Learning Generosity

In early childhood education centers we rightly stress the importance of early literacy, learning one’s ABCs, exercises for physical development, and promoting other essential experiences that assist children in meeting their developmental milestones, but we often neglect a crucial part of child development: teaching generosity.

Generosity can be defined as, “the act of giving to others freely.” Generosity is both a skill and a habit that once learned and implemented can be a powerful antidote to the negativity we all experience on a daily basis. There is research that promotes the notion that we are biologically hardwired in our brains to have the inclination to act generously, but as early childhood educators we are not doing an effective enough job unleashing that inclination to ensure that every child’s generosity is making the lives of others around them better.

How can we encourage generosity in children?

  • Involve children: When they turn an appropriate age, involve them in charitable action. Whether it be volunteering with them, or bringing them along with you as you do something generous with your time or resources.
  • Encourage empathetic questioning: At ages 3 and 4 a child’s ability to perceive the feelings of others are enhanced, which enhances one’s ability to be empathetic. Encourage this development by asking questions to spur empathy. Examples are included below.
    • How do you think your actions affect your friends? Why do you think your friend is sad? What could you do to help make your friend happy?
  • Give children an emotion vocabulary: Teaching children to identify and label emotions is linked to showing greater concern for others.  Next time your reading a book to a child, ask questions about how the characters are feeling, or how the book makes them feel. One study shows that toddlers whose mothers have encouraged emotional labeling are more likely to show concern for others in distress.
  • Model generosity: Children learn by imitating and observing.  If the adults playing a prominent role in their life are acting generous and going out of their way to help and give to others, then children will be inclined to follow suit by modeling that behavior themselves.
  • Discuss often the importance of generosity: Children need to be informed that generosity isn’t just a few actions they partake in every couple of weeks, it is a way of living. Generosity when converted into a lifestyle becomes a part of one’s daily routine way of seeing the world.

What are the positive effects of generosity?

  • Better Health: Children are inundated with presentations, lessons, and discussions about the importance of a nutritious diet, the need for daily exercise, and adequate sleep, but the current research conveys that “giving” might be just as much a boost to one’s health.
  • A better world: When children are taught to be generous, they grow up to exemplify generosity. Who doesn’t want to live in a world in which the vast majority of people are willing to be generous with their time and resources?
  • Increased happiness: A lifestyle of sustained generosity has been linked to increased happiness in multiple studies.
  • Enhanced connectivity with others: Individuals who make generosity a priority report feeling more connected to the people around them.
  • It is contagious: Generosity is socially contagious, meaning that when another individual witnesses or hears about you completing an act of generosity, they are more likely to engage in one themselves.

 

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Play-Based Learning

If you were to walk into one of our centers (Discovery Days I, II, and III and Kids Connection I and II) you might see that the children spend 80% of their waking hours engaging in play.  On a surface level, this might cause the casual observer to be skeptical or to think that the curriculum isn’t very rigorous; however, nothing could be further from the truth.

Our educational philosophy is very simple: children learn best through explorative play in which they are engaging with their environment and other children, with the help of a facilitating teacher.  You may be thinking, what constitutes “play?” “Play” is only “play” according to a group of early childhood experts, if it meets three of the following expectations listed below, each of which is taken directly fromscholarly work (Krasnor&Pepler, 1980; Rubin, Fein, & Vandenberg, 1983, depicted in the “Power of Play” publication):

PLAY IS PLEASURABLE. Children must enjoy the activity or it is not play.

PLAY IS INTRINSICALLY MOTIVATED. Children engage in play simply for the satisfaction the behavior itself brings. It has no extrinsically motivated function or goal.

PLAY IS PROCESS ORIENTED. When children play, the means are more important than the ends.

PLAY IS FREELY CHOSEN. It is spontaneous and voluntary. If a child is pressured, she will likely not think of the activity as play.

PLAY IS ACTIVELY ENGAGED. Players must be physically and/or mentally involved in the activity.

PLAY IS NON-LITERAL. It involves make-believe

What does the research say?

