By Elyse Jacobs
With social isolation being a leading cause of aggression and potential violence, teaching inclusion of self and others becomes more than a social skill. It becomes a tool of peace, an anti-violence prescription.
In my observations of young children over the past 30 years, I have noticed the many ways they attempt to connect with others. Some are very effective and lead to new or maintained friendships through being included in the play. Other ways are ineffective with the results being rejection, hurt feelings and often some physical form of aggression to express feelings of sadness and anger.
While hitting, biting and other physical as well as verbal forms of aggression in young children certainly cause the other to pay attention, the result is not what was intended: being included. As teachers, we are in an excellent position to ask questions and redirect. "What did you want to happen?" "Did you want to join in?" "Did hitting help?" Or as Dr. Phil might say, "How’s that working for you?" From there we can help the child find a more successful solution to connecting with others and being included.
It also helps for those being inappropriately approached for connection to understand what the other child might really want. Imitating their own very recently transformed behavior, the three-year-olds had been calling some of the puppets, "bad," and having them hit and bite and jump on other puppets. And each other.
As we do not want children to be labeled as bad for their behavior, which would further isolate them from the group, I mentioned that some puppets (and children) had not yet learned to connect. "They may want to be your friend and play with you but don’t know how, so they may try to get your attention inappropriately. We can help them learn."
Differentiating between behaviors and being bad is a challenging topic for many adults, no less the youngest of us. I was amazed at the level of understanding of one three-year-old. She invented a game that captured the essence of this weighty concept.
She hid under a table and asked me to use a bad puppet to scare her. She’d then hold up her hand and shout, "STOP! You can come play with me. Quick hide with me. Here comes another bad puppet." The game went on and on skirting the edge of fear and delight. Soon other children joined and took over my role as well. Each time the children returned to expressive arts, they played the game. Good and evil has been played out for centuries. This was an enjoyable, age appropriate, child-sized version.
We never know when we give young children tips for understanding others or how their creativity will spark new forms of play that embrace big concepts.
Understanding self and others are essential components of emotional and social intelligence. Our becoming familiar with popular scientific concepts informs our teaching.
Six Seconds is one of many recognized organizations that gives well researched free information on their website, http://www.6seconds.org/ . I trained with Six Seconds and found their model very helpful in my work with young children.
They have links to articles and games to play, including the reading of faces to determine how others are feeling. There are many tips on their website for parents and teachers on developing emotional and social literacy.
I’ve found that waiting for a teaching moment to disperse small parcels of skill building information works best. Helping children better understand themselves and others will benefit them throughout their lives.