own as a matter of natural laws.  As an example, if a child chooses not to eat dinner, that child will become hungry. 

We, as adults, must use reason in deciding which natural consequences we will allow to happen.  Not all are appropriate.  A natural consequence of not brushing is severe decay and cavities.  Simply allowing that to happen is not an effective learning opportunity and is negligent on our part.  Likewise, any natural consequence that results in injury or humiliation is not an appropriate learning opportunity.  Waiting for a child to break an arm is not an effective way to teach that jumping off of a slide is not safe.  Obvious, I know, but you get the point!

A Logical Consequence.  Logical consequences may not happen on their own, but are logically connected to the initial behavior.  As in the previous example, where a natural consequence of not eating dinner would be hunger, a logical consequence would be not getting dessert.  It’s logical that if a child does not first have a healthy dinner, she can not have a rich dessert.  An illogical consequence would be not getting computer time or not getting a sticker because she did not eat her dinner.  In these examples, the consequence and the choice have very little to do with each other.

A logical consequence should be timely so that the connection can easily be made.  It should also teach the cause and effect concept of choice.  Logical consequences connect the behavior to the result and may be a preferred substitute for natural consequences that may not be appropriate or safe or that may take too long to occur for learning to be connected. 

Positive Consequences.  As we teach children about choice and consequence we must not forget that their choices often have positive consequences as well.  We should be just as diligent in emphasizing these consequences as we are in supporting their undesired consequences.  If a child is particularly timely in getting ready for bed, it is logical that as a consequence, there is more time for stories.  If a child works hard at the art table, it may be a natural consequence that she has several magnificent projects to take home.  We can draw her attention to that consequence by commenting, “Sylvia, you worked so hard today!  I noticed you spent a long time at the art table.  Look at all these things you were able to make!” 

As we allow children to make choices, and as we allow them to experience the consequences, we begin to build a foundation for future decision making.  When we can allow them full ownership of their behavior, they will begin to recognize that their choices have consequences and that they are able to control those consequences by carefully choosing their actions. 

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Positive Guidance Tools of the Trade – Using Humor

Often what is needed to head off a full-blown melt-down is just a little humor to lighten things up and regain perspective.  Let me give you an example.  Recently, I had spent a full day washing every dirty article of clothing in our house.  A small feat in itself.  I hadn’t, however, folded any of it yet.  So at the end of the day, I was exhausted, folding laundry on my bed, just trying to get to the bottom of it so I could climb in!  Well, my five year-old came in, with body language and a voice that conveyed that he just might try a bit of whining and fit-throwing to get his way as he said, “But I wanted to sit there!”  I responded that the bed was “closed”.  Then realizing the humor, said, “Get it?  The bed is closed with clothes!”  He paused for a moment, then his five year-old logic grasped it and his whole demeanor changed.  He visibly relaxed, laughed a bit, and then moved to another part of the room to settle in and talk to me about something else.

Humor is an excellent distraction.  It lightens the mood and shifts attention, often facilitating either natural or adult-prompted redirection.  It’s not always the children who are the ones who need to lighten up.  They’re naturals at funny business.  In fact, I recently read that, on average, a child laughs 300 times each day, while an adult laughs only 15 times each day.  So it’s logical that humor would be a natural tool to use when working with children.

My husband is an expert at using humor when the little ones are being a bit overly dramatic about their most recent injury or frustration.  He asks what happened and attends to their needs.  Then, if the drama continues, he often says, very seriously, “Now let me make sure I understand what happened,” then recreates the scene in full slapstick comedic fashion, flailing onto the floor or animatedly crashing into the wall, or whatever the drama may be.  The kiddos almost always stop crying, at least long enough to laugh.  And then, if they haven’t stopped completely, they seem to have to really try to cry over laughing – and laughing almost always wins out.

We can use humor to get attention as we’re working with children, starting off an activity with a silly song, a funny story, or your own comedic antics if you’ve got the gift.  It’s hard for a child not to be interested in what comes next once you’ve made him laugh.

Humor can also be used to relate to the child, providing proper perspective on mishaps and disappointments.  (“I remember when I accidentally spilled some water on my pants.  That wasn’t what I meant to do!  How silly!  You know what I did?  I just changed my clothes!)  Laughing at ourselves helps children to do the same.  It shows them that sometimes, it’s just “no big deal”.

Humor also builds relationships by providing positive shared experiences.  It’s fun to laugh together, and you really don’t need a reason to do it!  Building that positive relationship will certainly shade future interactions.

