The Power of Guidance: Teaching Social-Emotional Skills in Early Childhood Classrooms by Dan Gartrell
Chapter 2: Misbehavior or Mistaken Behavior?
Dan Gartrell says he has difficulty with the term misbehavior because he believes that many teachers make a moral judgment about a behavior and then make another moral judgment about the child. With their patience running out, these teachers too easily conclude that the "misbehaving" child needs to be "disciplined." He explains that these teachers have resorted to patience rather than understanding. (Discussed in earlier chapter). Gartrell believes that these teachers did not look into the situation to figure out: (1) reasons why the child behaved in a certain way and (2) what they could teach so that the child can behave differently next time. These teachers have reacted to "misbehavior" in a way that prevented them from understanding the situation and taking a more positive approach.
The term "mistaken behavior" encourages teachers (and parents) to follow the guidance practices mentioned above. Mistaken behavior reminds us that the child is just at the beginning of a lifelong learning process, which we also are undertaking, and that in the process of learning we all make mistakes. Some people believe that misbehavior and mistaken behavior is the same thing, but they really are not. Knowing the difference between the two will help us with guidance alternatives for when conflicts arise.
There are two ways we can handle a problem when it arises at home or at school. We can use traditional discipline or use conflict resolution and guidance. The difference between the two approaches is that traditional discipline tends to criticize children - often publicly - for unacceptable behaviors, whereas guidance teaches children alternatives, what they can do instead. Traditional discipline punishes children for having problems they cannot solve, while guidance teaches children to solve their problems in socially acceptable ways.
"Misbehavior" Makes Us Think of Punishing
Traditionally, misbehavior implies willful wrongdoing for which a child must be disciplined (punished). Gartrell says that the term "misbehavior" is moral labeling of the child. What kind of children misbehaves? Children who are "naughty," "rowdy," "mean," "willful," "not nice." Although teachers who punish misbehavior believe they are "shaming children into being good," the opposite result may happen. Because they are young and inexperienced, kids may internalize negative labels, see themselves as they are labeled, and react accordingly.
Some people think of "misbehaving" children as "bad" children. I do not believe we should be telling children that they are "good" or "bad." Yes, we are all sinners and we make mistakes, but I don't like labeling kids. Either a child makes a "good choice" or a "bad choice." I don't think this hurts or labels the child; it just gets him to think of the choices he makes. However, I don't just stop there. I talk about what has happened and I teach the child acceptable alternatives. I also need to consider the reasons for the behavior. Is the child sick or tired? Is he struggling at home as well? Maybe my activity was too long or not age appropriate? Maybe I could have done some things to prevent the behavior? Maybe the child didn't even realize he made a "bad choice"?
Mistaken Behavior Makes Us Think of Guiding and Educating
In the process of learning the complex life skills of cooperation, conflict resolution, and acceptable expression of strong feelings, children like all of us, make mistakes. The guidance tradition suggests that teachers who traditionally have considered problems in the classroom as misbehaviors think of them as mistaken behaviors. Gartrell says, "By considering behaviors as mistaken, the teacher is freed from impediment of moral judgment about the child and empowered instead to meditate, problem-solve, and guide."
We model (or guide) problem solving in our classroom during center time. We play pretend games to help the children learn what to do in certain situations. I pretend to be a child and I take a toy from another child. Then I coach the child and say, "What just happened? What should you say to me?" I am trying to get the child to say, "That was my toy. Please give it back" in a kind yet firm voice. If the child doesn't understand, I model it for him. Then I ask, "Should you yell at me or hit me?" I am trying to get the child to understand that we use kind words to work out problems. "We don't yell or hurt our friends, but we let them know that we are upset with what they have done." I model everything for the child from my body language, tone of voice and word choice. I think if we say, "Use your words" that doesn't always mean very much to a child. We don't just tell them what to do. We model or guide what to do, say and how to say it.
I also let the kids know that I want them to try and work out their problems on their own, but if they need help, I am there for them. This is how we handle tattling: If a child tattles on another child I say, "Why don't you try and talk to the child again and I will listen." This way the child learns to handle problem independently, but he knows I am there if he needs me. Because I am standing by listening, the other child usually complies so the first child feels like he solved a problem on his own. If the other child does not comply, I model problem solving so the first child knows what to say or do in that type of situation. You don't have to give a lecture or be wordy. You just need to know how to say things so the child can understand.
Gartrell breaks down mistaken behaviors into 3 categories: experimentation, socially influenced and strong needs. Experimentation Mistaken Behavior is when a child has a desire to explore the environment and engage in relationships and activities. The child is not necessarily acting out, he is just curious. Socially Influenced Behavior is when a child desires to please and identify with significant others. This is usually seen when a child follows the behaviors of another person, often times for attention. Strong Needs Mistaken Behavior is a child's inability to cope with problems resulting from health conditions and life experiences. This is the most difficult level of mistaken behavior. The child may have suffered some type of abuse or trauma, or the child may struggle with something like ADHD. The child may even be very emotionally or socially delayed and this may cause mistaken behaviors. I didn't want to go into depth too much more on this part of the chapter, but if you would like more info about these categories, please let me know.
The Power of Guidance: Teaching Social-Emotional Skills in Early Childhood Classrooms by Dan Gartrell
Chapter 3: Beyond Discipline to Guidance
"Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it." (Proverbs 22:6). The word discipline means "instruction" or "training." However, Gartrell says the problem is that in European-American classrooms hundreds of years of harsh punishment in the name of discipline have tainted the term. The accepted modern meaning of "to discipline a child" is to punish. The first two chapters encouraged teachers and parents to modify their perspectives from being patient to being understanding and from seeing misbehavior to recognizing mistaken behavior. Chapter Three argues that it is also time to replace the practice of "discipline" with guidance.