  • “Play is not frivolous: it enhances brain structure and function and promotes executive function (i.e., the process of learning, rather than the content), which allow us to pursue goals and ignore distractions.” –American Academy of Pediatrics Clinical Report, 2018
  • “Stressing formal learning can turn off preschoolers, many of whom aren’t physically ready to hold a pencil or sit still and complete worksheets.” Lorayne Carbon, director of the Early Childhood Center at Sarah Lawrence College
  • “The University of North Florida, studied 343 children who had attended a preschool class that was “academically oriented,” one that encouraged “child initiated” learning, or one in between. She looked at the students’ performance several years later, in third and fourth grade, and found that by the end of the fourth grade those who had received more didactic instruction earned significantly lower grades than those who had been allowed more opportunities to learn through play.”-New York Times
  • “We’re recommending that health care providers write a prescription for play because it’s so important.”- Dr. Michael Yogman, lead author of the American Academy of Pediatrics report

Why a play-based philosophy of learning?

  • Play is the most natural form of learning for children, especially children under the age of 5. Play occurs spontaneously, and helps develop a child emotionally, socially, cognitively, and physically.
  • Play encourages children to explore, test their limits, and solve problems.
  • Playing teaches vital life skills such as sharing, verbal and non-verbal communication, and empathy.
  • Play helps develop a child’s small and large motor skills.
  • The limits to play are endless, resulting in children exploring new frontiers each day.

Why so Angry?

We have all seen children throw temper tantrums, and we can all likely agree that they are not much fun to witness. We have been in the room as a child has punched an adult or anotherchild, or when they’ve said harsh swear words they have no business knowing.  Each of these scenarios conveys a universal emotion: Anger.  It’s a common emotion, many of us deal with on a daily basis regardless of age.  What many probably don’t remember is that when we were children, we were likely taught how to manage anger and try to deal with it in a healthy way. Children who act on their anger in unproductive ways, such as with violence or screaming, have not been taught how to manage their anger in a healthy manner.

This blog has been crafted for the purpose of providing information on the topic of childhood anger, and how we as educators and parents can teach children to handle their anger.  Anger plagues humans for their entire life, therefore becoming essential that children are taught from a young age what are appropriate responses to this difficult to handle emotion.

What does a child have to be angry about?

  • Failure: Children fail just like adults. It may not be on the same scale as adults, but that doesn’t mean that it won’t frustrate and anger them just as much. Failing at tying one’s shoes, failing to be able finish writing their name, or failing to color in-between the lines; to a child these feel like failures.
  • Trauma: Sometimes unfair things happen to children. Through no fault of their own they may experience incredibly difficult circumstances.  As a result of these difficult circumstances, anger is often a common reaction.
  • Physical needs not being met: Hungry, tired, or thirsty? When our primal needs are not met, it’s natural to become angry.  Children can get “hangry” just like adults!
  • Over-stimulation: During times of over-stimulation, children may become frustrated.  When too much is occurring at once, irritability is a common response, which often manifests itself in anger.
  • Lack of Attention: Like adults, children need a social network that provides them support. This comes in the form of teachers, adults, child friends, and extended family.  When a lack of attention is felt, children may become angry. Their lack of understanding why this attention is being withheld often angers them.
  • Poor communication skills: Children lack the ability to express the way they feel. Often they are misunderstood.  Anger manifests when they can’t communicate their desired message.

How to Help Children Cope with Anger:

  • Seek understanding: It is very difficult to help a child cope with anger if you are unsure what they are angry about. If the child is old enough to talk, ask why they are angry, and what they need.  It is up to the adult to decide whether or not supplying that need is in the child’s best interest long-term.
  • Let them remain angry (sometimes): Sometimes it’s best to let a child work through their anger on their own. If a child never tries to self-soothes on their own, they will never develop the skills needed to do so.
  • Remain solution oriented: Most things that anger us can be solved. The solution the child wants may not be possible, but there is always an alternative.  Encourage angry children to seek solutions, and help them brainstorm solutions.
  • Establish Anger Rules: Firm behavior expectations should be enforced at all times. By having rules, children get used to expectations, and understand what is an appropriate response to their anger. For example: hitting or treating others with contempt is never permitted.
  • Teach children how to label their feelings: Children experience a variety of emotions.  Children need to be taught that emotions are separate from actions.  Just because they are angry that is not reason to act a certain way that is otherwise unacceptable.
  • Talk about your feelings: Children need to know that they are not the only ones that deal with anger, or other feelings for that matter. Talk about your feelings and how you are dealing with them positively. Just make sure to keep it appropriate.
  • Reinforce positive responses to anger: When a child handles anger in a healthy way, applaud and reward that behavior; by doing so we effectively reinforce it.

