Preschool Lesson Numero Dos: Control

Simple logic: Children don’t want to do what they need to do, unless they want to do what they need to do.

In my health club’s locker room the other day, I heard a kid crying about how he didn’t want to get in the shower, while his father said he had to because he’d been in the pool. Over and over the kid screamed, “But I don’t want to daddy!”

During my time at the preschool and studying Early Childhood Teaching, I learned a valuable lesson: kids want to control their lives more and more as they grow. The problem is this drive for autonomy pairs with their lack of anticipation. This lack of anticipation applies primarily to safety (they’ll want to climb up the slide during recess, and I’ll have to say no, because they don’t predict worst case scenarios), but it stems further. The reason why Jimmy (let’s call him) doesn’t want to get in the shower is because he can’t anticipate the fact that the chemicals and filth from the pool aren’t good for his skin or overall hygiene; his focus covers the here and now of his desires only. The same goes for when I need a preschooler to come to the art table and they don’t want to; they can’t anticipate the fact that they might enjoy the project nor predict the effect the project will have on the growth of their mind. The same goes for all those things your child might be refusing to do (they don’t anticipate that they might enjoy broccoli, that they can’t only eat candy, that they need shoes outside, that they should share with their friends, that they shouldn’t suck their thumb, that they shouldn’t sleep in your bed at night, etc.).

Luckily, their lack of anticipation can be used to the advantage of parents, because they also can’t anticipate the tricks I’m about to put in your back pocket, which will entice them into doing what they don’t want to do without them even realizing it. The key is feeding into the fact that kids, on a fundamentally psychological level (Google: Erikson, Piaget, or Kohlberg’s theories on childhood development in your own time for more information) want autonomy.

Used most often in the preschool—The Best Tactic: Try giving them two options. You have a few options when giving them two options. You can go with the time option, which works well for preschoolers. If Carli didn’t want to come paint her butterfly because she was on the carpet playing, I’d say, “Do you want to come to the art table now, or do you want to come to the art table in five minutes?” The best part is that they don’t have much of a concept of time. This method will work with high schoolers as well, when the tasks is something similar to having them clean their room or take out the garbage; of course, they’ll set their watches. It’s a trick that makes them think they’ve gained an advantage by delaying, makes them feel empowered. When you give them a choice, suddenly they feel more in control. Plus, the preparation time allows them to adjust, perhaps finish whatever game they were playing on the carpet, or send out a text about how annoying their mom is for making them clean their room.

Another option when giving options is the power play. The father at the gym might’ve tried this method. The father could’ve said to his son, “Do you want to shower on your own, or do you want me to help you?” This power play works rather perfectly. It allows the child to exert his own authority and proficiency in the situation. At the preschool, when I need a child to do something immediately, like put on their winter clothes or clean up the mess they made, I’d use this tactic. I’d either get the “I’ll do it on my own” response, or, if they truly need the help, I’d get the ‘help me’ response. Sometimes, I prefer the help me response, because a) they’ll get on all their winter gear or clean up faster that way, and b) I can teach them how to do the task more effectively. High schoolers will undoubtedly also be fooled by this power play. Most older children don’t want their mom looking through their drawers when cleaning. However, when using this option, don’t bluff. Be prepared to help them if they take the ‘help me’ option (you can use the chance to teach them how to do their laundry, how to do the dishes, how to vacuum, etc.)

Other scenarios can call for separate options, such as the art table allows me to say, “Would you like to paint the butterfly or the sun?” or clean up allows me to say, “Would you rather clean the kitchen or the blocks?” Or the father could’ve said to the son who needed to shower, “Do you want to shower here or at home?” Or he could’ve had the child choose which of the gym’s ten showers he wanted to use. The simple granting of a choice gives them a sense of autonomy that gets them to do what’s needed. Strangely, the psyche feels that it’s more free when making a choice rather than saying no to both: just like you, who when given the choice between two presidents you rather don’t like, feel a greater sense of freedom and purpose when choosing one of them rather than not voting at all.

Other ways to feed into their need for autonomy and get them to do what you need include: being impressed (the father would say, “Can you show me what a big boy you are, how you’re able to shower all by yourself?”) and offering them a privilege later (“if you shower now, we can build a Lego when we get home”).

Overall, the best way to get your kid to do what you need them to do is to mix and match this advice, focus on the situation, and understand that they’re just trying to control the situation more than you. Because in the end, you’re the one who’s trying to control, while they’re also trying to control. The more you pretend as though you’re not in control, the easier it will be to finagle them into doing what they need to do.


