Other Writings for Preschool
By Max Millard
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Childhood Development 67: Child, Family and Community

Identifying Special Needs of Children and Families

This course is helping me to understand children better by letting me see them in the context of their families. As the father of a 6-year-old, a frequent school volunteer and a part-time teacher, I have gotten to know many children well, but have met very few parents. The course makes me reconsider some of my previous notions about children and the reasons for their behavior.

The biggest problem I've encountered in teaching is: how to handle the kids who disrupt class, show no interest in the subject, talk out loud, wander around the classroom, refuse to take part in class activities, and even start fights while the teacher is trying to keep the class focused. It's very discouraging to put a lot of time into class preparation, only to have the lesson ruined by one or two students who have no respect for their fellow classmates or for any kind of rules.

The main reason I took this course was because I need to earn some ECE units in order to qualify for better teaching jobs. I was hoping that the course would not just fulfill a requirement on paper, but would be of some practical value. Ideally, I would have liked to learn some specific techniques about how to deal with problem children.

This has not been the case, but the course has opened my eyes to some of the barriers faced by parents who are struggling to create a loving and stable environment for their children. The "Children's Defense Fund Yearbook 2001," one of the most densely written books I can recall reading except for instruction manuals, contains a lot of valuable nuggets of information, based on studies in various states and cities. All the studies seem to lead to the same conclusion -- that life is getting tougher for families on the lower end of the economic spectrum. The evidence is overwhelming, and puts flesh on the bare-bones statistic that the poorest one-fifth of American families have seen their incomes decline by 4% since 1979. That decline has undoubtedly deepened since the book was published, in view of the continuing economic downturn.

The teacher's selection of printed material and videos for this class, her ability to keep the four-hour session moving at an energetic pace, and her flexible attitude toward class discussion -- strongly encouraging participation, sometimes at the cost of getting off subject -- add up to good overall atmosphere of learning. What I find most enlightening is the comments from people of a wide range of international backgrounds, and their different views of the problems and challenges of families.

For example, a student from Germany told about a married couple in her country who lost the custody of their children because the parents were mentally retarded. A student from Cambodia described growing up in a village in which parents never had to hire a baby-sitter because it was the custom for relatives to take care of them for free. An African-American single mother disputed the statement that two parents are needed to raise a child properly. She serves as proof of the teacher's maxim that a general rule does not always apply to the individual.

These examples and others give me a depth of understanding about children and families that I might not have been exposed to otherwise. I'm still hoping to find a nuts-and-bolts course that will teach me to handle discipline better, but CDEV 67 is proving to be worthwhile in its own right.


Childhood Development 53: Child Growth and Development (7-14-05)

The Role of the Early Child Professional in Enhancing Children's Development

or: What I Got From This Class

This class has opened my eyes to a lot of new ideas about how to deal with children in the classroom and at home, how to help them succeed at school, and how to steer them toward a healthy, fulfilled adulthood in which they can follow their dreams and strive to reach their potential.

The most important idea I've learned is: don't memorize techniques and try to apply them to every child. Treat every child as an individual, and work out the best way to help that child, based on your knowledge of the child's temperament, intellectual interests, family situation and other factors.

The other big idea I've picked up is: always keep an open mind about children and education, and be ready to change your opinion about something if presented with a compelling argument by someone who has worked directly with children.

Until I took this course I had been an advocate of logical consequences, which I stumbled into several years ago and had been using in my work as an after-school teacher and parent. According to this method, if a child keeps leaving his jacket outside, you should let him go without one, rather than letting him keep leaving the classroom to look for it. That way, the child will supposedly figure out that it is his own responsibility.

In this class, I learned to look at logical consequences more critically, and to see that it undermines the adult's ability to have a relationship with a child. It's an underhanded way of placing blame and stress on the child, rather than accepting the child for what he is and trying to work with him in a positive way.

Another good idea I've picked up from the class is that children don't purposely misbehave: they are merely trying to release tension. This knowledge will help me to be more tolerant of children who don't pay attention and disrupt the classroom.

Since I started teaching four years ago, I've always wanted to be with the kids directly, and not work as an administrator. This class has taught me to distrust administrators, whether they are in charge of a school, or they're going around the country and lecturing about things they don't know firsthand. The class has helped me realize the value of being a one-one-one teacher who gets to know each child personally. Without this experience, it's not possible to teach or write about children with real expertise.

I learned a lot in this class about the importance of letting children get physical exercise before sitting down in the classroom, so that they can concentrate better. I intend to try some of the physical ideas in my classes when children become restless, such as letting them spin in a chair and leading them in songs in which they can chant and march in place at the same time. I might let them practice relaxation by standing up and imagining being a frozen ice cream bar, then a melted one, then a balloon about to burst, then a burst balloon, then a cork floating in water, then a tree blown gently by the wind.

Also I appreciate some of the learning methods that I've gotten from this class. These have provided me with some specific ideas that I will try to implement in the classroom.

I learned that it's advisable to let young children work in groups. That will be useful for my work with kindergartners. I learned to smooth out transitions by providing brief in-between activities. I learned about the importance of physical objects to teach children abstract ideas. I have a lot of plastic coins at home representing everything from a penny to a dollar, which I haven't used much before. But now I hope to them use in the fall to help teach children about numbers.

After learning the idea that children will remember big words if they mean something to the children, I would like to have my students create their own dictionary this fall, by making a collection of words on individual pages, then letting them illustrate each page. I think this would be an excellent way of getting them started in making their own books.

Besides the dictionary, I would like to have the children dictate stories to me so that I can write them down, as shown in the video about the preschoolers in San Francisco. This would be a good way for me to make use of my shorthand, which I learned 30 years ago for the purpose of journalism, but have never used in the classroom.

As an ending note, I'd like to say that this class has been the highlight of my summer so far, and has motivated me to sign up for CDEV 65 in the fall, which I wasn't planning to do. I've come to realize that the knowledge from early childhood education is very useful for the early grades of elementary school. I had forgotten that because the last CDEV course I took was two years ago.

My plan is to enroll in a teaching credential program in the fall of 2006 so that I can work full-time as a classroom teacher. I had previously thought that I would prefer 1st or 2nd grade, but after taking this class, I'm leaning more toward kindergarten.

This class has been an unexpected treat because I thought I'd be working in a children's summer program this year, as I did last summer. But the job offer fell through, and I'm glad it did, because I learned more from this class than I did as an administrator last summer.

Completing this class gives me 9 ECE units. If I have the opportunity, I would like to continue taking ECE courses at City College until I've finished all of them. This might not be possible, with my family and work commitments, but I'm full of enthusiasm about getting back to the kids this fall and trying out the new ideas.



Childhood Development 96: Understanding Children with Difficult Behaviors

Homework Report

The purpose of this report is to show what we have learned in the class, how we understand the information, and how we use that information for our work with children.

The course is based on the neurological effect of stress on children who aren't properly taken care of. Children need understanding based on neurology. As President George H. W. Bush said in 1990, the '90s was the decade of the brain because for the first time, scientists could see inside the brain and tell which parts of the brain are used for different functions. When you expose a child to music, a certain part of the brain lights up.

I decided to take this class because, in my job as an after-school teacher in elementary school, I have difficulty with a few children who do not want to do their homework or take part in class activities. This year I have a class of 20 children in 3rd grade at Alvarado Elementary School. I'm responsible for supervising them during snack time, helping them with their homework for 45 minutes, monitoring and interacting with them on the playground for a recess, and making sure that they do at least one full page of writing in their journals each week, and teaching them a daily "enrichment" class. The classes are designed to be educational and interesting at the same time. They classes include computers, music, storytelling, crafts, gardening, games and cooking.

