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Posted by on in What If?

depression in kids 800x400

This isn’t the kind of thing I typically write about – and it would certainly seem to have nothing to do with early childhood – but, like most of us, I’ve been thinking a lot about school shootings. I’ve found myself asking: What is it that incites such rage in these young people that they see killing as the only resort?

Immediately following all of these incidents, everybody talks about the need for better attention to mental health, in addition to gun control. I couldn’t agree more that that’s essential. But if you’re like me, you’re probably thinking about mental health as it relates to people old enough to purchase or acquire guns. People who have been bullied or ignored for so long that something finally snaps in them.

Upon reflection, however, I’ve realized we can probably assume that the kind of anger, frustration, and helplessness – the mental health issues – evident in school shooters doesn’t just suddenly crop up. It builds! And based on what I know to be happening in the education and lives of today’s young children, I’m firmly convinced that it often begins in early childhood.

Let’s think about it. According to a 2013 report, depression affects approximately 4% of preschoolers in the United States today, with the number diagnosed increasing by 23% every year. And here’s a depressing graphic from 2013:

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Posted by on in What If?

road

When we talk about children’s challenging behavior, there are several conversational roads we take. The first, more old-fashioned and “mindless", instead of "mindful” (Ellen J. Langer) road we take is this: “He’s spoiled. His father does everything for him. They don’t’ discipline him at home.” This is a comment from a very young ECE student about a two-and-a-half year old in her classroom. “We have talked to the parents and they have him in therapy.” Not knowing all the ins and outs of the relationship of the family and center, all I could say was, “He’s two and a half? He hits, and won’t share? Hmmm. Sounds sort of two-ish to me. But has he been screened for vision and hearing? Those issues often make a big difference in behavior."

My response, on the fly, was born of experience. I once had a four who would refuse to look at puzzles and letters. His Dad was frantic that he wouldn’t be ready for kindergarten, and coached the tearful boy at home every night. (Imagine!) I asked about his vision, because his drawing was disconnected, heads and arms floating away from the bodies like helium balloons. The father was military, so they had only visited a military pediatrician. “Let’s wait six months,” they heard, time after time. I consulted with a friend whose daughter had difficulty with her eyes. The mom (who wasn’t, thank God, in the military) took her child to a terrific pediatric ophthalmologist. I recommended that the parents “got out of the service” to get more expert help. They got permission, and the boy was diagnosed with farsightedness! This boy couldn’t see up close, hence no puzzles, no letters. But lots of anxiety due to not being able to perform for his Dad. Did I mention his social skills were poor at school, and he cried in frustration over small things? Do you think his social skills improved after he got glasses? If you think no, you do not yet get the connection between the body and mind in a young child.

Another road that parents and teachers take is to label a child as having a disability without systematic observation by a teacher or other professional. Years after the boy with farsightedness, I had a four-year-old girl in my group with intense behavioral issues (pinching teachers HARD and not letting go, hitting other children). Her mother asked me almost every day, “Do you think she has ADHD?”. That is another quick judgment that parents and teachers make when they face a child who is having trouble fitting in, socially. Noting that I wasn’t qualified to judge, and, indeed, would be practicing medicine without a license to diagnose (which I tell my students, often—don’t diagnose), I suggested we go through the Child Find process to make sure we weren’t missing anything. In this case, the child passed her tests with flying colors, but the Child Find committee wisely recommended parenting classes at a reputable agency run by the school system. No more two hours of television before school. No more self-chosen bedtimes. The girl’s behavior improved.

Every child is an individual. Looking at them as problems isn’t helpful, though, heaven knows, it is terribly easy to do considering the mad pace of the average child care center. Without support from a teaching team with years of experience, a young teacher might flounder in the weeds, or continue to think that a two-year-old who hits is spoiled. End of story.

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Posted by on in Early Childhood

Let’s face it. Parenting is no walk in the park, especially in today’s world, with concerns about things like GMO’s, too much screen time, and pressure to push your child to head of the pack at school and on the sports field. Parents make use of certain strategies in order to cope with and handle these and other concerns. And, in so doing, place themselves into four, fundamental categories. I’m sure you’ve seen all of them and maybe you’re one of them.

Authoritarian parenting

1. Head Honchos

Head Honchos provide lots of rules and structure. They emphasize obedience and set high standards. These parents dole out harsh punishment when their children misbehave, believing this will teach them important life lessons they won’t forget. Unfortunately, children don’t always understand these lessons, because the emphasis has been on obedience, above all else. Instead of being inspired to reach their greatest potential, these children may only follow the rules to stay out of trouble.

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Posted by on in What If?

children transitioning 640x320

If there were a list of things that young children aren’t suited (developmentally ready) to do, at the top of that list would be being still and being quiet. Yet those are the exact two requirements we try to impose on young children during most transitions. We ask them to form an orderly line (something else they’re not adept at), to stand still, and to refrain from talking. We then ask them to move from one place to another in that manner, pretending to hold bubbles in their mouths so they’ll be silent.

I ask you: Does this demonstrate an understanding of child development? Does this show respect for who and what young children are? Or is this simply a desire for control?

Don’t get me wrong; I’m not a fan of chaos. I absolutely want the children to do as I ask! But if I’m asking them to do that for which they’re not developmentally ready – and for which they have no intrinsic motivation – resistance and chaos will be the results. Young children perceive when we’re disrespecting them and they make us pay for that!

The end result is frustration on the part of both the children and the teachers. And that frustration isn’t pretty. On the teachers’ part, during site visits I’ve witnessed them resorting to yelling at the kids to get them to comply. It’s no wonder, then, that transitions come to be dreaded by everyone involved. And it’s no wonder that many experts refer to transitions as a waste of learning time. How can learning take place in such an environment?

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Posted by on in Early Childhood

How do you like to go up in a swing… up in the air so blue?” (Robert Lewis Stevenson)

I couldn’t even imagine a park without swings as a child. They were my absolute favorite and the first place I’d run when we got to the playground. I can remember back when, as a toddler, I would be so excited to get into those wood frame “baby swings". Mom or Dad would push from the front and I can still see their smiling faces moving away and then coming closer.

pushing baby on swing

But now, swings are methodically disappearing from parks, playgrounds, school yards, and child care centers. The reasons are nonsensical. Many maintain that swings have no value to children’s development and are hazardous. I would imagine Robert Lewis Stevenson is rolling over.

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