Video: What Children Can Teach Us About Dealing With Anger, Oprah Winfrey Network

Early Childhood and Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

Every weekday children are dropped off at early childhood centers to be cared for and assisted in their development for anywhere from one hour to 12 hours. Children spend a significant number of their 24-hour day in the care of early childcare professional, yet as educators we tend not to think too deeply about their life outside of the center. When they are misbehaving, we tend to blame it on a child’s natural demeanor, rather than think systematically about their familial, social, and community life outside of the center and how those factors may be influencing their actions.This blog post focuses on conveying how childcare providers can more successfully assist in a child’s development by viewing children in their care in the context of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.

What is Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs?

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is a psychological theory developed by Abraham Maslow in 1943 which argues that humans have different levels of needs. The needs are tiered as displayed in the image below. At the base of the pyramid are basic human needs (food, water, clothing, etc.), and at the top is self-actualization (the finding of purpose). A picture of the pyramid can be found below. Each intermediary level builds upon the level below it. In other words, in order for a child’s safety and security needs to be met, their basic human needs need to first have been met. Once basic human needs are met, then relationship needs be met, then once relationship needs are met, than achievement needs can be met, and finally once all other needs are met, then the need for self-actualization can be met.

 

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Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs (picture credit: Mendix.com)

How does this apply to early childhood education?

As educators we need a comprehensive understanding of Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs, because it provides us with a larger context to relate their behaviors and actions. We often view the way a child behaves as singular rather than as a part of their broader life. Are they hungry? Is their home safe? Have they had access to water in the last few hours? By thinking about these questions it forces us as educators to ponder whether or not there may be other reasons for a child’s behavior than the events that have just occurred.  When more immediate needs are not met such as one’s needs for food and safety, it becomes increasingly unlikely that a child will be able to behave, learn, and listen to the best of their ability.

Overview of each each of Maslow’s Needs:

Basic Human Needs: These needs are at the core of what is needed to function as a human being. They are essential to our survival. They include but are not limited too: food, water, shelter, and clothing.

Safety and Security: To thrive and live healthy lives humans need a sense of safety and security. The Mandt System (development tool) asserts that safety and security can be summarized as “consistency and predictability.” Humans, and especially kids thrive in routine, and in an environment in which they are comfortable.

Healthy Relationships: A life without healthy relationships is not a healthy life. Children rapidly develop, and a caring adult can make all the difference. Healthy relationships can be defined as relationships that are emotionally, physically, psychologically or spiritually appropriated.

Achievement: We think of achievement as something that adults seek out, but not kids. This is not true. Kids need to achieve just as much as adults do, but their achievements are different and developmentally appropriate. For example an achievement for a five year old may be coloring a picture “within the lines,” which often provides a feeling best characterized by the phrase, “I did it!”

Self Actualization: This sometimes confusing phrase can be thought of as a child’s ability to rise, to act creatively, to dream, to act without fear, and to find purpose.

Additional Resources:

  • What IS: Maslow’s Pyramid-The Hierarchy of Needs (happiness.com)
  • Applying Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs in Our Classrooms- (changekidslives.org)
  • TED Radio Hour- What do we really need? 6 Speakers explore Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs (NPR.com)

The next blog post will focus how to utilize the information conveyed in Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs to provide the best early childhood education possible to all children in our care.