Although most of the children seem to enjoy the program and participate in everything, there are a few who constantly neglect their homework, refuse to write in their journals, and have little interest in the activities. They require a lot more attention than the other children because, if left alone, they either disrupt the class with their constant talking and fooling around, or they go home without doing any homework or writing -- which can get me in trouble with their parents and their daytime teachers. Therefore, I was hoping to find some solutions in this class.

Early childhood education deals with children up to about 8 years old, which is the age of most of my students. So I have learned a lot of material that is applicable to my work.

Educators need to do a better job of setting up the learning environment so that there are enough areas for people to go one-on-one with a child. Instead, child care centers are keeping the children in cribs, because that's what they do in elementary school.

Dr. Megan Gunnar, a professor of children development at the University of Minnesota, described two girls, both about 15 months old. They were in the doctor's office with their mothers to get shots. One was on her mother's lap and the other was on the examination table. Each toddler screamed equally when they got the shots. Both were tested for cortisol by putting a swab in their mouth. The one on the table had a higher level, while the one on the mother's lap did not show a rise in cortisol level. Cortisol is a hormone from the brain stem that is produced when a child is under stress. It is harmful because it hinders brain development. This example showed that when a child receives the nurturing comfort of the mother, the child has a less hurtful experience, even though the pain itself is not diminished.

You can't spoil a child by showing understanding and nurturing. When 3-year-old or 4-year-old child bites another child, most adults want to punish him. But that just brings out more of the cortisol. It puts the child is in a state of survival, when the child cannot learn anything or behave any better.

No child can be taught empathy. It's something the child learns instinctively by being around empathetic people. If a child does something horrible, stop the horrible thing, but still support the child. Children don't misbehave on purpose.

According to Gordon Williamson, a highly respected occupational therapist who has a Ph.D. In education, the way children learn, grow and develop is through play, play, play.

If you want to work with children, you don't need to have patience: you just need understanding. The word "patience" implies that you are viewing the children's behavior as something negative that you have to tolerate. This is a negative way of looking at things. If you understand the child, you will view their behavior as normal, and not expect them to act differently. If you look upon children as opponents, you can't give to them.

When you understand a child, you're promoting the growth of his pre-frontal cortex.

Even when a child's behavior seems perplexing, try to understand it, rather than blaming the child. If a 6-year-old takes a whole hour to put on one sock, maybe the doesn't like the feel of the fabric, such as the tag on the back of a T-shirt.

A parent should take care of a child's needs, not his wants. Parents who take care of their children's wants and not their needs will end up with spoiled, miserable children. If a child wants a drink, give him water, not soda. When children get what they need to survive, they move out of the survival stage, which means they're able to do more advanced things.

In child care centers, don't put the children in a situation where there is just one of anything. There should always been at least four. That way, the children won't fight or cry over the possession of things. Don't make children share. "Share" is a curse word.

Children of all ages are subject to overwhelming stress. When a child is stressed out, you don't have to know what made the stress: you just have to calm down the child.

In an infant center, if one baby cries, all the babies wake up because of the crying. But in most centers, the supervisors don't allow the staff to pick up a crying baby. This is a mistake. But child care workers who do pick up the babies are likely to get in trouble.

Once the children get to elementary school, the teacher may want to relate to them, but the teacher isn't given a chance. You should talk to children one at a time. Don't talk to two or more; it doesn't work.

A time out is an inappropriate response to a child's behavior. In dealing with children, it's better to use the word "guidance" instead of "discipline" or "punishment." When you scare a child by saying he will have to sit on the bench during recess, you are not helping him. The word "penalty" should be used only in football.

Dr. Arnold Gesell said a temper tantrum is not a bad habit. Every human being needs a way to release tension that will not put him in jail. Temper tantrums help release stress.

In 1978 there were a lot of articles published about the importance of attachment. Once a child has one year of attachment with one person, it's easier for the child to be attached to another person. But unfortunately, teachers who try to be attached to an infant in a child care facility will be criticized again and again by their supervisors.

Some children do not have a healthy central nervous system, and lack good sensory motor skills, so they are not able to respond to touch or receive other sensations in an organized way. Professional child care workers should try to connect with that child, no matter what.

Some children hurt other children, then laugh about it. But this does not mean they enjoy what they are doing. The two students who murdered their classmates at Columbine High School were laughing while doing the shooting, but they were suffering inside, or they would not have committed those acts.

From birth, there are some differences between boys and girls. Girls are likely to have more sensitive hearing than boys. Probably baby girls can read facial expressions better than boys. Behaviorists say girls are more sociable than boys because all their teachers are women. But this is true in only about 80 percent of children. Some boys can read faces better, and are more sensitive to loud noises. It's useful to know the expected differences so that you can understand children more easily.

Just being a child is enough to get some children abused or even murdered in the U.S. culture. Too many parents are too stressed out, too busy. The whole focus of school is on lessons and tests. Teachers are very important, and they should remember that children behave to get their needs met, not because they like to misbehave.

In the U.S., there are a lot of commonly believed "dos" and "don'ts" that aren't necessarily correct. People say: "Don't sleep with your children or you'll crush them." This is a misconception.

When you hear that a child is "demanding," it sounds negative. When you hear a child is "needy," no one gets angry at that. But they actually mean the same thing.

Some people who claim to be experts on children give very bad advice -- for example, a pediatrician who goes by the name of "Dr. Mom."

Dr. Mom claims to have a strategy for stopping children's five top annoying behaviors before they become habits. This is the wrong approach. Behaviors should not seen as annoying, but as a reflection of the way a child is feeling inside.

When a child bites or hits another child, he does it because he's stressed out. He doesn't do it on purpose. Dr. Mom says: calmly but firmly make it clear that hurting others is totally unacceptable. Tell the child that we use words to say we're angry.

But you can't reason with a child this way when he's in a survival mode. You need to find a way to ease his stress first.

Dr. Mom says that when a child has been upset and then he's calmed down, you should explain that you understand his frustration, and give him a vocabulary to express it.

Dr. Mom says the adult should tell the child: "You were angry and that's why you hit Jason." But by that time, he's already through with his anger, and there's no point in bringing it back.

Instead, you should say, "I see you're upset," then give the child something to do.

You should describe what child is experiencing at that moment. That's how they learn to use words. Look at the child's state of mind. It will help the child know that you understand.

Children don't need an explanation of what they do. They need for someone to describe to them how they're feeling or what they're doing -- for example, "I see it's hard for you to wait."

Some children are bossy because they're hypersensitive to touch, movement, vision and hearing. Kids get bossy because they can't stand to have any unexpected touch. That's how they control it.

Hyposensitive children sometimes become bullies. They're not getting enough tactile stimulation, and they need than a teacher can give them. That's why they get into trouble. Children need to see an occupational therapist once a year to catch a lot of problems.

Whining should not be seen as a bad habit. It is a tensional outlet, a form of relaxation. Some parenting magazines print stupid articles such as "10 easy ways to stop children from whining." Kids are not whining to annoy you. They're whining because they don't feel right inside. No child would feel that way if they were organized. The way some children's senses receive information makes it hard for them to learn at school.

Some people look at the behavior and not at the child. That's a mistake. It's not the outside that's important: it's the state of mind that the child is in.

There's a term to describe the condition of someone who has too much stimulation: overconnectedness. It causes whining and temper tantrums. This happens in the Terrible Twos (coined by Gesell). The child in an overconnected state does not have control over his behavior. He absorbs all the sensations around him like a sponge, and gets overconnected.

In the Internet age, "Overconnectedness" has taken on a new meaning. It being connected electronically all the time. Many people are subjected to the pressure of needing to answer cell phones and check their emails every waking minute. No doubt it causes them a lot of stress and makes them lose focus too, because everything takes on a tone of urgency, even if most things aren't really urgent.

Dr. Bruce Perry studies people who have been profoundly abused or neglected. Their frontal lobe never grew. He's goes around the U.S. talking with judges.

