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Sadness Over Losing a Toy

Question: My two-year old recently released a balloon into the air and got very emotional as it flew away. He has pointed to the sky and cried a couple of times each day for over a week ever since. Should I be concerned?  Is there anything I can do to help him? Thank you.

Adele Brodkin: What a touching question. Of course,I don't know for sure what your boy was feeling, but I suspect his sadness at the balloon's disappearance illustrates the strong feelings most twos have about separation, loss, and a growing awareness that they can't control the comings and goings of loved ones. I don't think you should be concerned, but it's wonderful that you are empathic. Express what he may be feeling for him: "Yes, I know you're sad that the balloon flew away; but I am here with you. And I will give you a big hug to show you how much I love you." Top that off with an offer to play a favorite game, allowing him to be in charge of the plot of pretend play. Offer him lots of choices so he can feel less powerless.  "Would you like to wear your blue shirt or the red one?" Do the same for dessert or snack selections and rejoice over his wise choices.

For more advice by Adele, check out the Between Teacher and Parent column.

Dealing with Separation Issues

Question: I’m a new Kindergarten teacher, and I have been told that one of the children in my class this fall cries a lot and has trouble separating from his Mom.  What are some things that I can do to be prepared for that first week or so that I’m sure it is going to take for him to “settle in”?  Thanks in advance for your help.

Adele Brodkin: I imagine that knowing there is at least one child in your first kindergarten class who is likely to have trouble separating keeps you from feeling relaxed about this big moment in your life.  Still, it’s a good thing to be prepared, rather than taken by surprise.

Let’s talk a bit about ways to ease the transition for all young children entering a new (to them) school program. If your administrator has no objection, you might contact each of the entering children with a brief note or postcard introducing yourself and saying how much you are looking forward to having him or her in your class. Some teachers even make home visits before the start of school.  A phone contact or note might introduce the idea.  Not every parent will be amenable to a visit, which is fine. Alternatively, some teachers invite children and their parents to visit in the classroom the week before school begins, arranging those meetings so there is time for an individual chat with each one. You might encourage the visitors to bring a photograph of family members; and you can post all of those on a bulletin board that is in full view on the first day of school.  These are all small ways of welcoming a new child and giving him a chance to become somewhat familiar with his new school and new teacher. Knowing each kindergartner allows you to greet them all by name on the first day.

Some programs have a flexible separation policy, which includes allowing any parent whose child needs her, to stay for a while – minutes, hours or even several days, allowing for a gradual separation.  Again with the administration’s support, inviting a parent or two to stay does not mean that anyone has failed – not the child, the parent, or the teacher. Rather it suggests a level of kindness and sensitivity to children’s and parents’needs that often makes the separation go much smoother than anticipated.

Once the parent has gone, keep a special eye on any child who is a bit ambivalent about separating. Arrange for him to be near you during group activities. Subtly guide him in making friends, offer him an occasional special role, such as the cookie server or juice pourer, for example. You will soon learn what activities and materials are especially appealing to him and which children are diverting companions. Encourage the parents to arrange play dates with one or two classmates out of school.

Finally, I would recommend that you take a look at Nancy Balaban’s book, Everyday Goodbyes, published by Teachers College Press. She has more helpful hints and suggestions.

For more advice by Adele, check out the Between Teacher and Parent column.

Boy with Autism who Hits

Question: I work as a one-on-one aide for a seven-year-old boy with autism.  He is non-verbal and sometimes takes his aggression out in a physical manner.  He hits his sister and her friends if they are being loud or in his personal space. In the past, he stopped doing that after time-outs.  Recently he has started hitting again. How can I get the message across to him that hitting is wrong?  Do you have any additional suggestions about how to deal with his hitting?

