If you really think about it, it can’t be easy to be a young child in a classroom. You learned to walk, everyone clapped, and you were feeling pretty good about yourself. Then you learned to talk, and everyone was so impressed, and you thought you could rest on your laurels. And now, you find yourself in a classroom with many other children. To be successful in this new place, you must learn a whole bunch of rules that are necessary to share space, attention, and materials with others for 8 – 10 hours a day, 4 – 5 days a week.
We sometimes forget that being in a classroom situation is not a normal way of being for a child. They are not born with the skills they need to understand the social interactions that are a natural part of being part of a community. As teachers, our goal is to teach children how to successfully navigate the world and the complex relationships that are part of it; not to punish them for not yet knowing. As educators, we need to apply the same dedication to teaching social skills as we do to helping children make sense of letter, shapes, and colors.
Making children feel bad for not knowing the rules or for not yet having developed the social skills they need does not help them learn. Instead of tearing down the child, we need to build up the skills. Classic reactions to challenging behaviors; such as behavior charts, time out, or taking away toys do not teach; they punish. Children cannot learn to share if there is no longer a toy to share. A child cannot learn to be with others if they are separated every time they struggle. And, behavior charts keep score in the classroom, but they do not teach alternate and acceptable behaviors.
Instead of reacting in ways that punish, we need to focus on reactions that teach children the skills we want to demonstrate. If we want children to share, when they are fighting over a toy, we need to sit with them and model and teach what it means to share. Instructing them to “share” means nothing without walking them through what that means.
The goal of any response to challenging behavior is to make it less likely that the behavior will occur again. Punishing a child may appear to work in the short term, but punishment does not teach. If we want children to do better, we need to focus on teaching. We are patient when we teach numbers, we give children lots of time and opportunities to build literacy skills, and we are more than willing to plan plenty of activities that focus on shapes. But, with social skills, we expect children to get it after one time; or, to even know them when they enter the classroom.
So, instead of getting frustrated when a child doesn’t exhibit social skills, take in a deep breath and pat yourself on the back. Because you are a teacher and you got this! Teaching is what you do!
What do you think? Engage with me and others in the ECE community on my social media outlets. You can also find more information about my book and available training sessions, on any of the following:
Facebook: Teacher as Gardener
LinkedIn: Michelle Salcedo
My book Uncover The Roots of Challenging Behavior can be purchased at Free Spirit Publishing or Amazon
Interested in hearing more? Consider bringing me in as a speaker for your next Professional Development event (you won’t regret it).