Designing Your Classroom

Research says that the single most important facet in a child’s education is the quality of the teacher. Due to this fact, most professional development posts on this blog have focused on what teachers personally do to enhance child development. This post is a little different. It will examine how teachers can manipulate their classroom environment to provide the best possible education possible to society’s most valuable resource: children.

Why does classroom design matter?

  • The classroom is where a child spends the majority of their school day.
  • It can help to engage “multiple senses” resulting in “increased cognition and recall.”
  • Learning outcomes are better when children feel comfortable in their classroom and it is well-lit.
  • The classroom can spark a child’s interest in different topics.

What are the classroom design requirements?

The Wisconsin Department of Children and Families provides the following checklist for educators and parents:

Physical environment

The physical environment checklist deals mostly with safety rather than design.  Here are some additional requirements:

  • Centers: 5 need to be open to the children (examples: sensory, dramatic play, kitchen, art, book corner, etc.)
  • Centers must incorporate one of the following child development domains (WMELS):
    • Health and Physical
    • Social and Emotional
    • Language and Communication
    • Approaches to Learning
    • Cognition and General Knowledge

Innovative Ways to Improve Your Centers:

  • Use shelves, tables, etc. to separate centers. Separating centers limits children wandering from one center to the next. Sectioning-off each area will limit running, thereby creating a safer environment.
  • Put the “art center” and “sensory center” on non-carpeted flooring. These centers tend to be messy, and non-carpeted flooring will aid in the clean-up process.
  • Put the “blocks center” on carpet. It will result in quieter play.
  • Make the library space a desirable place to read by incorporating comfy chairs, pillows, etc.
  • Don’t place the “dramatic play center” next to the “library center.” Children tend to be louder in the “dramatic play center” and the “library center” should be kept a quiet space.

Other Design Tips:

  • Label centers and toy containers to make it clear to the children where things go come clean-up time.
  • Develop a toy sanitation schedule to ensure regular cleanings.
  • Ditch the clutter. Not only can it be a tripping hazard, it isn’t very appealing to the eye.
  • Don’t hesitate to re-design your classroom every few months. Some change will help to keep the children’s interest.
  • Reflect: Every few months reflect on whether or not the classroom design has been enhancing child development or become debilitating to it.

What separates “mediocre” classroom environments and “learning enhancing” classroom environments:

  • Mediocre classrooms have mostly bare walls. Learning enhancing classrooms have decorative walls, educational posters, and bright and inviting colors.
  • Learning enhancing classrooms encourage child engagement, mediocre classrooms do not.
  • Learning enhancing classrooms encourage child ownership of classrooms via classroom jobs (light flicker, counter, calendar helper, etc.) Mediocre classrooms are viewed by children as just a place they spend their days, but not “their own.”
  • Learning enhancing rooms have clean, safe, and developmentally appropriate toys.
  • Learning enhancing classrooms bring nature into the classroom.
  • Learning enhancing classrooms encourage technology usage, but don’t rely solely on it.

Additional resources for classroom design:

Teaching Empathy: Can it be Done?

Johnny the three year old gets his toy stolen by his buddy named Dillon. Johnny gets mad, and punches Dillon. Dillon starts crying, and Johnny grabs the toy and walks away unfazed. If you were the teacher in this classroom, how would you proceed? We’ve all been in this situation.  Inappropriate actions are taken by one child that hurt another.

How we respond in these situations is crucial to how children develop empathy. This blog post will seek to convey how we as educators, parents, and guardians can help to instill strong empathy in the children around us.

There is a common misconception that young children are incapable of feeling empathy, largely thanks to an article posted on Facebook 3,500 times by a Huffington Post blogger.  The research doesn’t convey this.  According to Psychology Today, infants as young as six months old prefer to be around people whom help others.

 

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With each stage of development children become increasingly able to practice empathy (source: Ages and Stages via Scholastic).

  • Soothing an infant helps them learn to self-soothe, and later soothe others.
  • Toddlers mimic others’ feelings.  This is the reason when one toddler begins to cry, another will often follow and start crying.
  • By four years old, children are able to consciously consider the feelings of others, and to see their perspective.