One of the hardest things to communicate to people in our culture: it's not just hitting kids and screaming at them that causes stress and later difficulties in life, but the absence of touch. Even the absence of eye contact leads to something not growing in the brain.

Being overconnected means that the brain is cluttered. Some children go onto the floor in a temper tantrum to calm themselves down and get their brain organized. Dr. H.T. Chugani makes a comparison with the hyperactive child who is unable to focus and the adult schizophrenic, who can't make sense of what's coming from the outside world and is hearing voices on the inside. This is what happens to a chance who is 2, 3 1 4 years old. When children get to be 5, 6 or 7, they slowly learn what to pay attention to, and the brain begins to work more efficiently.

For many kids, elementary school is like a prison. They are cooped up all day. They're not allowed to talk at school, all day, but kids learn so much from talking. They keep all their stress bottled inside, and the first thing they do when they come home is to slam the door to release their tension. Many children who are able to keep it together at school have a hard time at home.

It's useless to lecture a child about his behavior. If a child has been misbehaving, obviously something is wrong, and the child is trying to release tension.

According to a neuropsychiatrist, even if your children's messages don't make immediate sense to you, the children are trying to get their needs met.

Example: a mother comes home and is met by her 22 month-old son who runs enthusiastically to greet her as she enters. He wants to reconnect with her. But the mother wants to shift out of her professional role. So she gives the child a quick, distracted hug, and says, "I'll be back in a minute." But there is no "minute" for him: he wants attention right away. The child is not satisfied. He follows her, crying and demanding to be picked up. She ignores him. The child becomes upset and starts crying louder, then kicks on the wall.

If you look at the child's state of mind, he's beyond repair at this point. The mother gets annoyed; she feels that he is being unreasonable and demanding. She says sternly: "I'm not going to play with you unless you stop that kicking right now." On hearing this, the child experiences still more disconnection because of her anger. He takes a swing at her. She gets even madder now. It has turned into a very bad experience for both of them because she is focused on the wrong thing. Her child is in pieces, and she's only concerned about the fact that he hit her. She doesn't care about his state of mind. She doesn't want to give in to her child because she thinks he's not behaving well, and she doesn't want to reenforce this bad behavior.

The mother needs to look inside the child's head, not look at what he did. He was reacting out of frustration at not being understood. He's releasing stress. If she had understood the initial signal, she could have sat down with him on the sofa for a few minutes. When a child doesn't feel understood, little things can become big issues. Children never act out due to anything but stress. When a child tells his mother, "I hate you" it means "I'm confused and upset." If you try to talk to them when they're in this state of mind, they don't hear the words. You need to have lots of understanding and no patience.

In my involvement with children -- which includes my school job, my volunteer work as a musical performer, and my role as a parent of a 10-year-old boy and guardian of my 8-year-old niece, who lives with us -- I am constantly trying to apply what I've learned in class, or at least to give it an attempt. In most cases it seems very good advice. Here are some of the ways I have changed since I started studying this course and CDEV 53 last summer:

1. I have learned to accept the fact that children do not think the same way as adults, so I don't expect them to act as adults would. I try to understand their mentality and what is normal for their age. As a result, I seldom display any anger with children. If a child spills something, I never get upset and scold the child, but I simply ask the child to clean it up. I don't expect children to remember to sign their names on the attendance sheet, but I keep reminding them, and calmly take the sheet around to them at the snack table, even though I would prefer for them to make the effort themselves. I try to be aware of children's moods, and not push them to do something they don't want to do if they are in a funky mood, unless it's something truly important.

2. When my 3rd-grade kids are doing their homework, I let them talk as loudly as they want, as long as it doesn't disturb their classmates. There are a few children who are bothered by the noise, so I let them sit by themselves at a desk outside the room. Last year I wasn't in charge of monitoring homework, and the after-school teacher who had that responsibility was very sensitive to noise and constantly tried to quiet them down with threats and time-wasting "punishment" such as making the whole class remain completely silent for 60 seconds, or they would lose part of their recess. No matter how disruptive or irresponsible a child acts, I never take away a child's recess -- and I have told this to the class several times -- because I know that children need exercise for their brains to function properly.

3. I read my 3rd-grade class the article that recommends spinning in the chair, and I announced on the first day of class that Erick, the most overactive child in the class, could have the big swivel chair for the whole year. I let Erick sit where there's plenty of room, and I let him spin whenever he wants. It helps Erick, and the other students don't seem to mind. However, two or three times Erick has behaved so disruptively, even in the chair, that I've needed to send him out to the hallway to sit at a desk by himself that has a regular chair. He doesn't like that, but I never do it unless he's completely out of control. Last year, no after-school teacher let the kids sit in the swivel chairs, and most after-school teachers made kids sit on the bench during recess if they didn't concentrate on their homework or if they had unacceptable behavior.

4. My supervisor at Alvarado Elementary School told all the after-school teachers on the first day to take a vote of their students of what rules each class should have, and what should be the "punishments," in his words. My class voted on these:

If someone is talking or fooling around too much:

A. Change seats.

B. Sit alone in the corner.

C. Write a letter of apology to the class.

In the first two weeks, when a child was misbehaving, I read these rules aloud to the class several times to remind them of the consequences. But I have since stopped doing that, and I don't intend to show them the list again.

5. I have developed a better one-on-one relationship with the three children in my class who are most difficult to handle by making them sit at the front of the snack table in the cafeteria where I can watch them closely, and have made them into the "line leaders," for the same reason. They seem to enjoy the status of being line leaders, even though everyone knows why they are there.

To be honest, there are times when I can't get away with using the easy-going, cheerful method of dealing with children. What can I do when a child refuses to do any writing, and I tell him that he has to write his journal because my program won't get its funding unless the children do their writing every week? How do I handle a child when I tell him he has to change seats because he won't stop talking with his neighbor, and the child says "no" to me in front of the class? What about when a child just stares at his homework and won't pick up his pencil to do it, and I know I'll get in trouble with my supervisor, the child's parent or the child's daytime teacher if the child doesn't do any homework?

I'm sorry to admit that the only way I seem to be able to compel the children respond in such cases is to threaten to (1) call the program supervisor or (2) call their parents. So far this year I have never followed through on either of these threats because the children have dreaded the consequences too much. I don't feel right when I make these threats, but they seem to be my last option. I hope that later in this course I'll learn to deal better with these practical realities of teaching.

In the 1950s, professionals in child development had to take courses in nutrition. Not any more. Since the 1970s, there has been a lot of research done about nutrition, allergies and the effects of diet on children's behavior and their ability to learn. For example, food coloring #2 (red dye) can cause hyperactivity in some children, if they're already hyperactive.

A lot of kids misbehave in class because of their allergies. Psychology Today ran an article in 1982 about the junk food syndrome. It told about a 12-year-old boy whose behavior was disastrous in school, and when he changed his diet he became a different person. Children's diets today are even worse today than they were in the 1970s and '80s.

All the research is being ignored. School administrators should take all the money for "No Child Left Behind" and put it into good lunches.

There's a strong correlation between low blood sugar and aggressiveness. There was a village in Peru that had more murders per capita than New York City. Their diet was terrible; they killed each other because of low blood sugar.

Children don't need milk after age 2. After that, there's no reason for them to drink any milk at all. They can get calcium from collard greens and many other things. Europeans never drank milk by the glass, until they picked up the habit from Americans.

Cooking is one of the best activities for children because it teaches science, language, and the understanding of what comes before and after. It also helps children to learn to eat well.

About 10 percent of children can't eat in the early morning before school; they don't have an appetite. But the more the child is involved in the preparation of breakfast, the more likely the child will want to eat something.

There's always reasons why a child falls apart. When you have problems with a child, don't talk to the parents about it or the parents might beat the child at home. When a child comes to you, it's your job to calm that child down. When you do that, when the child goes home, he won't fall apart as easily because he will know that he can come back to the center, where everything will be all right.

