My son’s preschool teacher prevented a major meltdown the other day; it was a beautiful thing to watch.
Two three-year-olds wanted the same toy truck. When she saw them angrily grab for it, she dropped to their level and gently touched their arms to get their attention. “Guys,” she calmly said, “looks like you both are interested in this truck. What should we do?” She looked at them with quiet expectation, because she knew they’d come up with a solution. One boy said, “Let’s get another truck!” The other boy said, “Yeah!” And they ran off to play with their two trucks.
That’s my kind of classroom! The teacher made this child-driven solution possible by applying some very specific research about empathy, character development and emotional regulation. Those technical terms can be summed up in one word — kindness.
Good teachers know how to leverage the positive power of all their students to create a family-like community. They create stable, predictable routines so that children can easily follow the rules. They choose books for circle time that emphasize turn-taking, patience and fairness. They praise children for finding creative solutions to problems. They make opportunities for sharing and caring. In great classrooms, hitting, impatience, screaming and biting are rare. Creative problem-solving, kindness and friendliness are common.
Good thing, because kids can’t settle down to learn their ABCs until they can settle their minds and emotions. In fact, major studies of young children have found that social skills and emotional regulation at age five predict both social AND academic success in later life. Emotional regulation and social skills are the main tasks of learning in early childhood. And those skills take a lot of practice – and guidance – from parents and teachers. Fortunately, there’s a growing trend toward including these skills in the curriculum of preschools. Good preschools understand that character education — with a focus on teaching kindness — is an essential component of all learning to come.
Kids learn kindness best when it’s taught both at home AND school. Check with your child’s teacher for tips on how he or she is in the classroom. Continue those lessons at home, and then share your family’s “Kindness Success Stories” at school. That way, your kids get a consistent message that everyone in their world values their budding social skills. That’s kindness — multiplied!
Make sure your child’s school is informed by The National Association for the Education of Young Children in creating its program. NAEYC understands that teachers must create a community of learners – a classroom community that supports, respects and cares for each other – just like a family. That’s my kind of classroom!
Dr. Heather Wittenberg
A licensed child psychologist and busy mother of four, Dr. Heather partners with Learning Care Group to provide valuable — and always humorous — insights into childhood development and parenting strategies on our blog.