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Little Children, Big Feelings: Pedagogy for Supporting Social-Emotional Growth at Home

In the early years at Avenues, the desire to help students be “emotionally unafraid and at ease beyond their borders” is the bedrock of all we do. We refer to research-driven social emotional learning (SEL) pedagogies to teach students key skills they need to become caring and contributing members of the diverse, inclusive and ever-expanding communities to which they belong. We use mindful moments, morning meetings, closing circles, the creation of community agreements and plenty of intentional modeling, to help students become confident, independent, resilient, empathetic, mindful and culturally aware as they discover who they are and all they are capable of.

These days, many families are extending their children’s education at home, and this applies no less to their social-emotional development! When your child encounters a challenge and presents challenging behavior, here are three valuable pedagogical approaches you can use to navigate the moment together.

Connection Before Correction

Children first need to feel a sense of belonging and trust before they can begin to listen and connect with others. As teachers, we work hard to build strong classroom communities where children feel seen, heard and known so that there is a culture of trust that can help us better address challenging behavior down the road. In moments of conflict and stress, it may seem easier to correct your child. Instead, focus on building trust and connection:

  • Listen before asking to be listened to.
  • Validate your child’s feelings by naming them without judgment “You seem really frustrated (or angry, anxious, nervous, disappointed) and letting them feel those feelings.
  • We ask questions before offering answers in an effort to better understand our students’ experiences and their impact.

The Power of “Yet”

There has been a lot of talk about “growth mindset”, a concept developed by psychologist Carol Dweck. In an article.) for the Harvard Business Review, Dweck sums up her findings:

“Individuals who believe their talents can be developed (through hard work, good strategies, and input from others) have a growth mindset. They tend to achieve more than those with a more fixed mindset (those who believe their talents are innate gifts). This is because they worry less about looking smart and they put more energy into learning. “

People with a fixed mindset are convinced that any lagging skill will always lag. They tend to say things like “I’m just not a math person”, or “I can’t do this.”, or “This is too hard.” In our classrooms, we help students cultivate a growth mindset by encouraging them to see challenges as opportunities and mistakes as keys to learning:

  • First and foremost, we resist the temptation to jump in and “make things better”;
  • We model how we make mistakes and move on;
  • We read books with characters who persevere;
  • We display posters that remind students of what they can do or say when the going gets tough.
  • We often complete our students’ sentences with the word yet:
    • I can’t do this... yet
    • I don’t know this... yet
    • I’m not good at this… yet
    • This doesn’t make sense… yet

“They aren’t giving you a hard time, they are having a hard time”

I first heard these words in 2008 when touring nursery schools for my now-8th grader. The director who welcomed us asked us to remember these words when tantrums erupted and buttons were pushed: “they aren’t giving you a hard time, they’re having a hard time.”

The point she was making, and that we educators always work to remember, is that children don’t misbehave because they want to, but because they lack the skills to do otherwise. Our job, as the adults in their lives, is to take a deep breath and try to figure out what is making it hard for them. This is not unlike the way we would ask ourselves what is making it hard for a struggling reader to learn to read.

This approach to behavior lies at the heart of what Dr. Stuart Ablon, director of Think:Kids and an associate professor of child and adolescent psychology at Harvard Medical School, refers to Collaborative Problem-Solving. Dr. Ablon came to work with Avenues faculty and presented to families as well. At its core, Collaborative Problem-Solving helps teachers work with students in identifying a lagging social or behavioral skill and then co-creating and implementing a plan to strengthen that skill. When you look at your child’s missteps, consider that they would do it if they could do it. You will see that you can show them how to do it and help them get back on track–together.

When we remind ourselves of the complexity of children’s social-emotional lives, we as adults are better able to understand, support and guide them through their behavioral development. By listening, modeling, persevering and collaborating, we are giving them tools to be “emotionally unafraid and at ease beyond their borders” at home, in the classroom, in their communities and beyond.

If you are interested in hearing more about how we support social-emotional learning in the early years, please not hesitate to reach out to us at admissions-ny@avenues.org.

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