The message of Chapter Three is that we can teach the social-emotional skills children need to function as healthy and productive adults in consistently positive ways. When we do so - helping children to solve their problems rather than punishing them for having problems they cannot solve - teachers (and parents) are practicing not traditional discipline, but guidance.
The interventions we make to address mistaken behaviors are firm, but friendly, instructive and solution oriented, but not punitive. We should help children learn from their mistakes rather than punish them for the mistakes they make. We should also empower children to solve problems rather than punish them for having problems they cannot solve. Finally, we need to help children accept consequences, but consequences that teach and leave self-esteem intact rather than punish.
Five Misunderstandings About Guidance
1. Guidance is Not Just Reacting to Problems
Many problems are caused when a teacher uses practices that are not appropriate for the age, stage and needs of the child. The teacher changes practices to reduce the need for mistaken behaviors. Guidance prevents problems; it does not just react to them.
2. Guidance Does Not Mean That the Program Won't be Educational
The Three R's are a part of the education program, but guidance is an even bigger part. The social skills that are learned through positive relationships come first in the education program. The importance of guidance means that the teacher makes relationships the first R. Children need to know how to relate with others in all parts of their lives. Beginning to learn social skills in early childhood will help children in their school years and in adult life. This is why I am an early childhood teacher and why I think preschool is so important.
3. Guidance is Not a "Sometimes Thing"
Some teachers think that it is natural to use "guidance" in one set of circumstances and "discipline" in another. Yet non-punitive guidance techniques exist for all situations and, once learned, are effective. For example, a common discipline technique is the time-out chair, but this usually embarrasses the child, seldom teaches a positive lesson, and is almost always punishment. The teacher can cut down on the use of this punishment by reducing the need for mistaken behavior and helping children to use words to solve their problems. If a child does lose control and needs to be removed, the teacher can stay with the child for a cooling-down time. The teacher then talks with the child about how the other child felt, helps the child find a way to help the other child feel better, and teaches positive alternatives for next time. Guidance encompasses a full spectrum of methods, from prevention to conflict resolution to crisis intervention to long-term management strategies.
4. Guidance is Not Permissive Discipline
Teachers who use guidance tend to rely on guidelines - positive statements that remind children of classroom conduct - rather than rules that are usually stated in the negative, as though the adult expects the child to break them. When they intervene, teachers direct their responses to the behavior and respect the personality of the child. Guidance is not just keeping children in line; it is actively teaching them skills they will need to know for their entire lives.
5. Guidance is Not Reducible to a Commercial Program
The guidance tradition is part of the child-sensitive educational practice of the last two decades. Guidance involves more than a workshop or a program on paper; it requires reflective commitment by the teacher, teamwork by the staff, and cooperation with families and the community.
Six Key Guidance Practices
1. The Teacher Realizes That Social Skills Are Complicated and Take into Adulthood to Fully Learn.
I am an adult and yet I still struggle with social skills and solving problems with my husband. We both have a lot of pride and God has been working on that in both of us. It's only been the past few years that we have both started to apologize more quickly, talk things out and pray when we are upset. I work with three-year olds and sometimes I expect that they should be able to work out their problems a little better because I think that they should know better. That is not the case because they are so new at being social. They are just kids! If I am an adult and I still struggle with some social/emotional issues, how much more will a three-year old struggle?
2. The Teacher Reduces the Need for Mistaken Behavior
One major cause of mistaken behavior is a poor match between the child and the educational program. You can't expect a three-year old to sit for a ten-minute story when his attention span is only three minutes. You can't expect a three-year old to share and get along when he is a new social being.
Gartrell also argues that the causes of problems often are not in the child alone but a result of placing inappropriate expectations on the child. We need to have high expectations - but expectations in line with each child's development. For example, three-year olds still have temper tantrums from time to time. You would think the tantrums would stop because they are out of the "terrible two's" stage. However, they are still so egocentric and their world falls apart when things don't go their way. Now I can get frustrated, but I am the adult and I need to remember that I am dealing with someone who has only been on this planet for three years. There is no way this child can learn all of the social skills he needs to survive in just that short amount of time. I am to guide the child in what to do when he is feeling frustrated and I am the one who needs to model what to do through my actions, words, tone of voice and body language. Unfortunately, I am not perfect and I need to remember that when I get upset and yell at my husband, I am also having temper tantrums of my own. You see, it's a life-long process for all of us. J
3. The Teacher Practices Positive Teacher-Child Relationships
The teacher works to accept each child as a welcome member of the class. She avoids singling out children either for criticism or praise. She understands that children who feel accepted in the classroom have less need to show mistaken behavior.
4. The Teacher Uses Intervention Methods That Are Solution Oriented
The teacher creates an environment in which problems can be solved peaceably. He intervenes by modeling and teaching conflict management. After intervention, the teacher assists the child with regaining composure, understanding the others' feelings, learning , more acceptable behaviors, and making amends and reconciling with the other child or group. The teacher recognizes that, at times, he too shows human frailties. The teacher works at monitoring and managing his own feelings. The teacher learns even as he teachers.
5. The Teacher Builds Partnerships with Parents
The teacher recognizes that mistaken behavior occurs less often when parents and teachers work together.
6. The Teacher Uses Teamwork with Adults
The teacher recognizes that it is a myth that she can handle all situations alone. She creates a teaching team of fellow staff and volunteers (especially parents) who work together in the classroom.
Chapter Four discusses family-teacher partnerships. This chapter is more geared toward teachers, so next time we will discuss Chapter Five: Using Guidance to Build an Encouraging Classroom: Beyond Time-Out. Thanks for reading!