How important is world peace? And where does it start?
It's true that most kids who tussle in the grass, push a playmate away, play “good guys” and "bad guys", snatch toys, tell fibs, or tattle do grow up to be good people.
How does that even happen?
And how can we do more of that? By that I mean to grow human beings who are able to successfully balance caring for themselves with caring for and working with others to improve the world.
That's how I define The New Empathy.
For years, in the field of child development, we heard about nature vs. nurture. But that concept never made too much sense to me. Why spend time arguing when it's so obvious that the interaction between the two is the more important thing to study?
How does nature interact with nurture to produce and empathetic and self-loving human?
Isn't that what we really need to know?
What can neuroscience tell us about that?
Is what we say, over and over again, to young children during these early years important?
In the first few years of life, more than 1 million new neural connections form every second.* After this period of rapid proliferation, connections are reduced through a process called pruning, which allows brain circuits to become more efficient. In light of these findings, focussing on early childhood only makes sense.
Since children learn by observation, experiementation and repetition, the words we use and the behaviors we choose to model or hide from them make the difference.
Good early childhood professionals use the theories of Lev Vygotski, carefully observing where the child’s at in their development and use what they learn about the child to help them lift themselves to the next level of learning. That's called scaffolding and it's part of the theory of proximal development. (my non-scientific explanation but it's usable).
Here are the phrases used by early childhood professionals to promote peace in the classroom. I tend to view the early childroom environment as the smaller world.
Once you understand that guidance comes from love and learning, these phases should work for you as they do for early childhood educators and parents everywhere.
Sheldon’s using that.
You can wait or ask for a turn.
You can ask for a turn like this,
Hold out your hand and say “turn please?”
I want the next turn.
Can I have a turn soon?
When can I have a turn?
you can ask me for help for a turn.
I can help you wait with something fun or I can go with you and help you to talk to Sheldon.
It’s your job to help the child to get a turn in a respectful way. Even if that means just being present in the room and available to help if and when needed.
When a verbal or physical altercation breaks out in the toddler or preschool classroom the proper response for the adult would be to move towards the situation quickly and calmly saying, It looks like there’s a problem. Then you help them solve it.
Leave blame out of the issue.
As long as you are calm and using a helpful rather than a hurtful attitude as the adult in the situation, it might be a good idea to hold the toy yourself while the issue is being settled. You may even have to put it out of sight for a minute or two while you talk.
If you have to take possession of the object they’re fighting over, make sure everyone knows from the beginning that you’re not taking the toy away, just keeping it safe until a course of action is decided on.
It’s your attitude and your tone of voice that make a difference.
“I’ve come to a frightening conclusion that I am the decisive element in the classroom. It’s my personal approach that creates the climate. It’s my daily mood that makes the weather. As a teacher, I possess a tremendous power to make a child’s life miserable or joyous. I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration. I can humiliate or heal. In all situations, it is my response that decides whether a crisis will be escalated or de-escalated and a child humanized or dehumanized.” ― Haim Ginott
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Bailey, Rebecca Anne. There's Gotta Be a Better Way: Discipline That Works! Loving Guidance, Inc., 2003.
“Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University.” Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University, 4 Dec. 2017, https://developingchild.harvard.edu/.
Ginott, Haim G., et al. Between Parent and Child. Random House, 2004.
Rosenberg, Marshall B. Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life. PuddleDancer Press, 2015.
Vygotski, Lev Semenovitch, et al. Thought and Language. The M.I.T. Press, 1962.
Nanci J Bradley is an early childhood and family educator, author, teacher, family aerobics instructor, and an all-around fun-loving person. She believes in the power of sleep, healthy eating, lifelong learning, and most of all, PLAY! She studied early childhood ed at Triton College and received her BS in education in 1986 from NIU. She received her MA in human development from Pacific Oaks College in 2011. She lives and teaches in Madison WI.