In my book Monday Memo: Creating Change in Early Childhood Education, One Message at a Time, I introduce the concept of Absolute Intentional Regard (AIR). AIR refers to the lens (regard) with which we view young children. “Absolute” means not wavering, regardless of actions, and “Intentional” refers to the responsibility of the adult to take purposeful and thoughtful action.
AIR is not a lassez-faire, come-what-may approach to teaching. It requires problem solving skills, an understanding of child development, and a sense of humor. Teachers who practice AIR have a default setting in their internal talk that is different from other teachers. For example, when a child cries at drop off, almost every teacher will rush to soothe him. After a few weeks, however, many teachers become less responsive, assuming “that’s just the way his is, he’s a crier.” After a month, those teachers might even begin to put him in a time out spot, alleging that his tears are upsetting the other children.
As a former preschool director, I had the experience with a child who cried inconsolably. Every day for several weeks she cried at drop off and wept all morning long. My heart ached for her. We tried everything to help her cope. We changed her routine (let’s go feed the fish in the lobby!), dropped her off on the playground, or the library, or the same room as her brother. Nothing worked. Mom tried bribery (we can go to McDonald’s tonight if you stop crying) as well as punishment. Nothing.
Three weeks later, her teacher was out for the day, and I became the classroom greeter. On the way out of my house, I grabbed a teddy bear from our living room. When my friend came in to school, I ran up to her and told her that we found a bear that needed someone to care for it, and asked if she could help. She hugged and kissed the bear. Then I noticed her hesitate for a moment, look at mom, and start to cry again. Something in me clicked. I went out on a limb and asked mom to tell her several times that night and in the morning that she had permission to be happy at school. I wanted her to know it was okay NOT to cry. Sometimes we just need permission to change our behaviors.
Tuesday came and our bear was waiting for her when she entered the building. She ran for it, stopped, and turned around to her mom. Mom praised her for nurturing the bear, and left. No tears! My friend adopted that bear for a few weeks, then didn’t need him anymore
I had a chance to use AIR just last week: Stay tuned for next Monday’s memo and the story of a 3-year-old, his snow boots, and my left eye...