I make every effort to create an environment that will engage and enable children, while also allowing the school to run smoothly for everyone involved. My goal is for them to be busy playing, exploring, creating, interacting, and testing in appropriate ways. Since I need to balance the needs of the individual with the needs of the group, there are times when children are expected to follow directions, act independently, and do things with the group at certain times. I try to make those times clear, consistent, realistic, and fun.
There are developmental reasons for children to test the boundaries. They want to know that they will be kept safe and be noticed. They want to see what another person’s reaction will be. They want to know what they are capable of. Sometimes children “act out” to gain attention or power, which may they need some positive attention or opportunities for appropriate power. Often they are tired or hungry.
Self-Regulation and Self-Care
Children at Runabouts are empowered to express themselves, including strong emotions such as anger and sadness, even if that involves crying, some screaming, or some “tantrums.” I encourage them to stand up for themselves and work for what they want. Conflicts are inevitable and are opportunities for growth. Crying, screaming, and other expressions of emotion are positive, therapeutic, and irreplaceable ways that humans recover from trauma and upset. There is room here for emotion and individual needs, however we are in a confined space and I am one person, responsible for the well-being of 6 little people. I cannot provide uninterrupted or constant one:on:one aide and attention to individual children. Therefore to some extent, children must be able to self-regulate, follow directions, and attend to their personal care while at Runabouts.
I don’t use timeouts at Runabouts. Time-outs may stop the unwanted behavior but are a punishment rather than a teaching tool. They do not teach the skills people need to resolve conflict, negotiate solutions, or meet mutual needs. Isolation during stressful times has even been shown to negatively affect brain development and function.
Full Cup Analogy
One way of thinking about children’s needs is to imagine they have a cup that needs to be filled with love, connection, and positive attention on a regular basis. The fuller their cup is, the better they are able to function as healthy, cooperative, pleasant individuals. When their cup begins to empty, they may act out or withdraw. They need their cup to be filled back up. This doesn’t mean that inappropriate behavior should be overlooked, but it doesn’t need to be addressed with punishment, blame, or shame.
Praise and Rewards:
I try not to use praise to manipulate children into good behavior, or to use cookie cutter labels such as “good” and “bad." I try to use more descriptive words to describe specific behaviors, such as: "friendly, kind, helpful, hurtful, frustrating, scary," etc. Usually, sometimes with help pointing out the cues, kids know when they did something “good” or “bad." I want their motivation to come from inside as much as possible. I never tell kids that they are "bad!"
I don’t bribe kids or give rewards (such as stars or stickers) for “good” behavior. I also try not to say “good job,”but I do express honest delight in children and what they do. I try to make it specific and genuine. “Wow, look at all those circles,” rather than, “That’s a pretty picture.” Or “Gosh, I sure feel good when I see you smile,” rather than “You’re such a nice boy.” Or, “I noticed that they smiled when you said hello.”
Some things we DO do(!):
General guidlines we use include:
Take care of our things.
Try to use kind clear words.
Try to be helpful and cooperative.
I tell the children that it is my job to take care of them, to keep them healthy and safe, and that it is their job to help me do that. I actively teach self-care and communication skills.
We have the guideline, “If someone says stop, you have to stop, at least to talk about it.” Helping children learn to listen when another child or an adult says "stop" takes time, but it’s an important skill. So is learning to speak up and say, “Stop!," which we also practice. I often say something like, “If you don’t want them to chase you, turn around and say ‘Stop’ in a loud voice.” Or, “It looks like you don’t like that. You can tell them ‘Stop!’” Sometimes we reenact a conflict so they can practice saying stop or calling me for help problem solving!
I would say that my boundaries are looser than many families I work with and more rigid than many families I work with. Each family really has their own unique way of doing things! I try to do what works best for the specific group of families and children I am working with, as well as for myself as a caregiver. While for some children, I encourage them to let loose and own their personal power, for others I encourage them to become more aware of others and begin to self-regulate more consistently. I want them all to enjoy themselves and each other, and to delve into what this school has to offer.