That child slowly changes their personality. Because they know they have somebody to fall back on. That may help the parent not to be so stressed out.

Children who are abused at home and who don't get good nutrition there have a place in child care where they can be taken care of. You can't make the parents at home do what you want them to do: you must do whatever you can for the child at the center.

When you go to someone's home, you're not going to see child-size chairs, tables and sinks. In the child care center, we are giving them a world that's their own.

Never let a child hit you. If children know they can hit you, they won't feel safe because they will think you can't take care of them.

Some children are labeled "shy," but that word isn't accurate. These children are slow to warm up to newness. As soon as they see something new, their heart rate goes up. The new things can be anything -- food, clothing, a person, a school, a toy, or even a gift of a coat that the child will eventually love, after he gets used to it. The shy child is overwhelmed by novelty.

Some infants will be attracted to novelty, but a child who is slow to warm up will be slow to learn anything new.

Shyness is at least partly genetic. At 4 months of age, some children show these tendencies already. The pupils of their eyes dilate more from the beginning. Their body produces a higher rate of cortisol, which indicates stress. These same children will choke on food that's new. Some children have to see rice for a month before they will try to eat it.

Children are apparently born with a certain temperament. You can't change it, but you can channel it and guide it.

When you do behavior modification, only the outside changes. When you do sensory modification, the inside changes.

Instead of trying to change the behavior, try to connect with the underlying temperament. Be aware of the characteristics; it will help you respond to the children's behavior with compassion rather than resentment.

Some traits of temperament make the children seem as if they're misbehaving. A lot of children get overstimulated easily. When we ask them why they do it, they just do it more. Their body tells them there's too much disorganization. When they hit another child, it helps them get organized, and they feel better.

We who choose to be in this profession need to understand and help children because no one else will do it, not even their parents. If we can convince them that their children's behavior is based on their temperament, we can help them by describing how the child is feeling. As the child gets older, he will be able to avoid things he's not good at.

Most adults are shocked when we say that children feel stress? "Why should they feel stress? They just play all day long," an adult might say. But when you look at their behavior, you'll see that children handle stress in different ways.

Babies differ physically in the way they respond to touch. Some like to be touched and others don't. Some babies are very reactive to light touch. When you see one child touch another child lightly, the other child might feel pain, and hit the first child hard. For some children, a light touch is harder to bear than being grabbed.

One 3-year-old boy at Nina Mogar's center had to hit everyone in sight. She grabbed him hard, and he melted in her hands and never left her for three hours. He was hyposensitive to touch, and that's what he needed.

Some babies love to be tickled, and others don't, from day one. Some babies love the sound of the vacuum cleaner, and others will cover their ears.

How does the child relate to touch? You must know that for every child you work with. You shouldn't ask anyone: you figure it out.

It's a good idea to turn off the lights in the child care center. It helps keep the children calm. When parents come in, they want to turn the lights on, but the children never complain about it.

Sensory motor affects a child's temperament, which affects the way he's going to develop. If a child has a low pain threshold, he's not going to learn motor skills as easily as children who don't feel the pain as much. Children get bumps and scrapes while they're learning motor skills. The motor skills affect your ability to learn. Some children start to walk late because they have a temperament that is easily frustrated. This interferes with the ability to walk.

You can see a child's temperament based on the way they get into the water. Do they plunge in or just put a toe in?

To those who are sensitive to sound, a cat's miaow sounds like a lion's roar. If every sound around you sounds loud, you're going to more cautious and more shy.

Children who are very sensitive to noise are more likely to withdraw. It's something they can't help.

When you buy Tinker Toys, throw the original box away and get a soft box that doesn't make noise. Soft plastic absorbs sound.

If four children are working at an art table, a teacher may clean it up as they're playing, but you have to clean it just the right amount -- not too much. Only an experienced teacher knows that. It's the same when there are a lot of toys out: you have to know what to put away so that the activity doesn't get chaotic. Don't clean up everything at once.

Some babies have low muscle tone. They're underreactive and they tend to be laid back. We have to urge them into the world. They tend not to need interactions with human beings. Because they don't cause trouble, we tend to ignore them. They are at risk of being self-absorbed. They don't care about anyone else. They need to be kept actively involved with the world.

When children are exposed to violence, it affects how their brain gets wired, even if they're not the one who is being hit. A child in a household that's filled with violence, is wired to think that's normal. A child who witnesses violence, in who lives a community where there's persistent violence, will have fear-related changes in the brain. These children are much more likely to be arrested as an adult.

Some children get traumatized when there's a lot of fighting around them, and others don't. It doesn't automatically happen.

The best way to stop the chain of violence is to intervene early. That's the time of life when the window of opportunity is the greatest. You can reduce crime, teen pregnancy, drug abuse and homelessness.

No parents abuse their children because they want to hurt them. They do it because they're stressed out and no one is helping them. If a child is in a abusive environment, the parent usually can't see it. If you can find a way to help parents without mentioning what they are doing to their children, that might be better. Because the parents can't hear you: they're hurting too much inside.

The ability to sit still and the ability to control impulses is not developed until at least age 10.

The more you punish children, the more they will stay in their animal brain. Instead of punishing them, you've got to let them know you understand them. There's nothing wrong with describing emotions to children.

Developing emotional security is essential for higher level functions. You should tell each individual child how much you enjoy being with him. Also tell them as a group. When children aren't being understood, cortisol is produced.

Some people say a child misbehaves to get attention. It's not true. How do you know what's in the child's mind?

When a child whines, it's a coping mechanism and not a manipulation.

Children have a kind of sense that adults don't have. They have enough common sense to know when you don't care. And when they see you don't care, they don't listen.

You don't teach a child anything. You provide experiences that the child can learn from.

The focus of this lecture is on stress -- how children get stressed out and how it damages their brain.

Too much stress destroys certain areas of the brain that control behavior and emotions. The very things we try to teach children are undermined by our punishing them.

When children are exposed to stress, they fall apart more easily than those who have never been exposed to stress. They're in a state of hyper-arousal more than any other state. Because they have no attachment, they can fall into the flight or fight response.

The ones who have been exposed to a lot of stress are the ones you should try hardest to build a relationship with. The very child that falls apart easily and says "I hate you" is the one that needs you the most, and you must look past the outer behavior. These children act obnoxious. They're in a constant state of mind of "don't you touch me."

If you want to see how a child is, watch how the other children treat him.

If inside your head you see the child as bad or obnoxious, you can't do anything for that child. You have to change your attitude. If they don't compassion from us, they might later become murderers or commit suicide.

Children's ability to pay attention doesn't develop that early. That's why circle time is so scary. Their development can be disrupted by things like circle time.

Kindergartners have difficulty paying attention. First graders may be able to pay attention, but at the same time they can't control their impulses to do something else. They have to not pay attention to these impulses. If a teacher isn't exciting, those children can't learn.

Children who are the hardest ones to settle down in class are the ones with the highest cortisol level.

Don't look at the child's behavior: look at his state of arousal or state of mind.

Physically abused preschoolers are more angry and non-compliant, compared to their classmates. In the fearful child, a defiant stance is often found. Most adults don't understand the behavior as being related to fear, and they look upon a defiant child as being willful and controlling.

When a child is in a mental state of fear, adults often respond to the "oppositional" behavior. They don't see that it's just a function of the state of mind that the child is in. The child is so stressed out that he can't control anything, and the adults respond to the behavior by becoming more angry.

Elementary schoolteachers especially do this: when the child falls apart, they start demanding more of the child, which pushes him away from being organized. The child, reading the cues of the stressed and angry adult, moves from alarm to fear to terror. Such a child may end up in a very combative state.

When a child is in a persistent state of arousal due to persistent threat, the areas of the brain that are processing information are different than in a child who is calm. The children raised in a vortex of violence have learned that non-verbal information is more important than verbal.