Empathy is like a muscle, the more we practice it, the stronger our abilities become.

What are some ways to help children strengthen their ability to empathize?

  • Help them develop an emotional vocabulary:  Many children struggle to explain how they feel because they simply lack the vocabulary to do so.  Speak often with kids about different feelings and incorporate discussions around those feelings into classroom routines.
  • Utilize emotion flash cards: These help children learn to distinguish emotions from each other.  If they learn what sadness looks like on a flash card, they’ll have an easier time noticing if a classmate is sad.
  • Model: Children mimic adults. Make sure you are acting empathetic on a daily basis and explain why you are taking empathetic actions.
  • Ask prompting questions: Why do you think John feels mad? What has caused your brother to be angry? How would you feel if that happened to you? Questions like these prompt children to consider how they would feel if they were in someone else’s shoes; this is the essence of empathy.
  • Speak often with children about how they are feeling:  To practice empathy effectively, it is important to be able to practice self-awareness. If children aren’t aware of their own emotions, its hard to be aware of someone elses’s.
  • Role-[laying games: These help children act as another person and to imagine the perspective of another person. For example, playing dress-up a child might act as a fire fighter.  While doing this, the child is trying to see the world through the lens of a fire fighter, which is in fact an act of empathy.

Are Babies Born with empathy?

This video is an illuminating resource for learning more about how infants develop empathy and character in general through the use of science. Check it out!

Should we force children to say sorry?

According to the Today Show, forcing children to “say sorry” when they misbehave may be sending the wrong message.  For a child to “be sorry” they must understand that they did something wrong, or that they in some way hurt someone else. Without this understanding, forced apologies leave children feeling angry or shameful. This isn’t to say that “saying sorry” should be thrown away, instead we should focus on helping children realize what they have to be sorry about, and how they can correct the situation and move forward. By helping illuminate why the child should feel sorry, we are helping them practice empathy. Without empathy, forced apologies become a child’s way of quickly moving on without them really considering the consequences of their actions and how they affected others.

 

 

The Connection Between Optimism and Success

Inevitably intertwined with grit and self-control is a third learned character trait that is just as valuable: optimism. It is often said that there are two types of people in this world, glass half-full types (those who view the world with optimism), and glass half-empty types (those who view the world with pessimism). Which type are you?

Optimism can simply be defined as “positivity oriented towards the future,” in other words it’s a hopefulness. Optimism is not a natural inclination, but rather a demeanor that can be learned and strengthened.

What are the Mind-Body benefits of optimism? (According to Greater Good)

  • Likely to achieve greater academic and athletic success
  • Better health outcomes
  • Less Anxiety
  • Less likely to suffer from depression
  • Greater satisfaction in their relationship

As humans we tend to worry often about what the future holds for our lives. Daily life is filled with so many distractions that it’s hard to live in the present moment.  Kids don’t have as many worries as adults, but that doesn’t’ mean their life is void of stress or anticipatory anxiety. The stresses children do have are just different than what adults experience. Childhood is the perfect time to learn optimism as a skill precisely because kids aren’t as overwhelmed with obligations as adults, and because their brains and thought patterns are rapidly developing.

How to teach Optimism to Children:

  • Tackle all-or-nothing thinking: As humans we tend to see things in extremes. In other words, in a world that is mostly grey, we tend to see things as black or white.  All-or-nothing thinking fails to acknowledge the complexity of the world. Teachers and parents must teach their children to avoid all-or-nothing thinking; this will help children realize that despite their circumstances, there is always a reason to be positive!
  • Work to see their perspective: Some children tend to be pessimists because they have had bad luck or have experienced a multitude of difficult life experiences. As adults, we must respond with empathy. By doing so, we build trust with the the child, and can help to broaden their perspective, and assist them in seeing the world with a newfound optimism.
  • End Complaining No one likes to hear complaining. As a adults who work with children, we are almost immune to responding to it, but we should do our best to notice when children complain and correct the behavior.  Complaining perpetuates pessimism.  When a child is complaining, seek to broaden their thinking to include additional alternatives.  Often times, they are being narrow-minded.
  • Model Optimism: When children spend time around optimistic adults, they tend to act more optimistic themselves.  Optimism is contagious.  Do your best to remain as optimistic in demeanor as possible around children, and they too will respond with being optimistic themselves.
  • Focus on solutions: When children are faced with difficulties of any kind, it’s essential that adults in their life help them focus on solutions rather than allowing them to wallow in their despair.