Adele Brodkin:
You are to be commended for taking on such a difficult assignment with compassion and concern for the welfare of both the boy and others around him.  I gather that the boy has no receptive or expressive language, making his care a very challenging assignment. I hope that there are professional experts involved; perhaps those who made the diagnosis continue to manage his case.  Ideally, that is a team of experts, including at least a child psychiatrist, pediatric neurologist, occupational therapist, clinical early childhood psychologist who specializes in PDD, and a speech therapist with comparable preparation/experience. I hope that one of those experts is the team leader who collects the diagnostic information and puts together recommendations for his home and school care. If there is such a resource, I urge you to present this problem to those in charge.  Without knowing anything about the family and school arrangements, etc., there is little worthwhile advice I can offer beyond that.  If there isn’t a full cadre of experts and a skilled professional leading the team in this child’s behalf, please make it known to the family that they are entitled to both. There is a federal law requiring the Board of Education to fund an ongoing oversight and whatever interventions required for this child’s well-being and the protection of those around him.  You can’t be expected to do this all on your own.   While you are waiting for the bureaucratic wheels to grind, I can recommend a reading resource for you.  It will not solve the profound problems surrounding this boy’s care, but you might find it useful. The book is “The Child with Special Needs” by Stanley I. Greenspan, M.D. and Serena Wieder, Ph.D. You can also go on line to find much material by these two author/experts on Autism and PDD.

For more advice by Adele, check out the Between Teacher and Parent column.

How to Teach Basic Knowledge

Question: I have recently started babysitting two girls from my neighborhood; their ages are 2 and 4. I also have a 2 and 4 year old of my own. The two girls that I babysit are extremely behind.  They have none of the basic knowledge that kids their age should. I have never met a child as slow as these two. I want to help them, but after two months, they’ve made no progress. They seem to be getting worse. How do I begin to teach these children basic knowledge?

Adele Brodkin: It is very generous of you to want to encourage these children in their growth and development which is above and beyond the usual expectations for baby sitting. My suggestion is that instead of trying to teach them in an academic style, involve them in every day chores, talk to them about what you are planning, maybe raise easy questions.  For example, if you go to the post office and they come along, you can show, particularly the older child, that you are buying stamps to put on letters.  Then later or the next day when your mail comes, you can show them a letter sent to you with a stamp on it. You can point out a postal truck or a mailperson delivering the mail and mention that (s)he gets that mail from the post office to bring to people’s mailboxes.

Similarly, if you are shopping for groceries and/or cooking, talk about what you plan to make for lunch or dinner and how you pick out good fruit or vegetables, how you wash them before serving, etc.

When you are helping them on with their jackets, show them some “tricks” about how to hold their arms, point out the zipper and how it works. But don’t expect either of them to be ready to do the zippering on their own.

Try to make all these activities casual and fun and if either or both pays little attention, move right along to another chore without commenting on their performance with the last.  All of these examples, and many other every day chores that allow you to engage them in conversation are important readiness activities of later more formal learning.

Incidentally, be sure you have simple age appropriate toys, especially toys that allow free play and make believe.  Growing the imagination is especially important at their ages.

For more advice by Adele, check out the Between Teacher and Parent column.

Dealing with Aggression: a Boy with Autism

Question: I work as a one-on-one aide for a seven-year-old boy with Autism.  He is non-verbal and sometimes takes his aggression out in a physical manner.  He hits his sister and her friends if they are being loud or in his personal space. In the past, he stopped doing that after time-outs.  Recently he has started hitting again. How can I get the message across to him that hitting is wrong?  Do you have any additional suggestions about how to deal with his hitting?

Adele Brodkin: You are to be commended for taking on such a difficult assignment with compassion and concern for the welfare of both the boy and others around him.  I don’t know the circumstances of your position, although I understand that you are working with him at home. I gather that the boy has no receptive or expressive language, making his care a very challenging assignment. I hope that there are professional experts involved; perhaps those who made the diagnosis continue to manage his case.  Ideally, that is a team of experts, including at least a child psychiatrist, pediatric neurologist, occupational therapist, clinical early childhood psychologist who specializes in PDD, and a speech therapist with comparable preparation/experience. I hope that one of those experts is the team leader who collects the diagnostic information and puts together recommendations for his home and school care. If there is such a resource, I urge you to present this problem to those in charge.  Without knowing anything about the family and school arrangements, etc., there is little worthwhile advice I can offer beyond that.  If there isn’t a full cadre of experts and a skilled professional leading the team in this child’s behalf, please make it known to the family that they are entitled to both. There is a federal law requiring the Board of Education to fund an ongoing over sight and whatever interventions required for this child’s well-being and the protection of those around him.  You can’t be expected to do this all on your own.   While you are waiting for the bureaucratic wheels to grind, I can recommend a reading resource for you.  It will not solve the profound problems surrounding this boy’s care, but you might find it useful. The book is “The Child with Special Needs” by Stanley I. Greenspan, MD and Serena Wieder, PhD You can also go online to find much material by these two author/experts on Autism and PDD.