Almost every parenting book says to use logical consequences with a child. But logical consequences don't work. Time changes when you're in a state of extreme stress. When a child's sense of time is altered, he can't think of anything in the future, nor should he.

The parenting books are trying not to hurt their children physically, but they're hurting them emotionally instead. That's where the time-out came from. Time-outs started with parents.

Your attitude toward children's behavior should be to see that everything a child does is because of a purpose.

Society always wants to change the behavior and blame the child.

If you interpret that the child is manipulating you, that doesn't help you or the child. It means he needs more stimulation than he is getting from you.

No child should ever be called a bully.

Hypersensitivity and hyposensitivity:

The emotional state is governed by the vestibular system.

Your senses don't change. If you have high oral needs, you have it for the rest of the your life, but you learn to satisfy it in a way you can handle.

Some children are hypersensitive. The least bit of input and their system gets stressed out. When a hypersensitive child is just barely touched, he will feel it a lot.

Some kids can't stand their hair being combed because it hurts.

Have you ever heard anyone say to a child: "You're overreacting. That child barely touched you."? But it's the way the child feels that's important. Some children hit back hard because it hurts.

A child who is always tapping might be doing it because he can't stand the noise made by other people.

Some people are born hyposensitive. A hyposensitive can be in danger and not realize it. When such a child falls out of the tree and walks away, people say, "You're such a brave child." Instead, it's better to say: "Describe what happened. You didn't feel any pain."

Some children bite their hands because they can't feel anything; they're not getting enough sensation. Some people who chew their fingernails don't feel the edge of their fingers, so they have to bite it to produce a sensation. They might become self-mutilating because they're trying to feel a sensation in a certain part of their bodies.

Some children feel that even negative body contact is better than none. Spanking is very good tactile stimulation.

If a child takes his clothes off because he feels no sensation, it's a good idea to get him some tight clothing that sticks to the skin, such as tights, leg warmers or bicycle shorts.

Every psychological problem has a sensory motor beginning.

Animals without repetitive behaviors in their natural habitat develop those mannerisms in a cage. If they don't get enough sensations, they begin to self-mutilate or begin to walk back and forth because if they're not getting enough sensation, their body produces cortisol. No animal in the wild self-mutilates.

Some children act like animals in a cage, especially children with a more active brain.

"Garbage pail children" are hyposensitive to taste and smell. They will eat or drink anything, even cleaners and other poisons. They are dangerous to themselves. They need to be watched.

Temple Grandin, Ph.D. is a high-functioning autistic person who wrote a book and invented the squeeze machine. As a child, she could not stand being hugged by her mother. She remembered that when she was overwhelmed as a child, she would get in a box and put heavy pillows on her, and it calmed her down.

She designed the squeeze machine after witnessing a cattle squeeze chute at a farm in Arizona, which calmed down cattle just before they were slaughtered by administering pressure to them. Temple Grandin made a squeeze box that allows each person to squeeze as tight as they want.

Some people get under sofa cushions to get sensations and help them relax. Some children cannot get to sleep at nap time unless you put a heavy pillow on top of them.

If we had a squeeze machine in every classroom, we wouldn't have so many people in jail.

The purpose of this class is to understand children's behavior.

Nina thinks that most children's problems stem from sensory integration. It's very subtle; it's not obvious. That's why it will never catch on. The Southern California tests cost $450. If every child were to have the sensory integration test every year until they were 17, it would save a lot of money in the long run by identifying children's problems early.

When she worked as an elementary schoolteacher in Harlem, there was one child who crawled underneath the desk. She knew there was nothing she could do to stop him, and the other children understood.

Circle time started in 1965 when Head Start started. That's when the elementary teachers came to the preschools.

When a child pokes another child, don't think of it as bad or challenging behavior. He might be doing it to keep his brain alive. The child wants more stimulation than he is getting.

It's wrong to say that the child needs to be taught the rules. The child doesn't have a choice between hitting someone and doing something else.

Don't use techniques. Your attitude toward your child's behavior is most important. You have to see the child as needing your help at that time.

Behavior is not always communication. Children respond to stress in any way they can. When children can't control their impulses, it's because they can't organize the material in their brain.

Redirect an escalating child to another activity. But know what activity to redirect him too. Offer a hug or lap to sit on. Don't discuss misbehaviors with the child. If you're speeding and you get a ticket, the police officer doesn't need to give you a lecture too.

You can't force a child to sit a special way. What's straight to one child may not be straight to another. You can have children do exercises or activities to improve their posture.

Some teachers make the children do certain postures before they sit down to talk with her. This idea is explained in the book "Smart Moves," which was written 30 years ago. It's a good book for older children. As they work to get these postures, it helps the child stay focused.

There's a test given to children age 5 years old and up called the "draw a person test." It was done a long time ago. It gives you a lot of insight into the children's skill and how they organize sensation.

Children know what they need. When a baby cries, it's not because he's thinking, "I want to communicate my stress." He's crying because crying helps him calm down and feel good temporarily.

A hypersensitive child must keep touching people because it's the only way he knows where he is.

Hypersensitive children tend to be more bossy. They're not imitating their parents. You shouldn't make children age 3, 4 and 5 stand in line. Some children hate messy activities, and you shouldn't make them do it.

You don't know when you'll be in an emergency, so you should always have 10 things in your head to keep children calm. Because you're trying to keep them alive.

The idea of not judging a child by his behavior reminds me of this story:

A man got on the subway train with several children who were very unruly. They wouldn't sit still; they kept changing seats, running through the train, making a lot of noise and annoying all the people.

Finally, one of the passengers couldn't take it any longer. He said to the father: "Why don't you do something about your children? They're out of control."

"I'm sorry," the father replied. "I suppose I should, but I don't know what to do. You see, we're just coming home from the hospital, and their mother died this morning."



Childhood Development 96

Issues in Understanding Children with Difficult Behaviors

A child is said to have difficult behavior if he disrupts a class, acts out in public, refuses to follow directions, hits or bites other children, or does other things on a daily basis that make it difficult for those around him to continue their regular routines. It is not so accurate to call it "misbehavior" because that implies a child is being "bad" on purpose. In fact, no child misbehaves on purpose. He does it in response to stress. Everyone who works with young children must understand that so that they can try to find ways to reduce the stress and to connect with the child on a personal basis and treat that child as an individual, with a unique personality and temperament. Temperament is a person's preferred style of responding, his first and most natural way of reacting to the world.

The amygdala, the lower part of the limbic section (mammalian brain), reacts to fear, and together with the brainstem, generates a fight-or-flight response. When a child is stressed, the teacher should not think of punishment, consequences or behavior modification. Instead, the teacher should just try to calm him down. When a child is stressed, he is in the animal brain state, and to calm him down you have to pull him out of his animal brain. Don't tell an upset child to calm down. Wait for the child to calm down before talking about what happened.

What's important is to describe what the child is feeling at that moment. Explanations don't work, even with older kids, because when you're explaining to them, they're in a state of survival mode. So your job is to try to help the child find ways to drain off the accumulated anger. You have to know each child, by observing and keeping the information in a file cabinet in your head.

There are no specific techniques that work with all children. It's not very important what you do: what matters is that they know you care. You shouldn't always try to like a child. Instead, try to care and understand. A teacher should try hardest to establish a good relationship with troubled or violent children, because those are the ones who need you the most. They are bleeding inside and nobody pays attention to them. External and internal conditions can put a child into survival mode. You have to see past someone's violence and feel empathy for him.

If a person is in the brain stem level, he can't connect with the moral part of his brain. Soldiers in war are in a state of survival: that's how they can kill others. When a child is in survival mode, he has no empathy, or feeling for another person. Empathy takes a back seat to relief from the numbing discomfort of a stress-deadened nervous system. A child cannot experience empathy unless you show that you care for him. And by punishing him, you are doing just the opposite. When you interact one on one with a child, you have to think: "Am I helping this child calm down?"

