This post is for parents and other important educators 0-8+. In it, I'm going to tell you what I do when things don't go well and I need them to get better after 44 years of being an early childhood educator and parent.
First of all, at the end of some days, I feel like pulling my hair out and screaming, just like you might. And I actually have done that in the past, but there's always room for improvement. I learned some things in higher education about early childhood theory and development, but I'm more interested in what to do in the moment of reckoning.
Here's a two-step plan that always works for me. It's easy to resist this as being too simplistic, but there are developmental reasons it works.
Get a pen (or marker) and paper and make a list in large letters of your child's best traits and qualities. Do this for each of your children. Hang it where you'll see it often.
From the time you greet this particular child in the morning, start to look for those traits and call them out. Let them know how those traits are helpful to you. Also, call out the good traits of others in the group or family.
Keep it up throughout the day. Make sure you're sincere in your noticing. I try to say things that are specific rather than general for clarity and extra oomph.
"I noticed you finished your b-fast with plenty of time today, Sheldon. That was helpful to everyone!"
Plan some sensory activities during your day. The best, most engaging activities involve many different senses. Here's a list of ideas. I'm sure you can think of many more.
Sand Play, Water Play, Sand and Water Play, Swinging, Paint with Water Colors, Play with Sponges and Water (tip: put containers 1/2 filled with water on top of towels for less mess), Plant Seeds, Clay, Watering Plants, Smelling Spices, Spray Bottle with Water Outside, Playgrounds, Play Dough!
The more play dough the better. Here's a great recipe if you want to make your own:
In a medium saucepan or electric skillet combine:
2 Cups Water
2 Cups Flour
1 Cup Salt
4 Tbsp. Vegetable Oil
4 Tsp. Cream of Tartar
Food Color (optional)
Stir constantly over medium heat until the dough pulls from the sides of the pan and is the consistency of very thick mashed potatoes. Turn it out onto a table and start playing with it as soon as it cools a bit. Store in an airtight container.
When they play with the dough, supervise them as much as you need to so they don't make a big mess and get you upset. Remember to notice when they're helpful and call it out immediately. Always give a 5-minute warning to avoid meltdowns.
The combination of noticing their best efforts and providing an engaging, soothing learning environment is guaranteed to improve their behavior by at least 50%, making an easier, less stressful day for you. Try it and let me know how it works for you!
Nanci J Bradley is a child and family educator, parent, author, family aerobics instructor, and all-around fun-loving person. She believes in the power of sleep, lifelong learning, healthy eating, fun, and more than anything else, PLAY! She studied early childhood education at Triton College and received her BS in education from Northern Illinois University in 1986. She received her MA in human development from Pacific Oaks College in 2011. She lives and teaches in Madison, WI