Avoiding “Learned Helplessness”:

  • “Learned helplessness” is a psychological theory founded by Martin Seligman, which argues that humans and animals can learn to become helpless when for an extended period of time they don’t see a solution to their problem.
  • The basis of learned helplessness is lack of control.  When humans feel that they no longer have control over their future, they will inevitably learn to become helpless, and pessimistic. Think about it: would you be optimistic if you you thought you had no control over your future? Probably not.
  • To help children avoid learned helplessness, it is the job of adults to focus on helping children regain their sense of control.  This can be done by helping them  understand what they are in control of, and what they can manipulate to create a more advantageous situation for themselves.
  • Learned helplessness untreated can lead to both anxiety and depression, therefore it is essential that adults be on the lookout for the warning signs of creeping learned helplessness: passivity, giving up, limited problem-solving ability, low self-esteem, and increased frustration (source: Very Well Mind)

Recommended Readings:

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“An optimist is someone who expects all the crayons to be in the box.”- Emily Strawn

 

Understanding Why Children Struggle with Self-Control

Children struggle with self-control, it’s a fact of life. Humans are not born with the self-control needed to live healthy and successful lives. Self-control must be cultivated, practiced, and valued. This blog post’s purpose is to illustrate the connection between cultivating self-control in children and success later in life. In addition, this post is a continuation on a series of posts on the topic of turning children into successful adults, inspired by my reading of Paul Tough’s How Children Succeed.

“The Marshmallow Study”

in the late 1960s and early 1970s, Stanford psychologist Walter Mischel completed a study that offered children a choice between eating a marshmallow immediately, or receiving a greater reward if they waited a short period of time. The study was designed to measure self-control among children, and determine whether or not their ability to delay immediate gratification was correlated with better life outcomes as they age (e.g., higher educational attainment, SAT scores, healthy body mass index, etc.). The study found that children who possessed enough self-control to wait the short period of time for the increased rewards tended to have better life outcomes, demonstrating that children who possess higher self-control are more likely to experience better life outcomes. A video displaying how the study was done can be found in the “Additional Resources” section of this blog post.

Why is self-control a character trait?

Self-control is the ability to resist the temptation to live a life that places supreme value on current pleasures, and instead work for the possibility of greater rewards in the future. Self-control helps a child to avoid the temptation to skip homework due tomorrow in favor of playing outside, bringing greater satisfaction in the present time, but will not better the child’s life overall. Self-control is what stops one from stealing, even though it produces immediate results.  People who have a strong character have the ability to hold themselves accountable for their actions, to resist temptation. Self-control is an act of cautiousness, that is, skeptical of immediacy.

What are the long-term benefits of teaching a child self-discipline? (Information comes from “Research every teacher should know” published by The Guardian: self-control and learning):

  • Learning outcomes are better due to a child’s ability to maintain focus and handle distractions;
  • Children who learn self-control are more attentive adults, possessing the skills maintain focus on the subject being dealt with;
  • Stronger verbal skills;
  • Better academic results (e.g., academic grades);
  • Greater social competence;
  • Better ability to handle stress, where individuals with self-control know what’s important and are able to maintain their focus on what they place value on.

 

How is self-control increased in children?

  • Modeling: Children learn from the adults in their life. If they witness their teachers and parents struggle with impulse control, they will likely struggle as well. If they see their role models practicing patience and avoiding impulsive actions, they will likely practice these same skills.
  • Practicing patience: Self-control is like a muscle, it must be exercised in order for it to become strong. Self-control exercises can be found here.
  • Reward it: When a child has practiced self-control, reward them with positive affirmations for their effort. Rewards can be material as well, but should be within reason.
  • Turn practice into a game: Children enjoy games. Learning self-control can be difficult, but that doesn’t mean it has to be boring. Check out these ideas!
  • Re-frame self-control failures: Children are going to fail as they continue on their journey to become more self-disciplined. That’s okay, and it is normal. Every failure brings a child closer to future success.