If you interfere with the development of empathy because you show no understanding and you're keeping them in the hyperactive brain stem level, you're interfering with their development of self-control.

Cortisol is a hormone produced by the brain in times of stress. Exposure to cortisol for prolonged periods causes changes in the brain structure that make it harder a child to learn what teachers present, to get along with peers, and to exercise self-control. Some children live in such a stressful home environment that they can't turn off the stress when they come to school.

For many children, exposure to stress begins in the pre-natal state if their mother indulges in such drugs as crack cocaine, alcohol or tobacco. The babies are born at a disadvantage because their brain has already been altered in a negative way.

Genetics plays a big part in a child's reactivity to stress. Children with a particularly sensitive amygdala can be set off easily. The autonomous nervous system is not under children's control. When they have a temper tantrum, they can't help it.

The new buzzword for handling difficult behavior is self-regulation. For a baby, the caregiver does the regulating. As the child matures, the child takes over some of the regulating. But some children have a much harder time regulating themselves than others. Children can be easily mismanaged into antisocial behavior if their sluggish central nervous system assigns lower emotional value to negative events.

Many children do not have the opportunity to reach their potential because they're not nurtured. Children need certain experiences in order to develop the ability to become a human being in any society. Attachment is not a theory: it's a neurological development. If you have cold, insensitive caregivers or teachers, the attachment will not happen.

Even when a child is carefully nurtured during his earliest years, he can be deeply affected by family stress that comes later. Some of the main sources are divorce, separation from a parent, a new sibling, homelessness, and frequent moving.

Traumatic events such as physical, sexual, emotional neglect, accidents, severe injuries, natural disasters may cause children to develop post-traumatic stress disorder as a result, leaving them vulnerable to phobias, conduct and behavioral difficulties, anxiety disorders and depression.

Physically abused and otherwise maltreated children are more impulsive and disorganized, and less successful on pre-academic tasks. They lack the necessary social and work skills for their age group. Neglected children appeared to have the most severe problems.

It takes longer for children to calm down than to get excited. The younger the child, the easier it is to get the child stirred up, because the part of the brain that matures first is the part that arouses the child. The baby gets aroused much more easily than the older child.

How many elementary schoolteachers make the same child go to the principal's office over and over again? Why is it always the same child who is being punished? Because these children are in a high state of stress and never come down from it. They seem impervious to punishment. They're in a survival state of mind.

Violence on TV does not automatically lead to difficult behavior in children because every child who watches has a different reaction. Low-fantasy children are attracted by violence and more affected by it. Aggressive children become more aggressive from watching violence; less aggressive ones aren't affected. Children who use their imagination are less likely to become violent or aggressive because they can keep their mind occupied.

You cannot teach social skills to a child as an abstract concept. But you can provide an emotional foundation for controlling a child's strong feelings that, if left unchecked, will lead to violent behaviors.

You can't teach a child to behave through conflict resolution, even when it's administered by his peers in elementary school. When a child is in a state of hyper-arousal, he can't reason, and conflict resolution becomes meaningless. It's one thing for a child or adolescent to sit quietly in a room and talk about what they would do in conflict, but when the same child is threatened or stressed out, he has a different state of mind and a different internal state, and the child's behavior becomes controlled by the brain stem. Then the child has only survival behaviors, and all the promises made to ourselves and other people go out the window.

Good teaching involves a constant cycle of trying new ideas and then evaluating and refining them. When a child is truly interested in something, he will learn. The best way for a child to learn is through play. Preschools and elementary schools have too many rules and too many teachers and administers who don't understand children and how they learn. Many students of early childhood education at City College work in centers where they know more than their supervisors, and they are forced to follow rules that are harmful to children.

In one case discussed in this class, a kindergarten teacher was criticized by her principal because her children were walking around the room, and the principal thought they couldn't possibly be learning that way. Ignorant educators stop children from playing even though it's something that enriches their intellect.

Unfortunately, many of the difficult behaviors that show up in children's centers, preschools and elementary schools would not be happening if these institutions were more child-centered and less academically minded. One video shown in class was about the child-centered East Harbor School, Lenoire, North Carolina, which had open classrooms. Everyone was on the floor, including the teachers. There were five areas that taught different subjects and skills, and the children could choose which areas they wanted to spend the most time in. It was a stimulating environment, filled with a wealth of materials to interest children. They were focused on learning, even though there were no tests and no grades. The children did not learn the distinction between work and play; the activities were coordinated by teachers who created situations to evoke curiosity, and the children got to be very creative. They were able to progress at their own speed, so they weren't pressured by the progress of other children and the need to keep up.

Sadly, this school and its models in England have almost all disappeared. Educators are going in the other direction by making preschools more like elementary schools, with an emphasis on reading, writing and math, when the children's brains are not ready for strict academic learning.

More than 5,000 U.S. Preschoolers are expelled each year for difficult behavior, a rate three times higher than elementary or high school. Children as young as 4 are expected to sit in their seats and listen to instructions. We are creating a group of children who are likely to come to kindergarten with serious problems. With ever-increasing pressure to achieve, some schools are imposing an overly academic curriculum on little ones at the expense of teaching basic skills, such as coping with frustration or empathizing with others.

Children age 3, 4 and 5 need a literacy corner. Before a child starts kindergarten, the parents should set up a literacy corner in their home equipped with literacy tools for the children to play with, such as scissors, a ruler, Scotch tape, a stapler and a hole puncher.


Perhaps the most common factor is lack of nurturing. A child held and comforted whenever he cried in the first year of life is likely to develop an amygdala and other parts of the emotional brain that are more capable of calming him. As a result, he will tend to be a less demanding child than one whose basic needs fluent and security were not met at that early age.

Children can have allergies for very common foods, such as milk and wheat, that can go undiagnosed for years. When difficult behavior has a mysterious origin, an unknown allergy often turns out to be the culprit.

Nutrition is another source of difficult behavior. Poor nutrition can undermine a child's energy level, concentration, and general well-being. It can lead to hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) or hyperglycemia (high blood sugar).

Hypersensitive children have a heightened sense of touch. They can't stand to be touched or tickled even very lightly. If someone barely taps them, they are likely to hit back much harder without realizing it. They may have difficulty standing in line between children, and exhibit a fight-or-flight reaction if crowded too much. They may avoid movement and have low self-esteem.

Others are hyposensitive, and they need to be touched, hit or squeezed forcefully in order to feel anything. Some of these children go through a room and hit everyone, just so they will feel something. Hypo-responsive children might get hurt and not realize it, or chew on inedible objects. They may crave spinning movements.

Some children have a dysfunctional vestibular system, which causes a lack of balance. The vestibular system relays information about balance, velocity and weight, and controls the underlying muscle tone needed to maintain posture.

Children with a sensory integration disorder can't organize sensory input. This can cause a child to be confused, distracted and disorganized. If they're not sure where their own body is, they are so preoccupied with spacial awareness that they have no concentration left over to listen to a story.

A child can become stressed and frustrated if he is forced to do activities that are not developmentally appropriate. Then he's more likely to do things that are destructive. All of a child's activities should be both age-appropriate and individually appropriate. Workbooks and worksheets are not appropriate for young children, especially those younger than 6.

Fifty percent of children do not have good close-up vision until they are past 8 or 9 years old. They get headaches and their eyes tear. Many children are forced to do tedious word searches, which strain their eyes and teach them very little.

Pushing a child to walk, talk or read before the necessary brain areas can work most efficiently is both frustrating and stressful.

Children should never be rushed, and schedules should be flexible enough to take advantage of impromptu experiences. Children need extended periods of uninterrupted time to be involved, to investigate, select, and persist in activities. The teacher should prepare the environment.

