January 29, 2023
This week’s article is from our dear friend and colleague, Mary O’Connell. Mary has a non-profit farm education program and LifeWays Representative site at Paradise Farm in West Bend, where she and her colleagues provide outdoor, farm-based education to children and adults.
“Kids who haven’t responded to natural consequences don’t need more consequences.” – Dr. Ross Greene
In my role as a coach for childcare center directors in Wisconsin, I talk with a wide variety of people who are just plain bone-weary from working in the early childhood field the past few years. Coming out of the pandemic, programs are severely under-staffed and teetering on razor-thin margins between profit and loss. On top of all the administrative challenges, early childhood professionals are faced with a larger-than-ever number of children needing extra help. Veteran and new teachers and caregivers alike are feeling unprepared to handle the behavior challenges they’re experiencing daily. I frequently hear directors say, “We want to work with this child, but we have to consider the needs of all the other children in the classroom.” It seems that, for many children today, the demands of life in the early childhood program exceed their capacity to adapt. They cry or sulk, they kick or hit, they scream and tantrum. And their teachers lay on the natural (or sometimes quite unnatural) consequences to try to help them fall in line with the group. These consequences often don’t work. So, what do we do then?
I’ve recently been introduced to a simple concept introduced by Dr. Ross Greene, a child psychologist who wrote The Explosive Child, among others. The concept is this:
Kids do well if they can.
Many of us operate under the assumption that children do well if they want to. And we spend a good deal of time trying to get them to want to. We assume – for example — that simply because a child was able to get himself ready to go outside last week, and this week he is lying on the floor crying and saying he needs help, he must not want to do it. By re-framing our thinking to assume that he would do it if he could do it, we find our compassion and our calm. And it helps us open ourselves up to observing what is really going on with the child. To observe truly and objectively, we must be willing to let go of our assumptions about the child, his home life, or anything else. We must be willing to take an honest look at what we’re asking children to be able to do and really consider whether it’s age appropriate. And we must be willing to give each child the benefit of the doubt.
As Dr. Ross Greene says, “Children are resilient. They start to come around if we start doing the right thing.”
Sometimes it can be so hard to know what the “right thing” to do or say is, especially when we are tired or frustrated or feeling like we are in over our head. That’s when we need to remember to offer ourselves the same loving kindness we give to the children. We adults also do well when we can. Sometimes we just need to take a second to breathe and recognize that we’ve been through a lot these last few years. Let’s give ourselves and the children the compassion we deserve.
**Click here to learn more about Dr. Ross Greene and his most recent book, Raising Human Beings.