Self-Regulation Skills

The ability to manage emotions, behaviors, and attention is often referred to as self-regulation.  It is a term closely related to executive functions, which is the topic of this month’s CCEI Newsletter. Essentially, self-regulation is the ability to stop and think before responding to a situation. It means taking a breath to calm down before responding to someone’s actions or words. It is noticing when you need to walk away to compose yourself and having the skills to do so. Self-regulation impacts how we set and achieve goals and how we bounce back after experiencing challenges.

There are a number of strategies that can be used to promote the development of self-regulation. First and foremost is modeling. Educators and parents must be able to regulate their own emotional responses so they can model self-regulation to children. Imagine trying to teach a child how to manage strong emotions by expressing strong emotions in from of the child. It is not exactly a recipe for success.

Adults should model for children how to practice deep breathing during stressful situations, how to take a break during times of frustration, how to ask for help when feeling overwhelmed, and how to communicate needs in safe and respectful ways. Children are watching the adults around them for clues on how to respond to different situations, so adults must be on their A-game at all times!

After modeling, adults can help children begin to recognize and label the strong emotions that they experience. Teach children emotional vocabulary words so that they can express themselves effectively. Before children are overwhelmed with emotion, read books and tell stories that contain characters who experience strong emotions.  Talk about how the characters feel, how they react, and different options they could use next time they feel strong emotions.

Have conversations with children about how they feel inside when they are mad or sad. See if children can compare those physical feelings to how they feel when they are happy or excited.  Pointing out these differences helps children become aware of the changes in their bodies that often accompany strong emotions.  You can use color charts to help children identify how they are feeling, with green meaning great, yellow meaning, bothered by something, and red meaning upset.

Mindfulness practices include bringing attention to what is going on inside our bodies and minds in the moment. Children can be taught to check in with themselves to identify how they are feeling.  This can be done on a regular basis to help build this skill as a habit.

Self-regulation develops slowly and children will probably make many mistakes before they master the ability to regulate their emotions and reactions. In all fairness, adults often lose their tempers or become frustrated with situations, too. Everyone benefits when there is an intentional focus on teaching and practicing self-regulation in learning environments.  How will you incorporate some of these ideas into your practice with children?

 

Social Stories

Social Stories are tools that are often used with children and adults who have been diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). These stories are written in a manner that safely and simply teaches children how to navigate challenging situations. For example, Social Stories exist that teach children about what to expect when going to the dentist, the first day of school, or how to stay safe when playing outdoors.

According to Carol Gray, a pioneer in the work of Social Stories, there are several conditions for Social Stories:

  • They present information in a patient and supportive manner
  • They are descriptive of specific situations
  • They are meaningful to specific children
  • They provide information in a way that is physically, socially, and emotionally safe for the audience.

You can see a few examples of Carol Gray’s Social Stories here.

Teachers can use Social Stories to help children learn about all kinds of life situations. With a little creativity and research, teachers could create a Social Story to describe what children should expect as they transition to Kindergarten. It would be necessary for teachers to reach out to local elementary schools to find out details about the schools and daily routines.  These facts could then be worked into a story format.

Here is a list of other scenarios that can be introduced using Social Stories:

  • Preparing for a field trip
  • The arrival of a new sibling
  • What to do if you get separated from a parent in a store
  • How to enter into games or play situations
  • What to do when you feel angry, sad, frustrated, disappointed, excited, etc.
  • How to respond to bad news
  • How to transition from one activity to another
  • How to complete a task in the daily routine

While formal Social Stories are a tool used with individuals with ASD, teachers could adapt this strategy for use with all children. Teachers may find it helpful to introduce expectations and routines using stories, in addition to giving verbal instructions.

Building Empathy and Prosocial Behaviors with Children’s Literature

Educators have a powerful tool at their disposal for helping children develop important prosocial behaviors. Prosocial behaviors are those that help us get along in the world with others.  They are the behaviors and skills we use to successfully collaborate with others and contribute to our communities.