Now, obviously, humor is not for every situation.  We don’t want to brush off very intense reactions with a joke, but sometimes we can head off that eruption, letting out a bit of steam with some well-timed humor.  Also, humor is meant to be used to laugh with the child, not at her.  Never use humor to belittle the child or disregard his feelings.  Be aware of personalities and temperaments, and how they might affect the reaction to your humor.  Keep in mind that sarcasm relies heavily on logic and language skills that children haven’t developed yet.  At best it’s too advanced for children to understand, and at worst, it can be very hurtful.  Just avoid it.

So take a look at how you can use humor to lighten the mood, or re-energize your brood.  There are many times when laughter truly is the best medicine!

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Positive Guidance Tools of the Trade – Redirection

I’m hoping you’ve spent enough time in your life observing water to understand the following analogy (and if you work much with preschoolers, I’m sure that you have).  Imagine water running down a slight decline.  It’s spreading and gaining speed, and headed right for , say, your favorite book.  Destruction is imminent.  And so you yell, “Stop!  Water, stop!  For goodness sake, STOP!”  Does it work?  Of course not.  There’s too much momentum already at play.  You try to stop it artificially by creating a dam. That seems to work for a moment, but soon the water rises, until it overflows and heads right for your treasured tome once again.  Then you have an idea.  A brilliant idea, by the way.  You divert the water by digging a quick ditch, taking it in another direction.  You redirect the water to a thirsty flower bed and both your book and the flowers are saved.  You really are amazing, you know!  Now, why did I tell you a random story about water?  I hope that will soon be clear!

I want you to imagine now, a child whose behavior is undesirable, or inappropriate, or threatening certain destruction to person, property, or yes, even your favorite book.  As I mentioned in last week’s post, it isn’t enough to say “Stop”.  We have to describe the behavior we want.  That may mean describing appropriate behavior, as we discussed last week.  Sometimes, what is required is to redirect the behavior.  Just as in the water example, there’s already momentum in the action, there’s already a need the child is trying to fill; the need to jump, the need to climb, the need to color.  As we redirect, we move the momentum from an inappropriate or destructive direction into an appropriate, constructive direction.  For example, moving from jumping off the tables into jumping off safe structures at the playground; from climbing up the bookshelves to climbing up a step ladder or climbing toy; from coloring on the wall to coloring at an easel.

When we notice a child with an inappropriate behavior, simply trying to stop them is sometimes as hard as simply stopping running water.  The need to act needs to be met and can often be done so in an appropriate way.  We first look at the action, determine the need, determine which parts of the action are acceptable and which parts are not, and try to funnel the action into a more appropriate direction.

Sometimes we redirect individual behaviors as they arise.  A child is cutting clothing or hair or books, so we take her to some paper or playdough or yarn that she can cut.  A boy is frustrating and acting out by being a bit pushy and aggressive.  We may move him over to work with some playdough where he can beat and knead the dough into submission, and no one gets hurt!

Sometimes we need to do some long-term redirection.  We may redirect a need we frequently see in a child’s personality into a positive outlet that is always available.  For example, some children are thrill-seekers by nature.  For these children, we may not wait until the child presents a dangerous, thrill-seeking behavior to intervene with a redirection.  We may find an ongoing way to meet the need for excitement.  That may be through more rough-and-tumble play, providing playground equipment or other safe equipment in a specified area for the child to explore and be adventurous, or by providing more experiences exploring nature and the outdoors.

Another child may consistently be writing on the walls or furniture.  We may redirect each time, but we may also find that we need to create an art area for this child where  (washable) supplies are accessible whenever the child wants them.  Maybe an easel or personal clipboard with ample paper could be provided.  Perhaps a chair rail can be installed in a certain room and the bottom half of the wall actually can be drawn on – either permanently or with chalk on a blackboard-painted surface.

Some children need more movement and are more wiggly at  circle time.  We may take this into account and redirect that energy into more music and movement activities woven into our circle time.

By redirecting behaviors, we are validating the need the child is trying to fill, but teaching the child how to do that in an appropriate way.  With time and proper coaching, the child will learn to make that appropriate choice on his own without our help.  That goes much further toward teaching self-control than simply yelling, “Stop”.

So pay attention this week as your children present difficult behaviors.  Could they possibly be trying to meet a need that could be redirected and met in a more appropriate way?  Try it out, and let us know how it works for you here!

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Top photo by AD-Passion.

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