Preschool Lessons: Numero Uno – Tantrums

Tantrum When I first started working at a preschool, I was twenty-two years old, but I’d been working with children, ranging from the ages of seven to fourteen, at a sleep-away camp for over five years. During my time at the camp, I’d dealt with numerous tantrums, and they all had a particular reason behind them, such as bad sportsmanship, homesickness, self-consciousness, hunger, and not wanting to shower. Over the years, I’ve found that the best way to deal with tantrums is to get down to that bottom line. Why are you upset? How can I help fix this problem? Except when I worked at the preschool, I ran into a tantrum that seemed to stem from nowhere.

Our class was outside playing in the snow at the end of the day. One of the girls, standing in the snow, had the zipper of her jacket undone. I went over to her and began zippering her jacket up. She started growing more and more upset and crying. I said, “What’s wrong, Carli?” (That’s not her real name).

She cried out to the clouds, “I DON’T KNOW!!”

It’s true; sometimes not even your child will know why they’re throwing a tantrum. I would like to propose that just because the tantrum may at the surface appear to have no obvious reason, and just because even your child might not know why they’re throwing a tantrum, no tantrum is baseless. Now, that’s not to say that base isn’t something stupid and/or selfish (I once had a kid who threw a tantrum because he wanted to watch his towel dry).

I think, looking back, that Carli was just cold, or she couldn’t handle socializing around all the kids playing in the snow. Her gloves were messed up, and she had snot dripping from her nose, which also must’ve contributed to her tantrum (without a tissue, I bit the bullet and wiped her nose with my sleeve, no big deal, and gained a far more valuable lesson: if you work at a preschool, always keep tissues in your pocket). Then again, Carli was always a volatile case, so maybe something else was running through her head, something from home. Whatever the issue was, Carli’s young mind was unable to put it into words.

At its foundation, that’s how I’d define a tantrum: when a child (or teen, or adult) uses their emotions inordinately to their dialogue because they don’t know how to communicate their problem in a better way. What’s important is to teach them the skills necessary to communicate their problems better in the future.

Asking mothers how they deal with tantrums, my top two answers were ignoring them and sending them to their room. Last summer, one of the mothers of my campers said that when her son throws a tantrum, she locks herself in her own room while he bangs on the door and screams. She asked me for advice on how to get him to stop when he gets home. I said, “Unlock your door.”

At the preschool, teachers do not ignore tantrums or let them continue, nor do we send them to a separate room. By elementary school, they can be sent to the guidance counselor, where they will talk and communicate as well. When a tantrum occurs in class, or a tantrum occurs at my camp, I do what most teachers do. I get down to their level and hold their hands softly (after first getting them to stay put in one place if it happen to be a stomping tantrum). I tell them to look at me, which is something you do when speaking to troublemakers also, to take their attention. With troublemakers, tone should be serious and stern, but with a tantrum, tone should be cool and soothing.

To get Carli to calm down I said, “I understand,” even though I didn’t. I said, “It’s going to be all right.” Try these similar phrases, even if your child is trantrumming for a selfish reason, like wanting a toy. Every tantrum is situational, so what you talk about and what you say to calm them down will always be different. It is true that locking your door will also solve a tantrum (after perhaps an hour or so), but in the end, the problem won’t be addressed, and I have no doubt more tantrums will follow.

-Adam Berg


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Daycare Decisions

daycare pros1Every mother I know dreads the moment when she is forced to decide if she should put her kid into daycare or not. Sometimes you have no other choice and the decision is taken out of your hands, but sometimes, you have more than one option, and then it becomes a mind game as to what the best choice may be.

I worked in the daycare world in various capacities for many years, so I was able to get a good feel for the pros and cons of the daycare (and yes, there are both). Here are a few of the things I learned that may help with your decision:

PROSocialization – There is no denying it, kids in daycare tend to be far above other kids in terms of socialization. Whether if they have siblings or not, they quickly learn the basics of how to get along with others; not being able to have alone time whenever they want it; learning to share; learning how to play, talk, and get along with others. They learn to overcome shyness and quickly develop bonds and a group of friends.

CON – And this is the biggie con: Sick. Often. – Especially if you need to start them in daycare young, their little immune systems just are not completely developed yet. And the fact that they are stuck in 1 room with 10+ other kids all day – regardless of how clean the teachers manage to keep it – they will get sick. And chances are, so will you. “Daycare Diseases” as I call them are not the same as what you experience day-to-day in the adult work world. There will be some things your little one will get that you won’t, but be prepared for the whole family to get sick as well. The other big con aspect for this one is that since your child will often get sick, you’ll often have to take sick days to stay home with him/her unless you can make other arrangements. It’s center policy as well as state requirement that your child can not attend school with anything more than a cold. Watching your child constantly get sick is one of the hardest things a parent can do, but that said, your child will get sick regardless of being in daycare or not. If it doesn’t happen now, it will happen when they go to school unless you are able to expose them slowly to things in controlled situations.

