It All Starts with Strong Relationships

Scenario 1 – Steven arrives with his grandfather and they are warmly greeted by an Educator. Steven joins the children playing Octopus. He often needs help remembering to follow the rules and routines and has a really hard time being “out”. When he gets “out”, he becomes really upset. When this happens, the Educator calls him over and gives him a strong hug to activate his listening ability. Without the hug, he cannot hear what is being said to him. His feelings are acknowledged by saying, ” You didn’t want to be out. It’s hard to be out. A new game will start soon. Do you want to wait here or with the other children who are out?” Steven moves to join the other children. A simple hug and an acknowledgement of his feelings really helps him turn things around.

Scenario 2 – Benjamin begins to show signs of agitation. An Educator attempts to speak with Benjamin, but he is unable to hear her. He becomes more agitated, screams and flips over a table. After ensuring the safety of the other children, the Educator gets close to Benjamin and is able to begin to firmly massage his back and arms. As he calms down, Benjamin is offered food. His educators have learned that this behaviour is related strongly to an extremely high metabolism and the need to eat about every hour. Once he has eaten, he is able to clean up the mess he’s made and join the other children at play.

At one time, the reaction to Steven and Benjamin’s behaviour would have been to remove them from the group and deliver a negative consequence such as not playing the game for a week. This often resulted in increasing the distress and instead of reducing challenging behaviours, increased them substantially. Children were punished for behaviour they could not control. It is much more effective to help a child learn to eat when they need to, or how to cope with being out, than it is to continue to punish them for something they cannot yet control. We have found that taking the time to build strong, trusting relationships with each child has really reduced our challenges with children’s behaviour.

Since the opening of the Lynwood Early Learning Centre, we’ve always been an inclusive and diverse centre which welcomes children with various needs. Our approach to challenging behaviour for all children, regardless of a diagnosis or not, is to get to know them and build relationships. Our goal is to give all children a place where they can trust the adults in charge to be objective and address behaviour without judgement. This approach is guided by a Statement of Beliefs, based on Conscious Discipline©.

Strong relationships benefit children’s learning by creating a feeling of safety which allows them to ask for affection. When children feel safe, it increases self-confidence, optimizes brain development, allows them to take chances, make mistakes and learn.

It’s imperative that parents have a safe place to access support and to be the leader of the team that is working with their child. Parents need to feel supported and not judged as a result of their child’s behaviour.

Our relationships are built beginning with a warm greeting at the door each day, using the children’s names and that of their parents. Always be respectful of the children and families. It continues throughout the day with the Educator taking the time to spend a few moments with each child to get to know them and make them feel special. It is important to model for the children when you are feeling happy, sad, angry or upset so that they will learn how to express these emotions. Creating a predictable environment, acknowledging children’s efforts and problem solving conflict are other ways to build on relationship. For example, instead of saying: “good job, it’s beautiful, good girl”, you can say “You worked a long time on that, that’s perseverance.” You know you’ve had a positive effect on the children when you spill some milk and say, ” I spilled the milk, I am so frustrated,” and a little voice says, “Take a deep breath. Now count to 10. Do you feel better?”

When there is a need for a sensitive discussion, acknowledge how hard it is for a parent to hear what you’re saying. Provide concrete examples to illustrate the issue and have helpful resources available. Always listen carefully and compassionately. Remember that they are the expert on their child. Above all, do not judge. Every parent does their best for their child.

As a team, agree on a vision for your program, spend a bit of time together outside of work and communicate issues right away. Strong relationships among co-workers are critical. Knowing each other well allows us to see when someone needs support, a break, or an opportunity to discuss a situation and collaborate for a solution. This is most beneficial for the children as they observe self-regulation, team work and emotional management in action.

Building relationships with children, families and staff takes some effort, but the benefits far outweigh the effort.

Janice Cross, RECE
OCCC, Lynwood Early Learning Centre

Ostrosky, M.M. “Building Positive Teacher-Child Relationship”s  Center on the Social and Emotional Foundations for Early Learning, October 14, 2014

Boynton, Mark and Boynton, Christine, “Educator’s Guide to Preventing and Soving Discipline Problems.” Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development. October 14, 2014

Bailey, Becky A. “Conscious Discipline” Loving Guidance Inc.., 2000. Print.

Bailey, Becky A. “Creating the School Family” Loving Guidance Inc., 2011. Print.