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For a moment, imagine a child in your classroom having a tantrum and knocking down a block tower built by a peer. This event has most likely caused heightened emotions amongst the children and staff at your early education program.
Will you approach the situation with a quick reaction, or thoughtful response? When challenging behaviors cause our patience to run thin, it’s easy to be quick to react. However, it’s much more advantageous for our children and ourselves if we lean in with a thoughtful, calm response.
Before getting into specific steps for finding your calm during those challenging events, I’ll begin by examining ways to create a classroom environment that is physically and emotionally safe, predictable, and consistent with clear expectations for everyone.
Creating a safe and positive space is important from the moment a child steps foot into your early education setting. A positive classroom environment supports a calmer, more trusting, compassionate and empathetic atmosphere.
To offer supportive responses to children’s challenging behavior, we’ve got to set ourselves up for success in advance. In early childhood, helping children with challenging behavior isn’t just a matter of your in-the-moment response. It's also about how you set up and structure your learning environment.
To provide that in early education, we need to focus on:
When you find yourself in a situation where you're dealing with challenging behavior, there's a difference between reacting and responding to the situation. This may seem like just a matter of wording, but in early childhood education, it makes all the difference for a supportive response.
Let’s get into those action steps on what to do in those tricky events when challenging behaviors arise, and everyone’s emotions are overwhelmed.
"Acknowledging isn't agreeing with or condoning our child's actions; it's validating the feeling behind them."
To help children build up their emotional regulation, we’ve got to begin with co-regulation and work towards self-regulation.
Co-regulation is a supportive, soothing process between an adult and a child. This includes your affect, tone, and gestures in approaching a child with heightened emotions. Young children, especially, need this support as they are learning coping skills through your modeling and teaching.
In daily classroom practice, co-regulation can take many forms. Here are some common examples:
Eventually, all of our teaching and modeling will support children in knowing how to self-regulate. Self-regulation is when one is able to self-soothe and manage their emotions by responding rather than reacting. Learning to self-regulate emotions is an important life skill. Supporting children to develop these skills from a young age sets them up for current and future successes in life – in school, work, relationships, and overall physical, emotional, and mental health.
In the bigger picture, our in-the-moment responses shape how children learn to steer their own emotions and respond to others. When we set social-emotional development as a learning goal, it’s important to give children these key ingredients:
Let’s go back and revisit the scenario from the beginning - the child in your classroom having a tantrum and knocking down a block tower built by a peer. With everyone experiencing heightened emotions, you can appreciate and understand the value in responding with a calm demeanor. Take a breath and remember that you want to act in ways that are in line with your core values and support the social skills and behaviors you want to see from your children.
Please note: here at Famly we love sharing creative activities for you to try with the children at your setting, but you know them best. Take the time to consider adaptions you might need to make so these activities are accessible and developmentally appropriate for the children you work with. Just as you ordinarily would, conduct risk assessments for your children and your setting before undertaking new activities, and ensure you and your staff are following your own health and safety guidelines.