For more advice by Adele, check out the Between Teacher and Parent column.

Behavior Charts

Question: I am a preschool teacher of 18 three and four year olds.  My question concerns the use of behavior charts. Our Curriculum Specialist wants us to implement them to control behavior, which is sometimes an issue; but I am hesitant.

At the start of each week, the behavior chart has 5 smiley faces next to each child’s name. When a child breaks a rule or misbehaves, a teacher or assistant teacher takes one away. Likewise, if they show good behavior, they can earn back a smiley face. Depending on how many smiley faces a child has earned at the end of the month (teacher keeps track), he/she can choose a “prize”.

I already have a couple of issues with the chart. I don’t think any teacher in the room being able to remove a smiley face for whatever reason they see fit is wise. Also, I don’t like how children seem to become preoccupied with losing or gaining smiley faces - this seems to negate the whole purpose of the chart. I prefer to teach my children that we have “rules” for a reason and that everyone is expected to follow them because they are part of being members of our class. What are the pros/cons of the recommended chart?

Adele Brodkin: There are times when reward charts are very useful. The problem with them in this instance is that kids this young are mistakenly using them as punishment as well as reward – the punishment being the removal of the smiley face. We know, as a result of extensive research, that reward is much more effective than punishment or the threat of punishment is in teaching kids. And the interpersonal, rather than purely mechanical, touch is more likely to be effective.  So your conveying that there are certain rules (not too many) that all members of your class share as a community, makes following those rules inherently rewarding.  Virtually every child wants to feel (s)he fits in, belongs, is safe and secure in this home away from home. If that is not inherently rewarding for a rare rebellious child, expert intervention is indicated. For most children, "catching them being 'good'" is the sure-fire method. So, your readiness to offer verbal reward and recognition whenever a child is clearly following a rule reinforces that desirable behavior. With your method, there are no useless punishments or embarrassments, just positive consequences for playing according to the community rules.  Early in the term, you can relate the rules and explain their purpose very simply and concretely. (eg. If everyone shouts out at once at circle time, I can't hear any one of your very fine ideas. If we take turns, everyone will be heard and all your ideas shared.)

For more advice by Adele, check out the Between Teacher and Parent column.

Parent's Expectations

Question: Many parents in my preschool classroom are extremely concerned about their child’s academic development and behavior. One of my youngest children is only 2.5 years old and her parents expect her to know the letters of the alphabet and read simple words. Another one of my children’s parents want their son to have perfect manners—not interrupt adults, sit still for longer periods of time, etc. Do you have any suggestions for helping to quell parents’ anxiety and enabling them to accept their children at developmentally appropriate levels?

Adele Brodkin: A parents' concern about their children's future success can sometimes be a bit unrealistic. These may be well-meaning people who become anxious about their children having successful adult lives.  Does the shaky state of our economy increase parents' anxieties about their kids' futures? Whatever the source, something like the following discussion, tailored to each family's situation, is what I would suggest:

"Mr. and Mrs. Jones: I am so glad you could come in to chat with me about (child's name) today. He is a fortunate boy (she a fortunate girl) to have such committed parents. I know you want to encourage academic achievement, which is great; but we need to begin at the beginning, by developing readiness skills. The things(s)he is doing now are very important preparation for formal learning that includes such things as learning to listen and follow simple instructions, to share and get along with others, to take turns, to line up or wait their turns for snack, to play cooperatively, to listen to a story being read —a story with lots of pictures and limited in length, to respond positively to adults other than parents, to enjoy the give and take of play , etc. These are all pre-academic skills to master before the formal learning. The time you spend with your child while doing errands and household chores is also very instructive in preparation for academics. Point out why you are making a list for grocery shopping, maybe even read it aloud. Invite your child to help in folding and putting away laundry or setting up a workshop or servicing your car. Rather than giving didactic lessons, demonstrate by every day activity that color, number, and size and shape are meaningful concepts. (Ask your child to bring you all the white socks from the basket, if that is something he can do successfully; or just label the colors aloud as you fold)"

I would also recommend certain reading material or a video that demonstrates the concept of developmental appropriateness. Contact NAEYC for a list of parent materials that can be very useful in sharing what you know with parents.  In short, make it clear that the last thing you would ever want to do is hold a child back, but neither would you want to frustrate him or her by having unrealistic expectations. School and learning should start off being fun and rewarding, uplifting a child's self-esteem.

