What to Expect and How Adults can Help PART ONE: WHAT TO EXPECT
Children are born to be in relationship. The eventual goal is to learn to belong and at the same time to have an individual identity. Children grow into relationships in an ever-widening circle: Primary caregiver ⇒ parents ⇒ family ⇒ extended family/family friends ⇒ peer friends. Peers are actually gearing up for peer connections from a few months of age. Babies are drawn by interest to other babies and almost magically to siblings. Interaction with siblings is qualitatively different than to parents. Self-Esteem is: one’s sense of uniqueness, sense of competence, and sense of belonging.
There is a cycle of ups and downs to children’s emotional life. Myth: Terrible 2’s & 4’s Reality: Easy 2’s, Defiant 2 ½’s, Easy 3’s, Defiant/emotional 3 ½’s, Fun/out there 4’s, Emotional/out there 4 ½’s, Eager 5’s, Touchy late 5’s/early 6’s, Social/extremist later 6’s, Woe is me 7’s, Bouncy/out there 8’s
There is a progression to young children’s social development. Parallel play ⇒ Cooperative play ⇒ Interactive play ⇒ Highly negotiated interactive play More interaction = more conflict (and more opportunities for prosocial behavior) Disputes increase as awareness/skills/sophistication increase. This is an important part of play. With increased peer importance: the joy of love and inclusion; the agony of hate and exclusion School is a different world than home. It is their world; kids will play and interact differently. Gender differences increase particularly at two points: age 4 and age 7. At these points we see jumps in gender-separate play, and in the incidences of exclusion (girls) and aggression/competition (boys), especially in the spring, when children bloom with flowers. Social problems are not an interruption to preschool and primary curriculum; They are the most important part of the curriculum!
Gender differences are real and biologically based. Girls’ priority is belonging through connection; boys’ priority is belonging through status. Girls’ play is often relationship based; boys’ play is often action based.
Physical aggression is common in the preschool years. Kids don’t hurt kids “for no reason.” They hurt kids because in response to needs. Children need to learn the alternative ways to get their needs met, and have a chance to practice. Physical aggression is infrequent in kindergarten, rare in first grade.
Exclusion play is common in the preschool through adult years. Exclusion isn’t about the excluded child; it’s about protecting interactive space/relationships. Exclusion serves to affirming relationships and to protecting the integrity of activities It is also a logical response to black and white preschool thinking: good/bad, my friend/her friend Exclusion is on the road to learning to wield benevolent power.
PART TWO: How Adults can Help
Recognize opportunities for learning about life and relationship. There are both advantages and negatives to having siblings. Our job is to strengthen positives and reduce damage from negatives. Our job is to be sure kids are learning relationship skills in the process.
Be clear on family values and limits. Examine your values. Where are your priorities? (Privacy, support, teamwork, honesty?) Express and model those values to your children. “I’ll be sure and return Dad’s scissors right away because we always make sure to…” Establish limits for how family members interact that reflect your values.
Allow honest feelings. Don’t deny feelings - use supportive listening. Don’t require a “happy family” or “we’re all friends here” facade. Remember that having our negative feelings accepted allows us to move past them! Convey to kids that relationship ups and downs are normal and OK. Keep your own sense of humor.
Value the uniqueness of each child. Build one-on-one relationships with each child. Support privacy and ownership (when appropriate) to convey respect for the individual. Avoid comparing children (as we always see ourselves as the less desirable). Help children out of family or social roles they’re stuck in. “Equal is less”- give what each needs and teach children it’s not about keeping score.
When children fight Unhelpful intervention: “Knock it off”, take a side, solve their problem for them. Let them work it out on their own IF they have the skills and ability to use them right now. Helpful intervention: Teach them skills to use with each other: Positive requests (“what do you want him to do?”) Polite voice Talking about your own feelings Choosing to leave a situation Choosing whether to argue Interpret for children (“Jay says you took his block.” “Lea says you weren’t using it.” “Jay says …”) Offer “Talk it over” chairs or a “Peace table”. Give them responsibility for solving their own conflicts and problems. Teach them about tattling (to get someone in trouble) vs. informing (to keep someone safe). When it’s about peer pressure, speak to them separately and individually