Young children are not good at waiting, and they don't do well in large groups. They tell you how they're feeling by their behavior. While planning an activity, you should ask yourself:

- What is the purpose of the activity:
- How long will it last?
- Can I incorporate children's ideas and interests in the activity?
- Are the children expected to sit?
- How will I respond if a child displays inappropriate behavior?

Children shouldn't be made to sit still very long. They need movement for in order for their brains to grow. If forced to sit still, their bodies know that they are harming themselves, and they will likely exhibit difficult behavior. Give their brain a chance to grow.

Transitions can cause difficult behavior. It's a good idea to have brief in-between activities to move smoothly from one activity to the next, such as songs, finger plays, stories.

Environments are sometimes too bright, too hard, too crowded or too loud. If a place is crowded and disorganized, the children can tell and they get more stirred up. By adding softness to the classroom, you can reduce stress and noise.

Chronic stress with too high cortisol levels decreases memory and the ability to control behavior and focus attention. When children are putting most of their energy into being vigilant, they can't learn. They have to be calmed not, not revved up.

Difficult behavior can result more easily if there is little or no attachment between a child and his caregiver. Two things that interfere with the development of attachment are making a child go to a time-out and using logical consequences. Time-outs and logical consequences are more likely to increase difficult behavior than to stop it. They are coercive and they push children away. They focus on behaviors and consequences instead of state of mind. You should provide support instead of consequences.

Many children have a lack of impulse control. The ability to concentrate and delay gratification will guarantee success more than brain power alone.


First, don't think of them as "the difficult child." Recognize children's unique temperament characteristics, then find way to cope and respond to them constructively.

Focus on the strengths and positive aspects of "difficult" temperament. Think of them as "spirited" children. Don't negatively categorize children simply because their nature is more intense.

Maintain a predictable daily schedule. Privately warn children of changes in routine. But be flexible enough to take advantage of teachable moments.

Offer choices. If a child's stress level is escalating, redirect him to an activity that he is interested in.

Use positive language: tell children what they can do, not what they can't or shouldn't do. Try to avoid ever saying "no" or "don't" to a child. This is difficult, but possible. Instead of saying, "Don't run," say, "Please walk."

Children need a non-threatening learning environment. Make things fun. Play at all ages brings pleasure. And with pleasure comes the powerful drive to repeat the pleasurable activity. And with repetition comes mastery. Mastery brings a sense of accomplishment and confidence. The cycle starts with curiosity. All learning is facilitated by repetition fueled by the pleasure of play.

Simple music and movement activities provided early in life for high-risk children appear to have a powerful and positive impact. All patterned activities -- including music, reading and conversation -- will help the brain be organized and functionally healthy.

Circle time is brain dead time. Minimize circle time or eliminate it altogether if you can.

Don't make young children share. Have at least four of everything so that four children can do the exact same activity at a table together without causing jealousy.

Soften the environment. Children make a lot of noise, but it doesn't take much money to hang up secondhand bedspreads and put down inexpensive rugs. Softness is a way of absorbing sound, because children can't help talking loudly.

Every child should not be able to see every child in the room. Provide a secluded area away from the mainstream where children can go when they feel the need to retreat. For example, if you have a large group of children, you might use cubbies as dividers and make a hidden space where as many as eight children can go and play together, while being watched by one staff member. They're not seen by the other children. The idea is to let children have different spaces based on what they need.

Be careful not to have too much stuff out for the children to use, whether it's blocks, dress-up clothes or anything else. If it takes you too long to put things away, you have too much stuff and the children will get wired.

Offer plenty of variety. Don't always put out the same things at a play table. You should have 30 different things to put out each month.

Don't try to connect with a child while he's falling apart. Connect with him when he's calm. That will build a better relationship because the child will not be in his survival state.

When a child is hurting others by his behavior, you must stop the destructive action immediately. If one child hits another, you say, "I'm not going to let you do it."

You can't stop it with your voice screaming across the room. You can only stop it if you're within arm's reach. Raising your voice is not appropriate at all. If you stop the child with kind firmness and understanding, you will win the child's affection. You can say: "I see you're very upset." That helps the child's prefrontal cortex to slowly evolve. If a child knows that you are there for him, he might still feel stress, but his cortisol level will come down.

Most advice books say that you should ask the aggressive child, "How do you think that person is feeling?" But the child who's hitting is not feeling anything because at that moment he can't feel for anybody but himself.

Nobody should discipline or guide a child with whom they don't have a relationship. That's impractical and not always possible, but when you have a relationship, you're more likely to reach that child.

When you have a crowd of children, don't let them move around too much or you'll lose them. Lead them in games of imagination that make them tiptoe.

Teachers should be as responsive to children's socioeconomic needs as to their intellectual demands. The two are inseparable.

Don't wait for a child to fall apart before solving the problem. Prevention means knowing who falls apart more easily. Give extra attention to these children and remain calm with them. That will help them to stay focused. If you know what a child enjoys doing, you will know what calms him down.

There's a fallacy that a good way to calm a child is to let him hit a pillow. But that only gets him more stirred up. Most people still don't know that.

If there's a playground conflict, you have to know the children as individuals so that you can quickly size them up. Never get involved with saying who did something first. If both children come to you at the same time, listen to one at a time. Talk to them in such a way that no other adult can hear what's being said. Children will respect you for listening because they know there's really nothing that can be done.

Is her book "Think of Something Quiet," Clare Cherry wrote of the way she used imagination to calm down a group of children. She went to the cupboard, opened the door and shouted: "Come out of there right now! You know people can't hide in there!" The room became still, as all eyes were focused on the cupboard. She began talking to an invisible being, and soon the rest of the children caught on and picked up the fantasy. They each brought an invisible "nothing" into the room. The game continued until all the children had opened the door for invisible beings and set out chairs for them. Then the teacher said, "Sit on your friend's lap." This seems a very creative way of refocusing a class's attention and getting them to listen.


When I signed up for this course, I expected to learn some psychological tricks to manipulate children into behaving better. Instead, I found that the course offered a way to look at the children differently, so that my own attitude toward them would change. This has been the result, and I think I have become more empathetic and tolerant toward their difficult behaviors.

The class taught me that sometimes a teacher can't help feeling like a failure when dealing with challenging children. I do have those days occasionally, and I try to remember that the despite my best efforts to create a stable and comforting classroom environment, I have no control over what happens in the children's homes, and some of them come to school with problems that I can't overcome.

I try to avoid using techniques. I have learned that techniques are not useful for individuals because every child is different, and I shouldn't expect the same technique to work for everyone.

I've learned to choose my battles, because if I try to impose my will on the children on too many minor matters, they can't recognize what is truly important. For example, during homework time, there are some children who always talk with each other and get distracted. But they are good friends who haven't much chance to socialize with each other all day. So I bear that in mind, and rather than separating them automatically, I let them sit together but keep reminding them that they must get some work done if they want to continue sitting together. Only in extreme cases do I separate them. Last week, two boys got into an argument during homework time and one of them threw a pencil at the face of the other one. It caused no damage, but it might have hit him in the eye. For a case like that, I did separate them and told them that they can't sit together for the whole week.

At the beginning of the year, my supervisor told me to ask the children to vote for their own rules about how they should be disciplined for different infractions. Following my supervisor's instructions, I did this, and made a list, which I showed the children to remind them, whenever an incident came up. But as a result of this CDEV class, I put the list away after the first few weeks and never mentioned it again because I learned that it is coercive.

I try not to raise my voice. When I call the children in from recess, I don't yell at them. Instead, I blow on a harmonica, which they can hear all over the school year. The only time I yell is when I'm trying to tell the class something important and some children won't stop talking. More often I raise one hand high in the air, which is my school's signal for silence.

