Have you ever watched someone who is so skilled at their job that it’s like watching a piece of art unfold before your eyes? I have exceptional staff at my daycare centre and there are times when I watch them with the children that I’m struck by beauty of their skills. I love learning how to do things better and improving how I communicate with my children is important to me. Here are three things I do differently after watching the Early Childhood Educators work their magic in the classroom:
Get Down To Their Level & Speak Calmly
This may seem like a no-brainer, but it’s magic. When you’re speaking with a child and they really need to hear you, lower your body so you’re face to face. I also pair it with lowering my voice and holding their hands to create a physical connection.
When a child is behaving in ways we don’t like, it’s often because they’re experiencing an emotion that they don’t know how to handle. Imagine being little and having to cope with feelings like boredom, fear, anxiety, frustration, exhaustion, embarrassment or disconnection. It can’t be easy and a child needs an adult to help them learn how to express and handle those emotions in an appropriate manner. Getting down to their level gives them your full attention, acknowledges that they need you and helps them feel heard and emotionally grounded.
Give Them The Words
How many times have you said “Use your words!” to your little one? I can’t count the number of times that sentence has come out of my mouth. While this is an important concept to help build a child’s communication skills, they don’t know what to say if you don’t actually give them the words!
With young children, ECEs focus on clear and simple responses such as “More please”, “Stop”, “My turn” or “Mine”. These are important so that children can convey needs which otherwise become the source of frustration and result in behaviour like scratching, hitting or biting.
Logically, as children get older you provide more complex and situation-specific responses. My children are 6, 5 and 2 years of age. You would think that the older two wouldn’t need this verbal coaching but I still need to do it especially when they feel angry, frustrated or sad. Just today my 2 year old grabbed something from my 5 year old who then started screaming. I walked over and said “Tell Taylor ‘No grabbing, I’m still using it.’”. She said it to her sister then off they went to play some more. I feel like giving kids words helps them feel more in control of themselves and the world around them.
Prepare Them For Transitions
Many children find it difficult to change from one activity to the next. Luckily there are different strategies you can use to help children ready themselves for these transitions.
ECEs often use songs as a way to move children from one part of the day to another. For example, when it’s time to clean up toys they use a tidy up song. When it’s time to move to the tables for snacks or lunch they have a different song. You can do this at home too. My kids found it difficult to transition to bath time. I started using a simple & silly chant where I clap my hands to get them up the stairs and into the bathroom. My husband thought I was nuts but within a week it worked so well that he started using it too. The key is consistency – using the same songs for the same transitions.
You can also give children a heads up that a change is about to happen. When we’re at the park and it’s almost time to leave I will give my kids a time warning “Ok guys, 10 minutes and it’s time to go”. I make sure each of them acknowledges that they heard me. Nothing worse than the ‘I didn’t hear yooooouuuuuu!’ meltdown. Bear in mind that time is a completely elusive concept, there’s no difference between one minute and ten minutes to a child under the age of 5 so my time warning is more figurative than literal. I then give my guys a concrete instruction before it’s time to go: “Two more times down the slide and then we have to leave!” and I’ll stand and count it out with them “Ok, that’s one time down the slide. One more” then “Yay! Two times down the slide. Let’s go now.”.
A third option for children, and this one is great for children who find changes really difficult to manage, is explaining a sequence of events. “First we’re going to eat breakfast, then we’re going to brush your teeth and after that we’re going to the park”. In a daycare environment, ECEs use this verbal method or they’ll create a visual schedule. A visual schedule is pictures that represent the different activities: Circle time, snack, outdoor play, nap time etc. In preparing children for what’s coming it makes it easier for them to change from one thing to the next. I’ve used this strategy when I know my monkeys are getting tired but I need to squeeze a little more out of the day. First I’ll tell them the number of stops “Ok, we have three stops to make: Loblaws, Home Depot and Caterpillar & Co.”. Then I describe each one “First we’re going to Loblaws to get milk for the daycare then we’re going to Home Depot to pick up some screws. After that we’re going to take everything to Caterpillar & Co.”. Lastly, I count them out on their hands “First Loblaws. Second Home Depot. Third Caterpillar & Co.” After each one we talk about what’s left to do. I know it sounds over the top, but it really works.
I won’t pretend that I remember to use these all the time. It’s especially hard when I feel tired, distracted or stressed. But my hope is that the more I do it, the more instinctual it will be because I definitely see a difference when I do remember to follow an ECEs lead.