For more advice by Adele, check out the Between Teacher and Parent column.

Explaining Separation Anxiety to a Parent

Question: I have a sweet three year old in my nursery class who is displaying signs of separation anxiety every morning when her mother drops her off.  She will cry for a minute or so and then I play a name game with the class to redirect her attention and she is fine.  Yet her Mom is nervous about her child’s crying.  How can I best explain to her that this is normal behavior for a three year old child?

Adele Brodkin: It’s understandable for the mother to be nervous about her child’s cries. Parents often don’t realize that crying at separation is normal behavior for children and that it indicates warm and loving attachments to their parents. You may best be able to help them both if the separation could be more gradual. It is often a good idea to invite a parent or grandparent to stay (on the sidelines) for a while each day, even the entire session, and then gradually wean the two from each other, with brief separations at first. That should not be seen as a defeat for anyone, including the little girl, her mom or you and the school.  It is just good and compassionate practice.  Everyone should be confident about the child’s ultimate growth toward successful separation.  But just as parents don’t expect to wean or toilet train toddlers or replace their cribs with a big (girl/boy) bed in a day or a week, separating in a day from the familiar and loving parent is too much to expect of many kids this age.  With your patient guidance, both the child and her parent should do just fine in time.

For more advice by Adele, check out the Between Teacher and Parent column.

Why Children Copy

Question: Why does my 4 year old like to copy other kids?

Adele Brodkin: I wish I knew more about the circumstances of his or her copying. If, for example, your child is imitating the behavior of children who are a bit older, that is because (s)he admires the other children who seem so “big.” Remember the old saying, “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.” Children learn a lot from imitating other children and even imitating grown ups. In fact, using their imaginations to pretend play—being a teacher or a fireman or a mommy or daddy is very beneficial for social, emotional, and cognitive growth.

I know that there are times, however, when some children copy others’ unacceptable behavior.  That too, is nothing to worry about; but it does give you an opportunity to make your standards for behavior very clear. “I know Joe does that, but it isn’t really very nice and I would rather you did not do it.” This is particularly relevant for behavior that is unsafe or that may hurt another person’s feelings.

In either case, copying and imitating are both completely developmentally normal behaviors for your four year old.

For more advice by Adele, check out the Between Teacher and Parent column.

A Three-Year-Old Who Misbehaves

Question: A three year old in my preschool class misbehaves several times daily. She pinches, pushes, chokes, yells in the other kids’ faces, etc. She does not respond to my strong reactions, time outs or parental discipline. Nothing seems to motivate her to stop the behaviors. Her mother thinks a change of scenery would help, i.e. moving her to another program, but I think she will just take the behaviors with her. I would like to help her so that she doesn’t take this problem to school with her and would appreciate any ideas.

Adele Brodkin: You are correct; the chances are that this little girl will take her troubles with her wherever she goes. Transferring to another program is not likely to be the solution.  I must say it is very kind and generous of you to want to keep her with you so that you can be of help. There are very fine and dedicated teachers who would welcome her departure. But this child’s behavior suggests a level of emotional/social distress that is not readily “treated” in the educational setting, although a teacher working in tandem with an early childhood mental health team can be a great resource. The child’s behavior suggests that she is either quite disturbed or reacting to some environmental situation outside of school. I suggest that you confer with your Director about referral resources. There are more and more fine infant and preschool or early childhood mental health facilities in the U.S.  Often, but not always, they are affiliated with a University training program. Some are free-standing programs with board certified child psychiatrists, licensed psychologists trained in early childhood mental health, and other specialists. They all recognize the urgency of working very closely with parents in trying to understand each child’s issues and to remediate. The public school system and/or local hospital are often good resources; and if a child is classifiable, the local community is responsible for the financial support of any intervention.

While you are inquiring about referral resources, you and your director would do well to earn the parents’ trust gradually, so that the family will be more likely to follow through on your referrals.  I wish you good luck with this endeavor. It will take a dedicated person like you to guide this child and family to the help they need.

For more advice by Adele, check out the Between Teacher and Parent column.

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