2) developing self regulation through consistent modeling;
3) responding to challenging behaviors.
We encourage you to ask questions and keep an ongoing conversation with us during this important time.
During early childhood, children are working overtime to manage the many emotions that arise throughout the course of the day. Some of these emotions are exhibited positively, such as that of joy through laughter or excitement through cheering. While others, can be exhibited in an undesirable way, such as frustration through hitting, or anger through tantrums. These more challenging emotions are so important for children to recognize and cope with, as doing so is the first step in developing self-regulation. According to Ellen Galinsky, President and Co-Founder of the Families and Work Institute and author of Mind in the Making, regulating ones thinking, emotions and behavior is critical to success in school, work, and life; and these essential regulatory skills develop during the first five years of life. Self regulation is the intentional process of controlling one’s impulses and desires and responding appropriately to the environment. This includes both the ability to stop doing something that the child wants to continue, such as taking a break from a toy to give a peer a turn, as well as the ability to start to do something, even if it is something that he/she may not want to do, such as cleaning up his/her toys. These two examples are regularly emphasized in our classroom community as children begin to understand their roles and responsibilities within the classroom setting.
As parents and educators, trusted adults can support this critical skill of self-regulation, through consistent modeling and scaffolding. Scaffolding behavior refers to the process of setting a range of developmentally appropriate expectations for an individual child that are just challenging enough for them to meet with just the right amount of adult support. For example, our classroom morning meeting typically lasts 15 minutes, which is just slightly over the maximum amount of time a 3 year old preschooler can direct their attention to. However, we incorporate a movement activity into each meeting to break up the amount of time the children are sitting. This scaffold of support allows the children to have their physical needs met so that they can continue to regulate their attention and impulses during this group time.
Modeling the appropriate behavior is essential for children to learn how to engage effectively with their environment. Hitting another child or adult is not a socially desirable or acceptable behavior. However, for a frustrated preschooler, it is not an automatic regulatory function to first identify the emotion of frustration and use language to communicate a need to another person. As adults, we must consistently model this through our own language with the children, as well as intervening when a physical conflict arises to scaffold the language needed. For example, in the classroom, we often use the language of, “It bugs me when …., I wish you would…” As teachers we even use this phrase around the children when something is bugging us. Letting a child know that, “It bugs me when you pull on my sleeve to get my attention, I wish you would say my name to get my attention,” informs the child of what they should be doing, as well as models appropriate language to use to solve a problem. Modeling can also be done in other contexts, such as when reading with a child. Identifying a character’s emotions and discussing possible solutions can help children transfer these behaviors over to their own lives.
Providing hints or reminders, is another important piece of scaffolding. Simply stating a reminder can benefit a child who does not yet automatically regulate his/her behavior. For example, “Can you use your strong preschool voice to tell me how you feel?” reminds a child that whining is not an appropriate behavior, however, you are interested in what he/she has to say.
Building self-regulation in preschoolers requires a trusting adult who themselves has the self-regulation and motivation to respond with patience and consistency. It’s not always easy or convenient to take the time to model the appropriate behavior, but a child’s development of self-regulation is arguably the most important skill of the preschool years. In our final post in the upcoming weeks, we will address responding to challenging behavior in developmentally appropriate ways.