I let children find the most comfortable positions in which to work. I don't care if they want to sit backward on the chair, stretched out on two chairs, two children on a single large chair, on the floor, or on platforms instead of chair. I don't care if they sit up straight or if they slump over the table.

I don't expect children to be reliable about remembering things, and I don't get upset if they forget. If we're going on a field trip and they need to get a form signed by their parents before they can go, I hand out the form long in advance of the trip and make plenty of extra copies because I expect some of the children to lose the form. I don't scold them, but simply give them another copy and remind them again.

I try to use some of the ideas learned from this class to deal with my 10-year-old son Carl. I don't make a big deal out of it if he skips breakfast because I now understand that some people don't have an appetite for breakfast.

I try to make my lessons interesting and relevant to the children's lives. I always did this anyway, but I'm glad to learn that brain research tells us that learning does not happen as a result of a steady flow of information and stimulation, but happens in relationships where caregivers demonstrate their enthusiasm for a subject and the recipient absorbs some of the enthusiasm over a gradual period.

I learned that it's a good idea to let the children know what's coming up. As a result, I now make copies of my weekly lesson plan and hand it out every Monday.

I was surprised to find that most of the children read it and take interest in it, and ask me about some of the activities. I've found that when there's a favorite activity planned, such as a field trip or a cooking class, they are more likely to stay until the end. On some days, children go home early because they aren't very interested in the lesson.


Max’s lesson plan for Group 3, week of 12-12-05

MONDAY 12-12: COMPUTER LAB Go to Web site for Christmas games or sites for reading, writing or math, or play Word Muncher. After 30 minutes, it's OK to go to fun sites.

TUESDAY 12-13: STORIES & SONGS Storytelling: "The Velveteen Rabbit" by Margery Williams Discuss the story according to Tribes agreements. Distribute lyrics, sing Christmas carols.

WEDNESDAY 12-14: CHRISTMAS PUZZLES Write journals. Then divide into teams, try to solve Christmas puzzles. Give prize to everyone who writes 1 page of journal this week.

THURSDAY 12-15: DECORATE CHRISTMAS COOKIES Using pastry bags and plastic spoons, put colored frosting on cookies. Extra time: read and discuss Christmas book.

FRIDAY 12-16: COOKING CLUB Recipe: cheese fondue

After taking your courses, I almost wanted to go into the field of preschool instead of elementary school, but I have heard so many horror stories from your students about their uninformed and bureaucratic supervisors, and the emphasis on academic learning for children who are not ready for it, that I decided elementary school is better for me after all. I expect to have my teaching credential in the summer of 2007 and to get a full-time teaching job that fall.

This year at Alvarado School I am in charge of 21 third graders from 1:50 p.m. until 5 p.m. During that time I serve them snacks, help them with homework, play sports with them at recess, teach them a 45-minute enrichment class, then take to the cafeteria and to be picked up, and often play table games with them there. It's an enjoyable job with a lot of variety, but quite challenging because most of the kids are behind their peers academically, and some of them have behavioral or learning problems.

The two children who are most challenging for me this year are Martin and Tony (names changed for the purpose of this report). To be specific about how I've applied knowledge from this class, I would like to tell about my relationship with these children.

(1) Martin is a white boy who is very overweight, very sensitive to any kind of correction or criticism, quite unaware of what's going on around him, and very poor at focusing. He has no contact with his father, and lives alone with his mother in a one-room apartment. His mother lets him stay up until 2 o'clock in the morning playing video games. At the beginning of the year he was doing math and reading at the level of a first grader. His homework was far too difficult for him, so he would sit at the table during homework time and sometimes do literally nothing for 45 minutes, not even picking up his pencil. I had to help many other children with their homework, so I couldn't spend more than 5 minutes helping Martin, but I noticed that if I sat beside him and explained each homework problem with him, he would do a little work. But as soon as I got up to help someone else, he would stop. His daytime teacher was frustrated because he acted the same way in her class, and would do nothing on his own. He was a distraction to the others.

But I could tell that Martin was intelligent enough to do the work at his grade level, and that he understood the work if it was explained to him one on one. So I got the idea of finding a tutor for him. I knew his mother couldn't afford a professional tutor, so I thought of contacting the nearest high school in the neighborhood -- Mission High School -- and trying to find finding a high school student who could come to Alvarado in the afternoon and work directly with Martin.

His mother liked the idea, so I made a lot of phone calls and sent a lot of emails, and finally located a high school sophomore named Chau Trieu, a Vietnamese American girl, who was willing to help Martin for $10 an hour, which his mother was willing to pay. I talked with one of Chau's teachers first, and got a very high recommendation. I could see from her emails that she was an excellent writer and a serious person.

Chau started coming to Alvarado last month, and she and Martin hit it off. Now she spends about three hours a week with him, from 4 to 5 p.m. It is an excellent arrangement, and Martin is showing a lot of progress. Now he does more work on his own during homework time, and his daytime teacher told me that he is improving in her class also.

I might not have done this for Martin if not for this course, because I got the idea that there are many learning styles, and when I recognized Martin's learning style, I decided to try to find a teacher who could match it.

(2) Tony is a small, wiry Latino boy with an excess of energy. He is the only boy whose parents I called last year because of my frustration in dealing with him. He can't stop moving, can't stop talking, and refuses to do certain things, such as writing his journal, which my supervisor told me the children must do for about one hour a week, as a requirement to receive the grant that pays our salaries.

Until this year, it seemed that every teacher dealt with Tony's behavior by benching him or threatening to bench him. But his behavior didn't improve. Last year I was an enrichment teacher for three classes, instead of having one class of my own for the entire afternoon, so it was always the other teacher who handed out discipline.

This year, as a result of this course, I decided that I would not bench anyone. I announced this early in the year, and I only broke the pledge once. After the bad reaction it produced, I've promised to myself that I will not do it again.

Tony is hyperactive, intelligent, an advanced reader, completely bilingual, and the best artist in the class. After leading about the use of spinning to help children concentrate, I decided to let Tony use a spinning chair for homework time. I explained to the class why I was doing this, and I read them the paper I got in class about how this helped hyperactive children. There was a little protest, but I think most kids are basically fair at heart, and they recognized that Tony needed the chair more than anyone else, if the theory was correct.

At first the class was amazed that I would allow this, because in previous years, teachers had always told them not to fool around with the spinning chairs. And Tony first took advantage of his privilege by spinning too much and riding the chair all around the room. But soon he learned that I would take it away for the day if he acted too outrageous, and he started being more responsible with it, spinning in place and not overdoing it.

Then the part-time science teacher, who is also the after-school kindergarten teacher, got into the act by forbidding me from letting anyone use the spinning chair because he wanted to put his hat and coat on it. So I had to start bringing a spinning chair from another room every day. Finally I got a spinning chair of my own (a better one than the science teacher's) and brought it to the school for Tony to use every day.

The other decision I made about Tony this year is that I stopped trying to make him write his journal. He loves to draw, and he already writes well for his age, as shown by his homework, but he hates to write his journal and he was wasting a lot of time just staring at it. He was the only child besides Martin who never finished one page of his journal in a week.

So I got Martin a drawing pad and a picture book about art, and told him that from now on, he can do art instead of writing the journal. As expected, there was some protest about it, and several kids said those all-too-true words, "It isn't fair!" So last week I asked the class to vote about whether I should take away Tony's drawing pad and make him write his journal like everyone else. I told them that I would abide by the majority's direction, but pointed out that if they voted against him, Tony would probably spend the rest of the year sitting and staring at the journal but not writing it. I said that he had agreed to give me his drawings to decorate the supply cabinet downstairs.

This was toward the end of the day, and there were only 10 kids left. I didn't let Tony vote. The other kids voted 5 to 4 in favor of letting Tony draw instead of write. I was very happy by the result. To my surprise, the girl who had been protesting the loudest voted in favor of Tony. I asked her why and she said, "Because he's my friend." That made me feel very good.