Fortunately, children’s literature is full of examples of characters engaging in behaviors that would be considered both prosocial and antisocial. This means there are thousands of opportunities to engage children in conversations about the choices that characters make, the soundness of those decisions, and how outcomes could be altered of different decisions had been made.  These conversations can become just as ingrained in children’s minds as the stories themselves.

Here are a few tips to follow when planning to use literature as a teaching tool:

  • Pre-read the selected book or story. Determine where in the story you want to stop and ask a question about a character’s choices or behaviors. Decide which questions you will ask ahead of time.
  • Plan for stopping points. Recognize that these important conversations will extend the length of time that children are expected to sit and listen. As you know, this can be difficult for some children, which is why best practice recommends limiting it. It is perfectly fine to read only half of a book at a time. Make an intentional decision to read a story to a particular point, engage children in conversation, and then tell the children that you will come back to the story later in the day to find out how the story ends.
  • Interject prosocial vocabulary into your reading of stories from an early age. If you read part of the story where a character helps another character, stop and say, “It was very helpful of Kaya to stop what she was doing to clean up the kitchen for her mother.  Earlier today, I noticed Davina being helpful when Marcus was cleaning up the block area all by himself. I think it is great that we have such helpful friends in our class.”
  • Introduce books and stories from a variety of ethnic and cultural traditions. Not only will this help children feel represented in the classroom, but it will also introduce different cultural norms and expectations for children to consider.
  • Create activities that allow children to re-write the ending of the story, based on prosocial behaviors that they would choose. Children may be interested in illustrating their chosen ending or acting out the new ending for the group.
  • Refer back to characters of books when children are struggling with interactions with their peers. Say, “This situation reminds me of what happened to Jack in the story we read the other day. Let’s think about how the characters solved that problem and see if we can try that option.”

Tell us how you use literature to introduce prosocial behaviors to young children.

Talking to Children About COVID-19

It is likely that the young children in your care have heard adults and siblings talk about coronavirus and CODIV-19. It is also likely that each child in your care has a different understanding, and maybe even a different capacity to understand what they are hearing from their family members.  One thing children do understand is that life has changed. Perhaps one or both parents have been home for an extended period. Perhaps there have been financial struggles as a result of unemployment. Time at home with family members could have been joyous for some children and scary for other children.

When considering conversations with children about the coronavirus, it may be a good idea to speak to children individually first, to gauge what children know and understand.  This initial investigation will help you make decisions about how best to move forward with conversations.  If you have a conversation with a group of 15 children, you risk confusing some of the children who may not have as much information as other children.

At first, just ask questions.  Ask children what they think is happening. Ask them to tell you more, or attempt to clarify their responses with additional questions. You don’t need to impart facts at this time, just listen.

Be sure to validate any feelings of fear or unease that children communicate. Let children know that it is a confusing time for everyone and that they are not alone in the way they feel.  Also, let them know that you are doing all you can to keep them safe. Don’t force children to talk, if it appears that they are not interested in the conversation. Let them know that you care about them and if they ever want to talk, you are there to listen.

Once you have a sense of what children understand, you can create a plan for small-group or large- group discussions.  You may choose to start the conversation with a book or a social story, like the example here.  If you use a prewritten story, be sure to modify the language to meet the understanding of your audience. You might also ask for some keywords to be translated into the home languages of your students.

Keep in mind, children may have experienced the loss of a loved one, or are currently separated from a loved one because of isolation protocols. It is important to have open lines of communication with families so that you can offer as much support as necessary.

Here is an excellent resource entitled, Supporting Young Children after Crisis Events, written by David Schonfeld from the National Center for School Crisis and Bereavement.  Be sure to seek out additional information as children’s individual situations become apparent.

The Difference Between Equity and Equality

When doing the work of an early childhood consultant, it is common to hear teachers say that it is difficult to dedicate too much time and attention to one child because it is not fair to the other children.  To a degree, this is true; teachers cannot focus all of their attention on just one child.  But on the other hand, when we shift our thinking from equality (everyone gets the same resources) to equity (everyone gets the resources they need to succeed), we can begin to identify opportunities to support children in different ways.

