In my day to day career, I hear this term DAILY.
“Oh, he/she has “behaviors” and we can’t deal with him”.
My career is in the child care industry. My role is to visit every type of early childcare program (daycares, preschools, out of school cares and day homes). I conduct inspections, and investigations, and determined if these centers are in compliance to a set of regulations that are mandated by our government. I also license them and teach supervision and Child Care Regulation workshops. Part of my role is also to try and “support” child care programs and help them with solutions for children who have challenges.
Apparently. “Behaviors” are the big challenge right now.
This could mean that the child is acting out aggressively, or inappropriately while under the care of the child care program staff. They may hit or bite other children, or they may have tantrums when they don’t like what is happening around them. The child may lash out and hit his caregiver or throw toys and other items.
Basically, it’s a politically correct (?) way of saying that the child doesn’t do what he/she is supposed to be doing. The child isn’t being compliant to the caregiver’s demands or needs and chooses to act out instead.
Often times, daycare centers, or out of school care programs will follow a protocol (of sorts). First, they will tell the parents of the behavior, either vocally, or in written report form. Next, they will set up a meeting with the parents and inform them of their child’s latest “infraction”. Sometimes, the child will get the “3 times, you’re out” treatment and the child will be dismissed from the care center. I cannot tell you how aggravating I find this course of action. If a child is dismissed from the program, the problem doesn’t go away. In fact, most often, it becomes worse.
First of all, the CHILD is not the problem. There is something happening for that kiddo that he/she needs help with. I cannot stress this enough. It can be as easy as determining a few of the following, while you put yourself in the child’s shoes:
- Is the child hungry or thirsty? Does he or she have the proper nutrition in their body to help them to manage their thought process and control their temper? Maybe dehydration is playing a role. When was the last time you offered the child a drink of water? Think about how upset, we, as adults become if we are lacking in food. Was the last meal they had a Happy Meal or was it vegetables and protein?
You’re stuck in traffic after not having enough breakfast. Are YOU patient and feel like being NICE to your friends? No. There are Snickers bar commercials that outline that perfectly. And, if you think of how fast a child’s brain and emotional development are growing, it is imperative to ensure that they have enough nutrition in their bodies to help them to think clearly. Within the first 100 days of a child’s life, 80% of their development occurs. That means that we learn more in the first 3 years of life, than we learn, IN TOTAL for the rest of our years. Without nutrients in our bodies, our brains don’t function and our emotions take over.
2. Is the child trying to tell you something but you are to busy to listen? Maybe as a child care staff, trying to engage with 7 other children, you are missing what the child wants to say or do. Maybe the child has asked you if he/she could do something, and your distracted mouth said yes, as you helped another child put their shoes on. That is one of the issues with Regulated child: staff ratios. If all the children are engaged in what you want them to do, they work “okay”, but if you have one child who has a mind of his own, you need to stay on top of what he/she is communicating to you. The same goes at home. If you are distracted and your child is trying to ask you something and you ignore them, or worse, agree without REALLY paying attention… that child will so what you said he could.
Think about it. You are at work, and you ask your boss if you can go home early. Your boss is juggling another employee’s questions, or distracted by an email. She agrees to let you go and then questions you as you walk out the door with your coat on. “I’m leaving,” you say. And her focus comes back, reminding you that you have a report due. Would you be upset? I think so.
3. What did that child’s morning look like? Did they come to daycare happy? Or was there something up with him/her? Did she cry harder than usual when mommy left? Is she still tired?
Again, think about how you feel. Did you have your morning coffee? Did you have a good night’s sleep? Maybe your favorite blouse was in the wash and you wanted to wear it for a big meeting.
Sometimes, these little things set the pace for your entire day. Children are exactly the same way. They don’t have a choice, but to be woken from a comfortable sleep, thrown into a vehicle and driven to daycare. Often they are still half asleep, in clothing they never chose, and haven’t even had breakfast. They have listened to their parents yelling at traffic, while they are strapped into a car seat, unable to move freely, and all they want is to go home to bed. We have ALL been there.