PROProjects – If you pick the right center, your child will be exposed to lots of activities and projects. Not only will they help developmentally, but they will also look so cute on the refrigerator!

PROExposure to other adults – This exposure to a variety of adults will help your child open up and learn how to accept and socialize with adults and authority figures too.

CONBad habits – Obviously, not everyone is going to raise their kids the way you do, so your child will likely pick up some bad habits to go along with the good things they learn. Be prepared to have to stay on top of your kid to try to nip some of these new habits in the bud!

CONMore laundry – As if that laundry pile wasn’t big enough, be prepared to get more. There’s something about daycare that means extra dirty clothes!

CONTurnover – While many centers try to keep your child’s environment as stable as possible, be prepared to see lots of change with the teachers. Early childhood teachers are grossly underpaid and work in a fairly stressful environment, so there is often a high turnover rate among daycare teachers. And although there are state regs as to the requirements a teacher needs to work in a daycare, they are likely going to be lower than your requirements. If you want a teacher with credits out the wazoo, you better start looking into private school.

PRO/CONState Regs – Daycare centers have a list of regulations they need to adhere to (some states more than others). This is a good thing because you can be sure that there are safety precautions in place (as long as the center consistently complies). This can also sometimes be a con if there are certain regulations (or paperwork) that you don’t want to deal with. The center has to follow these regulations or they risk closure, so their hands are tied.

PROSchool Life – Your child will already be used to “school life”, so the transition into kindergarten and elementary school will be much easier.

PRO“I’m a big kid now!” – Being able to say, “I’m in school” enhances the “big kid” status. Having the confidence of being a “big kid” helps the child have confidence to do other big kid things like potty training, etc.

PRO/CONPotty training – If your kid starts daycare while still in diapers, potty training at school can be both a good and bad thing. Sometimes the extra help and reinforcement from other adults is nice. But sometimes it can confuse matters if the school is not able to use the same methods you prefer to use, and/or if your child only goes to daycare part-time. Be prepared that in some cases, the potty training process may take a little longer.

CONOverstimulation – If your child needs to go for a full day, it can sometimes lead to overstimulation. As you can imagine, one room with 10 toddlers can get to be a bit much. Even when everyone is calm and things are good to go, there’s just always something going on. There is always some kind of noise, something to see, do, etc. It can be a long day. Expect your child to sometimes be “buzzing” when they get home. Be prepared to create a calm atmosphere to come home to if possible so they can have a chance to try to unwind a bit before bedtime. And on the days not at daycare, try to provide calmer, quieter things for your child to do so their already-stimulated-just-from-development senses have a chance to take a little break so their brains can focus on different things. It will also give their brains a chance to learn to focus on just one thing at a time instead of always having multiple things going on at once.

PROAbility to observe older kids – This is especially great if you only have the one child at home. Younger children often like to watch their older siblings and tend to develop quicker because of it. But if your child is the oldest (or only), they do not get that chance at home. Daycare allows them to see what other kids are doing as an example of what they can strive for.

CONRules – The guidance and/or limitations at school may be different from what is expected at home. Be prepared to try to meld the two world together for your child and help them understand the different rules for both at home and at school.

PROLearning that Mommy/Daddy always come back – As hard as it is to let go of our kids, going to school offers the very good benefit of teaching your kids that they can always trust you to come back. They learn that it’s ok to be away from Mom/Dad and to explore and have fun because they will always come back. As much as it kills us parents, it’s a good developmental milestone.

CONThe Arts – Depending on your school, your kid might not be exposed to enough of “Arts” activities. If music and dance, etc. are important to you while your child is little, be sure to check into what the various centers in your area offer. If they do not offer enough Arts curriculum, you may need to consider enrolling your kid in a weekend Mommy & Me kind of class to fulfill that requirement.

PRO/CONPrice – Daycare is very expensive. You also need to factor in additional money for extra doctor visits, medications, and time off of work. If price is a concern, and you have the ability to stay home with your child, then daycare may not be the right route for you. However, it also tends to be cheaper than a private nanny, so if you have to leave your child with someone, then daycare will be a cheaper option than private care.

As with anything, there are obviously many pros/cons to consider. When making your decision, you’ll need to weigh out what is more important for your family’s needs. And if you don’t really have options, then don’t despair. There are ways to combat many of these cons on this list. If you’re aware of them ahead of time, then you can be prepared to do what you need to in order to make this a good experience for everyone all around. There are also many pros to daycare, so try to focus on these – that’s what your child will remember in the long run anyway!

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