Consider the example of the child who is acting out as a way to get attention from teachers or peers. The behaviors can be looked at as a form of communication that is telling us that an underlying need is not being met. The child is likely seeking connection, relationship, affirmation, and/or reassurance. The equality mindset says, “I want to spend extra time with this child but I can’t because I have to divide my time equally amongst the children.”  However, an equity mindset says, “I recognize that, at this stage of development, this child needs something more from me.  I would like to find a way to provide this child with what he needs in this moment, to ensure he/she has the tools needed to succeed moving forward. This extra time or attention will not be required forever.”

In this case, the teacher may choose to do some reflection to identify times of day where a little extra attention and nurturing can be provided to the child.  Perhaps the child could sit next to the teacher during meals. Perhaps the child could be assigned a job or special responsibility. Perhaps, while other children are working independently during center time, the teacher could read a story to the child and a friend. During these interactions, the teacher could present the child with appropriate options for communicating needs, such as saying, “You know, if you ever want to get my attention, you can just say my name or tap me on the arm.”

This targeted approach to supporting children as they are learning new skills is at the heart of equity.  Not every child requires the intervention described above. Another child in the class may need support with an obstacle on the playground, while another child may be ready to write the letters of his name.

Early childhood education is the perfect place to adopt an equity mindset, because the children have such varied needs and abilities.  What can you do today to shift from an equality mindset to an equity mindset?

Practices to Reduce Stress During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Last month’s blog explored some of the common signs of stress that people may be experiencing during COVID-19 related shut-downs.  Even though some states are opening up or loosening restrictions on stay-at-home orders, stress is not going away.  Now we will face new stress-inducing experiences, such as returning to work, venturing out using public transportation, and facing crowded business.

The Medical University of South Carolina suggests a number of tips for reducing stress related to COVID-19:

  • Recognize that we are all in this together. Knowing that you are not alone in what you are feeling and experiencing can be helpful.
  • Be sure to breathe. This means creating time each day to sit quietly and get in touch with your breath.
  • Reach out for support and help. You don’t have to navigate this situation in isolation, even if you are alone at home. There are people in your social network willing to help you.
  • Be kind. Engage in quiet acts of kindness. They don’t have to cost money. Look another person in the eye and greet them warmly when you pass them on the street.
  • Look for the positive. It is easy to focus on the negative at a time like this. Make an effort to notice positive things going on around you.
  • Limit your exposure to social media and news coverage. Put yourself on a media diet and only seek information from reliable resources.
  • Adjust your language. If you notice that you are repeating negative phrases, such as “Everything has changed for the worse,” try to change that to, “Things are definitely different, but I will be able to adjust to the new normal.”
  • Use technology for good! Explore apps (Calm) and podcasts (Ten Percent Happier) that promote healthy living.
  • Stay connected with friends and loved ones in creative ways. Attend religious services online, organize a sing-along over Zoom, or challenge someone to a friendly game of online Scrabble.

To read more of the ideas shared in the article, click here.

Common Signs of Stress

Whether your daily routine has remained the same or been turned upside down by the Coronavirus pandemic, you are most likely experiencing more stress than usual.  It is important to keep the common signs of stress front and center in our minds so that we can take action to reduce our stress when it begins to impact our lives in a negative way. If you experience any of these signs of stress, reach out to friends, family members, or medical professionals for support.

According to the CDC, common signs of stress include:

  • Disbelief and shock
  • Tension and irritability
  • Fear and anxiety about the future
  • Difficulty making decisions
  • Feeling numb
  • Loss of interest in normal activities
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nightmares and recurring thoughts about the event
  • Anger
  • Increased use of alcohol and drugs
  • Sadness and other symptoms of depression
  • Feeling powerless
  • Crying
  • Sleep problems
  • Headaches, back pains, and stomach problems
  • Trouble concentrating

Resilience

Resilience can be defined as the ability to bounce back after experiencing adversity.  Imagine stretching a rubber band between your fingers.  In most cases, the rubber band will return to its original size and shape once you release the tension. In some cases, especially with frequently used rubber bands, they will stretch out and not return to their regular size.  In other cases, if you stretch a rubber band too far, it will snap.