Create an Environment that Promotes Self-Control:

Arguably the most effective way to promote self-control in children is to manipulate their environment to work towards their advantage. Every child has triggers that cause them to have lapses in self control. For example, some children may be so distracted by technology in the classroom that all their focus is placed on it, and they cannot control their behaviors otherwise. In this case, teachers can manipulate the environment (i.e., remove technology from the classroom momentarily, or place it out of sight), so that the children who struggle to focus with technology present are able to as a result. Manipulation of the environment gives kids who struggle with self-control a fighting chance to focus, and practice their self-control skills.

Additional Reading Resources: 

Turning Kids into Successful Adults with Character Development

We want all children in our care to grow up to become successful and productive citizens. We assume our kids will be successful, and why wouldn’t we? Most kids are nice as young children and developmentally on-track. However, not all children do grow up to become successful (to achieve their goals and live a healthy and happy life).  Why is that? Is it a lack of intelligence? Poor Schools? Or, maybe even poor nurturing by parents or teachers? Paul Tough, renowned Canadian journalist utilized his book How Children Succeed to introduce readers to the argument that success has little to do with intelligence, but rather with character: exemplified through grit (perseverance), self-control, and optimism.  I will dedicate the next three blog posts to discuss each one of these skills in depth, and how we can cultivate the skills in children who are in our care.

Does IQ lead to Success?

Contrary to popular belief, high IQ children are not guaranteed to experience success later in life. Parents and educators put such an emphasis on teaching literacy early, and shaping a child’s ability to reason logically, and while these are important to teach, they are just one part of helping children grow up to attain success.  ABC News reports that IQ is a good predictor of school success, but not necessarily for life. Unfortunately, IQ is difficult to change.  The good news is that character is much more malleable. Children can be taught character skills like grit, self-control, and optimism and our schools should teach them. In other words, it’s easier to teach someone skills rather than to “be smart.”

What is “grit?”

Grit refers to one’s ability to possess the courage and perseverance necessary to continue working toward one’s goals despite confrontation with difficulties along the way. In short, it’s one’s ability to persist, to keep moving towards a goal, even in the face of resistance.

What does a person with “grit” do differently than one without?

A person with grit sets goals and takes the steps necessary to achieve those goals. A person with grit can fail to achieve their goal, but don’t give up. Failure is not an option to the gritty person. When resistance is faced individuals with grit alter directions, modify their thinking to their advantage, train harder, or breakdown their tasks so that they are more manageable. Gritty people don’t give up on goals they care deeply about.

How to foster grit in children?

Have standards and enforce them: Children lack self-discipline.  Like grit, self-discipline is a skill that is learned. By having standards and enforcing them, children become accustomed to working to meet their goals (achieving the standard). For example, teachers can enforce the standard “toys must be cleaned up before a child moves onto the next activity.” To meet this standard, children must persist through forms of resistance: negative emotions having to do with not wanting to clean-up as well as distractions.  Achieving the standard despite resistance helps children obtain grit.

Avoid providing the answers to all a child’s questions: Kids ask a lot of questions.  While answering regularly is developmentally appropriate, sometimes it’s best not to provide an answer, and encourage a child to find out for themselves.  Figuring out the answer serves as the child’s goal, and they must be gritty to achieve the objective.

Focus praise on effort, rather than results: Grit is learned while confronting resistance. If the goal of educators is to help children become gritty, we should praise effort exerted confronting resistance, rather than results.

Allow children to fail: Watching children fail makes adults sad, and it remains uncomfortable.  If we can take that sadness away by altering a situation so a child doesn’t fail, we often do it.  However, this isn’t helpful.  If a child learns that every time they are about to fail someone will swoop in to make things better, they will likely never learn to persist towards a goal despite resistance.