4. What is happening at home or school? In order to provide quality, intentional child care, you need to KNOW the children in your care. Ask them questions, if they are at an age to speak. Have an open dialogue with the child’s parents. Is there a new sibling? Are the parents separated/divorced? Do they have any new people living in their home? If they are school-aged children, are they being bullied? Are they bullying other children? Being “picked on” in an environment that is supposed to be safe, causes trauma. Trauma causes behaviors. You need to know what that child is going through to get to the root of the problem. Think about how it would be for you if your “safe zone” was corrupted. You are happily living a day to day life. You know what to expect from one day to the next, and a big change happens.
Maybe you and your spouse split up, or maybe you have someone making your life hell at the office. Maybe you suffer from anxiety, depression or other demons. Adults tend to know how to work through problems based on past experiences. They have learned how to self-regulate.
Children don’t have the experiences to compare to, and no real way of knowing self-regulation. Babies have pacifiers or security blankets. Toddlers may have a special toy they pack around. Adults have meditation, alcohol, workouts, medications, weed, cigarettes, and other vices that pull them through tough times. The kids who have had their security vices taken away don’t have the tools to self-soothe. It’s our job to teach them that skill.
Think about the family dog. You have the dog for years, and one day, he gets sick and you have to put him down, or he dies of old age. We as adults understand what death means. We comprehend that animals don’t live forever. We cry, we mourn, and we try and get through it as best we can. Little kids don’t have those mechanisms yet, so they become traumatized. They understand that Fido is “gone” but they don’t really understand what “Fido went to heaven” means. All they know is that their lives have changed, significantly, but don’t know the words to express it. Could you imagine what that would feel like? Caregivers and parents alike, need to find the words and try to help children understand their emotions. Children’s brains can play tricks on them-maybe they blame themselves for Fido being gone. Unless you have those meaningful conversations, you don’t know what their thought processes are.
5. Maybe there is something that needs to be assessed. Perhaps the child has anxiety because of a lack of being able to compute properly. Maybe it’s a cognitive issue. It could be a sign of Autism or it could be that the child needs glasses, or cannot hear as well as other children. It could also be that the child sees things differently. It doesn’t mean that the child has learning disorders or ADHD or those other “labels” that children carry around because that’s what they are told they have. It could be as simple as helping them, by reading more to them, helping them learn at daycare and at home. Showing genuine interest in what they like and broadening from there. If your child enjoys building with Lego, for example- how can you help the child learn from that? The opportunities are endless! They can learn colors, structure words, names of buildings, cars, trucks, pretty much anything and everything. You just need to invest the time. Professionals who work with Autistic children or children with delayed speech utilize a child’s interest as a tool for successes.
If you get hired for a new career, you don’t know how the new company runs. So you learn. You learn from peers, mentors, and other people who spend their time with you to help you see what the role entails. You are not expected to learn everything within the next day, week, month or even year. In fact, we still learn every day from our careers. (At least I do) We all learn at different paces, at various levels, and in our own way. We only choose jobs that we think we can do and succeed at, in order to learn and grow (and make money). Yet, we expect our kids to learn and grow in an environment that they didn’t choose.
6. Is there a language barrier? This is one of the most prominent issues we see in child care. I LOVE MULTICULTURALISM and it is extremely important for our children to be engaged with the learnings and traditions from other races, cultures, and ethics. However, LANGUAGE is also something that is taught.
Multi-languages and multi-cultures are NOT all about the child and what he/she learns. Sometimes it’s about the child care staff. If your child attends a program, and you have an Asian background, and they are in a room at daycare with an East Indian staff member, there will be a communication barrier. We see this all the time in our role. Just this morning, for example, I observed an elderly East Indian teacher with a group of 6 toddlers. 2 toddlers were climbing up a staircase while she was helping another child sit down to color. Out of full reaction, the lady ran across the room, clapping her hands loudly to frighten the children off of the stairs. When I spoke to her supervisor, I demonstrated the child guidance and asked her how she would respond to that clapping noise. She said she uses the same gesture to get her cat off of her table at home. She also admitted that the staff doesn’t speak English very well, and often uses gestures instead of words.
