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Children sit next to each other on a classroom carpet. One child has her hand extended, thumb raised.


Paulette Maggiacomo

Paulette Maggiacomo

August 13, 2020

Someone recently asked me if I was getting tired of continuing listening to the Transform Challenging Behavior Virtual Conference - after all, what could I possibly learn after being in the education field for 30 years? That is one of the advantages of being a lifelong learner, there is always something new and exciting to learn! This week’s newsletter focuses on The Brain and Behavior Integration with Samantha Moe. I had many “aha” moments.

I always thought that when a child had a meltdown/tantrum in front of me it was because they felt safe with me. Turns out that is not always the case – sometimes it is the adult that is contributing to the meltdown/tantrum. This was the springboard for the discussion on two types of parenting styles which also can be attributed to teaching styles.

When you look at the pictures, please note difference in the words authoritative and authoritarian. I apparently did not notice the difference at first and got confused. Anyway, when the balance of power is somewhat equal (meaning the child is able to have a voice and express their needs/wants) the child feels valued. This does not mean that the child can do anything they want all the time – that would be permissive, when the adult hands the power over to the child because they themselves don’t know what to do and never follow through. Also on the side of that beam is the authoritarian style where the child has no control what so ever – it’s my way or the highway! Think about which style best represents you and how it affects your classroom.

I also learned about Decision Fatigue and how it has a big impact on young developing minds because they have less life experience. This is not to say that children should not be given choices, but to be careful that we are not asking them to make unnecessary ones. A perfect example of this is at lunchtime when children are tired and hungry. How many times have we asked them if they want each specific item and we get that glazed over look telling us that they can’t make a decision?

Samantha refers to the Upstairs and Downstairs parts of the brain. The Downstairs part is the brain stem which activates the flight, fright, or freeze response. Here the child is unable to use their words to express themselves, their Upstairs brain or the prefrontal cortex has gone offline and they have flipped their lid. This is the time for the adult to be a mirror neuron for the child. If you reflect calmness and quietly breathe in front of the child, you will calm the fire in their brain, and they will reflect the calmness in return. Of course, you have to be calm in order to do this, which may require many deep breaths on your part.

As early educators we walk a fine line between asking questions and making statements. Have you ever caught yourself saying: It’s time to line up, okay – Do you want to clean up? When saying this, we are giving a choice when there is none. When you rephrase it to: It’s time to line up – It’s time to clean up, it takes the question out and lets them know what is going on. Did you know that on average it takes a child 40 seconds to take in what you say and to change gears? Some children may need longer to process what you have said. If a child says no, how can you use compassion to validate them? This is where our Conscious Discipline language fits in so nicely, "You were hoping to keep playing, it is time to go outside. It’s hard, breathe with me, you can do it."

"No Steven, I said no Steven, did you not hear me Steven - I said no, what part of no do you not understand Steven, for heaven’s sake Steven knock it off, I told you to stop that Steven, why can’t you follow my direction Steven, STOP IT Steven."

...How are you feeling right now if you are Steven? A recent study came out that said by the time children are toddlers they receive a stern directive or correction every nine minutes! Step back and reflect on if you use negative instructional statements such as these or if you incorporate more positive instructional statements that guide your children.

One of the biggest sources of concern right now is the effect of screen time on a child’s meltdown/tantrum. When a child is watching the cartoon, voices with their high pitched sounds, the bright colors, and blue light excites the brain and creates adrenaline within the brain. The child becomes over stimulated. This is why the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children have no screen time for 2 hours after waking up and no screen time for 2 hours before going to bed.

How in the world is that ever going to happen? Parents are rushed in the morning and will do just about anything to get out the door. The same thing happens when they return home and have to get dinner ready, etc. Can you imagine telling a parent that they have to follow this? Samantha suggested looking for opening when you are talking with parents. For example, if a parent tells you how hard it is in the morning, you could tell them that you recently learned the recommended guidelines mentioned above.

A child’s brain is remarkable and how wonderful is it that we are a part of its journey. Early educators have a tremendous responsibility – work hard and sparkle as I know you can.

Until next time, I wish you well.

An unbalanced seesaw showing a permissive or authoritarian parenting style. On the low end of the seesaw is a sad face with the word 'disempower.' On the high end of the seesaw is an angry face with the word 'overpower.'
A balanced seesaw showing an authoritative parenting style, indicating that the child feels safe. On each side of the seesaw is a happy face with the word 'empower.'
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