As humans, we experience a number of stressors that cause tension in our lives. We should strive to be able to withstand the tension and stretching and return to our normal state of being. If we do not have the tools that allow us to manage tension, we could become stretched too thin, or even snap.

Fortunately, we can build the skills and practices that will increase our capacity for resilience. Here are a few ideas:

  • Build relationships with others who will support you in positive and productive ways
  • Educate yourself
  • Engage in acts of self-compassion and forgiveness
  • Seek connection with something bigger than yourself, whether that is faith or community engagement
  • Create a positive mind-set that limits fear and negative thinking
  • Become aware of your emotions, recognizing and truly feeling each one, rather than pushing them away or avoiding them

You can read more about these strategies and many others in this article published by UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center here.

You can also learn how to help children build resilience by enrolling in this month’s free trial course, SOC109: Building Resilience in Young Children here.  Learn more about the course here.

The Importance of Self-Care

The March edition of the CCEI newsletter focuses on ways to include self-care into the daily routine among teachers, administrators, and parents, as well as how to build these habits with students. Most people get into the child care industry because they care so much about the health and well-being of the children in their care, which means that their needs often come last. However, this mentality is leading to high turnover and burnout. Have you ever felt so tired from a day that you could barely make it to the couch that night? Do you find it hard to find the motivation to accomplish tasks in your everyday life? Are you regularly sick? Or do you often feel exhausted and overwhelmed? These are just a couple of reasons why it has become increasingly important to practice self-care.

When you fly on an airplane, have you ever wondered why you are instructed to put on your own oxygen mask first, before you help anyone else? This is because you cannot help anyone if you do not help yourself first. This same concept can be applied to teaching. In order to give students the best possible education, it is important for teachers to be happy and healthy. Notice that happiness is listed first as mental happiness often leads to physical healthiness, and vice versa. Self-care comes in many different forms for everyone depending on their schedule and needs, but it is important to do something daily to help fill your bucket. A teacher can’t give something they do not have, so if they do not refill their bucket, they will lose their caring, compassion, and patience.

“By taking care of myself, I have so much more to offer the world than I do when I am running on empty.”

-Ali Washington

As important as self-care is for adults, it can also be beneficial for children, as it often gives them to time to recharge and reflect. Young children often have trouble slowing down long enough to evaluate how they are feeling and process their surroundings. Encouraging times of stillness and reflection can help children learn how to handle their emotions. Instituting moments of self-care in the classroom can help students build up the tools they will need to be successful members of the community.

Supporting the Development of the Whole Child

In the February Newsletter, we discuss several ways that common elements of the daily routine promote children’s development. When promoting children’s development it is helpful to think about the whole child as a learner. This means, that in addition to planning academic lessons, it is also important to intentionally plan activities that target social emotional and physical development skills. In many cases, you won’t need to create separate lessons to address these skills. Instead, create a plan for academic lessons that include opportunities for children to practice additional skills.  Here are a few ideas:

  • Look for ways to add fine motor movement to literacy lessons.
  • Explore math concepts using gross motor movements.
  • When reviewing weekly lesson plans, look for opportunities for children to work in small groups or pairs to accomplish tasks.
  • Think about elements of the daily routine that lend themselves to the practice of social skills.
  • Consider how your interactions with children model and promote appropriate language and conversation skills.
  • Identify lessons that help children develop emotional regulation skills.

In addition to planning where to integrate different areas of development in to the lesson plan, make notes of how you will assess the skills children are learning. Be prepared with your camera and sticky notes so that you can capture all of the learning that is happening as children explore.