That’s not quality care. I could go on and on about this in this article, but I will save it for a future one. The bottom line is that she is NOT modeling how to use words and she used a scare tactic, rather than verbalizing what her expectations were for the toddlers. She could have said something like, “That’s not safe. Please come down”, and the toddlers would have responded in a much healthier way. It gives them a learning opportunity to develop grammar and the safety and expectations of the childcare setting.
The other issues lie in the words we give children for their “things”. A child could have a meltdown while at the daycare, looking for his “Bicky”. Unless the adult caring for your kiddo knows what the hell a Bicky is, that child will not be able to communicate his needs. USE PROPER LANGUAGE. It will teach your child to communicate his needs in a much clearer manner. Even if you don’t think the child understands what you are saying, they will understand your role modeling. Further to this, children understand consistency. If the same message is used every time the child is in danger, they will learn what the words mean.
7. Are they learning skills? Our world is so full of distractions and instant gratification, it’s no wonder our children become so frustrated with their lives. They are taught in infancy that if you cry, or make a fuss, that “something” will come along to satisfy their needs. Adults are the same. Think about how impatient we become if something as simple as a phone update takes too long. Think about how aggravated we become if the line up at Starbucks is too long. Traffic jams can make us lose our shit. Children don’t learn the value of patience anymore. Our society has taught them that they get everything RIGHT NOW and if they don’t, they are learning that impatience and aggravation follow suit. We find it easier to “keep them quiet” by giving them games with instant gratification, or shoving them in front of a movie in the car, or at home. Parents need to model that it’s okay to have to wait your turn. Child care staff need to teach children how to wait for what they want, at times, in order to model for the child how to self-soothe.
Alternatively, there are children in rough homes that are NOT given what they need or want, when they want it, so they don’t know how to communicate their needs to child care staff. They haven’t learned the skill of trust or the skill of being able to rely on anyone to meet their needs.
As adults, we have the ability to want something, research it, save for it, and take our time to decide on a good time to get the item. Children need to learn this skill. Children also need to learn the skill of “the reason” they want something. Asking “Why” is key. “Why do you need that?” “Why did you feel like taking that from your friend?” If they shrug it off and try to avoid the question, change to “How?” “How do you think your friend feels when you hit him?” “How did you decide you wanted that toy?” “How else could you have gotten the toy from your friend?” This gives them a chance to think about their feelings, as well as be open to being empathetic.
Or change to “what will happens”. “What would happen if your friend took that toy out of your hand?” “What would happen if you waited 5 minutes for your turn?” Again, it provokes a thought process, even if they don’t answer right away.
Your boss gives you shit for being late with a huge report. He says, “Where is that report? I need it now!” Your response is automatically feeling emotionally shamed, singled out, and you feel like you failed. What if your boss, instead, used phrasing like, “What will happen if we don’t have that report done?” or “What if I could help you with that report, so it is completed in time?” It evokes thought, problem-solving and consequential thinking. Kids think the same way.
“Why do you need to buy a new car?” We know our car is on its last legs, so we choose the next one carefully. We aren’t just given the keys to a brand new car, while the other one sits in the garage. We learn to problem solve and take sequential steps. This skill is a learned practice. When I was a child, I learned to do this at a very early age, which is why I have the patience that I do as an adult.
My parents gave me nothing. I learned how to work for what I wanted, and I learned the saying, “If you do this, you can have that next week”. I learned the consequences of patience and the consequences of impatience, simultaneously. It gave me something to look forward to and made me have pride while I did whatever it was, that I needed to do in order to achieve my goal. I also learned to count days, be patient and appreciate what I waited for. This skill is invaluable. This skill should be taught as soon as possible, to children.
So, when your child goes to daycare, and you are told that they have “behaviors”, take a step back and really think about what their triggers may be. Chances are, it’s not the child’s behavior that is the root problem.