Recommended Video: 

“Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance”- TED Talk by Angela Lee Duckworth

This video discusses what separates high achievers from their average counterparts, and the role that grit plays.  Angela Lee Duckworth is a teacher turned Psychologist, and she brings an interesting perspective to the topic of grit.

Recommended Readings:

“Grit: The Key Ingredient to Your Child’s Success,” Washington Post, Judy Holland 

“12 Ways to Raise a Competent, Confident Child with Grit,” Psychology Today, Laura Markham Ph.d

Understanding Behavior Management

Despite all their wonderful qualities and their irresistible zest for life, spending ample amount of time with children can be trying, especially when they are exhibiting troubling behaviors. This blog post aims to discuss different techniques for managing troubling child behaviors as well as ignite a broad discussion on the topic of behavior management.

The act of promoting positive behaviors and correcting harmful behaviors by an adult is called “behavior management.” As educators, it is our duty to ensure that children are not misbehaving. Misbehaving is a broad concept but can be thought of as a failure to act in a societally acceptable fashion.  Examples of misbehavior include but are not limited to the following: using swear words, bullying, acting selfish, pushing other children, talking back to adults, etc.

How to determine if behavior needs correcting?

Socially acceptable behaviors for children can vary by geographical area, culture, setting, etc.  Teachers must recognize this, and always make the determination of whether a child’s behavior is suitable to their environment.  Some behaviors however, are universally unacceptable, such as punching a classmate.  As educated adults with world-life experiences, it is our job to teach children that there is a time and a place for certain actions.  At times it is okay to be silly like while a child is playing on the playground, while other times, like during story time it is best to listen intently.  It can be difficult for children to determine when certain behaviors are acceptable, and they will learn best by trial and error, with periodic explanations of why or why not a behavior is acceptable in a certain instance.

What are some best practices for behavior management?

Focus on the ABCs of Behavior Management:

Antecedents: These are factors that make an inappropriate behavior more likely to occur. In other words, an antecedent is a trigger, something that likely leads to an inappropriate behavior.  Understanding a child’s triggers allows an educator to prepare themselves to anticipate certain behaviors, as well as to avoid the triggers that stir negative behaviors all together.

  • Example: For some children, riding the bus is a trigger for acting inappropriately. Recognizing this trigger, teachers can prepare by positioning their own seat location on the bus near the area of the child who is likely to “act out.”

Behaviors: This refers to the specific actions you are trying to encourage or discourage.  Behavior management is more than just seeking to limit bad behaviors. It is also the process by which we teach positive behaviors.

Example: Encouraging positive self-talk by rewarding it or discouraging poor language by offering alternatives and conveying the consequences of the behavior.

Consequences: These can be either positive or negative and are the natural result of a behavior.  The use of consequences can affect the likelihood that a behavior occurs again.  Especially for children, it is important that consequences be felt immediately.

  • Example: Rewarding positive conflict resolution with additional screen time for a child who values it.

What should we avoid when practicing behavior management? (source: teachub.com)

  • Trying to manage every behavior: At the end of the day, kids are going to misbehave, and they are likely going to do so often.  As educators, we’d go crazy if we sought to manage every behavior and correct every negative action by a child.  Teachers should “pick their battles.”
  • Doing the thinking for the child: Children learn not by being told what to do, but rather by reflecting on their own behaviors. Ask questions. Help them come to the desired conclusions.
    • Question Examples:
      • How do you think John felt when you pushed him in line?
      • You were very helpful to Mrs. Jane today. Does it make you feel good to help out your teacher?
      • Is yelling at your friend going to help you solve the problem?
    • Publicly shaming: Children should never be shamed for their behavior. Should a child’s behavior need coaching, do it in private.  They can be “called out” publicly for their behavior, but that should be the extent of it. All other discussions should occur privately.
    • Use words that affect a child’s self esteem negatively: Even when a child misbehaves they are still worthy of every adult’s respect. Labeling children with negative adjectives like “naughty” or “dumb” serves no positive developmental purpose and is mean spirited.

Additional Resources: