There are Two People in Every Interaction
One of the most common questions we get from parents is how behaviour is dealt with in our setting – more specifically, how challenging situations between children are handled.
Among people caring for young, developing children, whether it be parents, caregivers, guardians or teachers, this is a very common discussion. Each one usually has their own approach and beliefs and their own reasoning behind these views.
Based on our own experiences and beliefs for early childhood development, we also, of course, have our own and, as always, if you ask, we will always answer.
Firstly, our approach has to do with the child. Our approach does not derive from our aim to deal with the situation or the behaviour or the issue at hand. Our approach derives from our belief that every single interaction a young child has in their day exists to help them develop into well rounded, well educated, compassionate, understanding and emotionally healthy individuals that one day will have to live and interact independently within their community independently. Each and every interaction will have an impact. Therefore, while they have us next to them, it should be our job to help guide them through learning opportunities so that one day, they know how to react in the most effective manner in various situations.
In moments of challenging situations there are two people that should be focused on and one of these people is typically forgotten.
The first person is the child who gave the action: the child who hit, who bit, who pushed, who said mean words.
The second person is the child who received the action. This child is often forgotten about but is just as important.
Firstly, we shall focus on the first child. At this young age, the first child will never act inappropriately because they are “mean”. It is an honest belief of ours that people are not born seeking negative interactions. A person will never be born wanting to hurt anyone. At this young age, a physical interaction that has led to someone getting hurt is typically a physical communication. Before children are encouraged and shown how to speak to interact, they use physical communication to express their feelings.
When a child has expressed themselves this way, it is our job as more experienced adults to guide them by showing them the more effective way of interacting. This does not mean demanding a “sorry”. This means taking a minute to communicate yourself with them to reflect on what happened and what could happen next time. Based on our experience, this reflection has to follow certain steps in order to be effective.
The first step is acknowledgment of their feelings: why did they react like that? Were they angry? Were they sad? It is important for them to recognize the feeling that led to this action. Following this recognition, it is important for them to know that it is completely ok to feel this way but it is not ok to react negatively.
The next step is a discussion of what they could have done. From our experience, young children typically know what the appropriate thing to do is and once they are calm and are no longer overwhelmed by their feelings, they can tell you: I could have asked nicely, I could have said please…
If they are too young to know then this is when we can step in as more experienced adults and assist them by showing them ourselves how the interaction could have gone so that next time, they will follow our example.
It is important to emphasize here that at no point does this reflection or discussion require an outdated and ineffective “Time Out” or “Naughty Corner” or an equivalent. At the point that a child has interacted physically, it is an indication that they are feeling some sort of emotion and usually this emotion has overwhelmed them. Isolating a child after they have felt an emotion is, based on our opinion, a very negative message to give. This reflection needs to be done in an understanding, loving and compassionate manner. At this time that they are feeling emotions, they need someone to tell them “I am here to listen to you”, not someone to tell them “I do not want you near me”.
With consistency, one day, children will act effectively without the need of an adult to assist them.
Now, on to the second child. The second child also needs to learn.
They need to learn to defend themselves and protect their boundaries. This child needs to learn that they can vocalise their dislike to any behaviour that they did not consent to and should not be afraid to speak up for themselves.
You will often hear parents say to their children “tell your teacher if something happens at school” and this is a legitimate and effective manner to help them deal with situations in their lives but this also teaches them that they require someone else’s assistance to handle issues that arise.
Children should be taught to say “stop, I do not like this” walking away confidently from a situation that makes them feel uncomfortable and then seek assistance from an adult. It is important for children to be taught to be self-sufficient, confident, independent, and strong characters so that they will grow to be adults who can defend their rights and speak up for what they believe is correct. It is important to teach children that this can be done without using physical communication and can always be done respectfully, regardless of how the other individual is reacting.
Therefore, during an interaction between two children, both should be guided in their interaction consistently so that they can one day do so independently and naturally.
It should be noticed that the word “consistent” has been mentioned more than once in this blog.
To end, we would like to emphasize the important of consistency. Consistency works both ways: if a child is consistently exposed to positive guidance, then they will learn positive, effective behaviours but this also applies to negative guidance. If a child is consistently exposed to negative guidance, they will learn negative, ineffective behaviours. Based on our experience, children will learn by example. They will take what they see in their environment as the norm and will copy. Therefore, as more knowledgeable, experienced, wiser adults, it is our duty to show young, impressionable individuals what it means to live in a community of many. It is our duty to teach compassion, understanding and acceptance; how to be polite, how to speak in a respectful manner and how to have effective interactions with those around us.
To conclude, when making decisions on how to react to situations you may see your child in, always remember that as caregivers, it is our duty to help raise a new generation of healthy people that will simply make the world a good place.