In my first blog, I thought it was essential to talk about really observing our children, finding out who they are, accepting them completely, and figuring out ways to balance their energies. You are the experts about your kiddos. Each one comes into the world with a distinct personality and way of being. Thinking that we can change that way of being is almost comical, but learning ways to best accept our children and support them in being comfortable in themselves can be learned and refined.
Right away, I think of the way that some in our society feel that being one way or the other is not a good thing – say for instance being shy. Why is it not a good thing? As a shy child myself, I was as happy as could be until a grownup decided that I was “too shy” and tried to coax me out of it. Then I became self-conscious and uncomfortable. It is wonderful for parents to model friendliness and interest in others, but as a teacher I don’t find it necessary for the child’s way of being to be brought to their attention and to awaken their age-appropriate dreaminess. Examine the two scenarios that follow, try them on as a little child, and see how they make you feel:
Little “Charlotte” was a tall, slender girl of 2 years, very bright eyed and sensitive. She often told her Mother in the mornings that she had things to tell “Greeny” (my nickname with the children). After the morning greeting, the children and I would often “chit-chat” because after I spoke, most of the toddlers had one or two stories to top mine. Chariotte’s Mom might say, “Charlotte has something to tell you, Greeny.” “Do you want to tell Greeny, or shall I?” “You tell,” Charlotte would say. “OK. Greeny, we saw a bird today in the backyard,” said Mom. “It was a blue bird!” said Charlotte. “Yes Charlotte, it was a blue bird, and the blue bird was finding food for his babies.” said Mom. “It had 3 babies!” said Charlotte. And the story continued with Charlotte finally standing up and telling her story loudly with a big smile.
Emile was a wiry 5 year old boy with attentive eyes. He liked to watch the others before trying things and would often say, “I don’t want to…..” in anticipation. I would smile at him and then when we were doing an activity I would put the materials down and say to Mom, “Here is the paper, brush and paint when Emile is ready.” Emile would often say, “I AM NOT going to paint, eat, play…….” Emile was a bright and lovely child. He would almost always participate in his own time. The only thing I regretted hearing was when Mom would say, “Why does he do that!!” or “I wish you wouldn’t do that!” Emile did “that” because he was Emile. I felt Emile had fine parenting and he was the finest Emile that there was. But when Mom compared him to other, more easy going children in the class, Mom felt that perhaps Emile could try harder. We all have our feelings and need to talk about them with other grownups, but it is best done out of ear range of the kiddos. At these young ages, children usually act in a way that truly reflects who they are. Who says outgoing is better than shy or quiet better than talkative, or bold better than reticent…….
Children are who they are and the best place to meet them is right there – where they are. Knowing they have your understanding and support will enable them to relax into themselves and enjoy their encounters with the world. Sometimes children are quite different than parents, but often families share characteristics. It is so funny to a teacher when parents say to us, “I don’t know where they got that!” and the child really resembles the parent well. We say, “You were never an ______child (active or mischievous or whatever)? And the parent would often say, “Well,, now that you mention it, my parents did say I was very ______.” The apple usually does not fall far from the tree. There are many ways to be encouraging without making the child feel badly about who they are. They have a lifetime to learn how to interact with others, and they can start now. Since children are such imitative beings, right from the start they will pick up their cues from you. Ominous, isn’t it?! When they come into a new situation, they will take cues from you about how to enter the play, how to get along with others, etc. Even if they are not imitating us in the moment, we can be confident that they are taking in our actions as example. In our parent-child group, we often allowed the children to try to work things out between themselves, but we were an arms-length away if they required some assistance.
In Waldorf schools we actively teach about inclusiveness and I start with that in preschool. If a child tells me, “Simon is a cry baby,” I say, “Yes, Simon cries.” Simon cries (fact) is a lot different than hearing “Simon is a cry baby (judgement).” Simple language like that sinks deeply into the children’s psyches and they begin a long journey of understanding themselves, their classmates and interacting well in a group. Soon, instead of telling the teacher that “Simon is a cry baby,” the same child who was name calling before will tell you, “I think maybe Simon misses his Mom. I am going to be Simon’s friend.” You can give children feedback about themselves, For instance when Mia screams when you try to hurry her with getting dressed, you might say, “It seems like you don’t like it when I hurry you. Mia might even tell you, “That does not feel nice, Dad!” And you can change the mood and say, “Here, let me put on your leggings gently, one leg at a time (and then maybe sing a little song, “with a pull-pull here, and a pull-pull there……..). Humor goes a long way to pacify situations.
When I taught preschool/kindergarten we use to use a rose (soft toy) as a peace offering. Any time one of the children had a complaint about another, they would go and get the peace rose and bring it to me. This technique could easily work for children in the grades also. I have heard of children holding the “talking stick” when it was their turn to talk.. Each child got a turn to tell their story, “Suzy, what happened?” I would ask. Suzy might reply, “Johnny pushed me.” “OK, Johnny, what is your story?” I would ask. “I pushed Suzy because she keeps taking the bunny away from me.” Then I might say, “So Suzy you keep taking the bunny away from Johnny. Johnny you pushed Suzie.” Then the children would both hold the rose and say, “Friends forever” Usually this was enough to diffuse the quarrel. But if they kept talking about it, you could kid with them (over 3 year olds) and say, “Taking your friends toy without waiting your turn?! Pushing your dear friend?! What would be something good to try next time?” But usually just being heard was what the children were seeking and the squabble usually ended (for now). I always tell the parents in my classes that taking turns is a life-long project and we don’t expect the youngsters to get it down all at once. They will have numerous opportunities to learn to share in life.
Children are most comfortable when they know you are in charge. Today I was in Kohl’s in Omaha, Nebraska while visiting my daughter and I saw the cutest Dad who had 2 girls and two boys with him. One of the big kids was pushing the baby buggy and the other two kids were pushing Kohl’s baskets. The tone was very energetic, fun and noisy. At the point I saw them they were buying dishes. “$12 a plate!” the Dad said. “That is ridiculous,” and proceeded to tell them about ripoffs and marketing tactics. All in all they were having a great time debating about what color and type of dishes to get. Then the children kind of flowed out and were going overboard, one child running into things, two being quite silly. The Dad stopped and said, “OK! You push the baby, you push the cart and Jerry and I will put the dishes we need in our cart.” There was a little complaining, and Dad said, “That is the way it is going to be,” and the children (4, 7, 11 and a very good 1 year old) were all on board. Dad meant it and everyone knew he meant it, without his being too harsh. It was so wonderful to see this parent knowing that he was the strong grownup, he had a plan, and that the children would follow it. He allowed them a lot of freedom, but when they got out of bounds, he pulled them back in. They had a lot of trust in their Dad. Obviously he was a very experienced parent to even try such an outing, and thank goodness the baby didn’t get hungry or something! (I am the old lady giggling while you are trying to corral your children – sorry!)
Each person in the preschool and kindergarten classes is allowed to be authentic – shy, someone who cries easily, someone who occasionally fights with her friends, someone who needs a lot of physical activity or someone who wants to be near the teachers. We are heard when we have a story to tell, and we are all friends, which is like a school family. The teachers are strong grownups who have a plan. We spend a great deal of time getting to know each child individually and support them in their growth and learning in the group. When the children come in with a Mom and Dad who “get” who they are and offer them a calm support (a lot of the time, we can’t be perfect ALL the time), the children have the best foundation for being comfortable in their small bodies (with big spirits) as they grow right before our eyes!