In a decaying society, art, if it is truthful, must also reflect decay. And unless it wants to break faith with its social function, art must show the world as changeable. Ernst Fischer.
A personal skill of mine is humorous recognition of the duality of human nature. This is very valuable when addressing a confrontational situation between individuals both adult and child, as it enables one to address a person’s misbehaviour while still appealing to their better nature. Nothing pushes a person to misbehave like labouring under unfair expectations, and nothing fortifies a loop of poor behaviour like the reinforced notion of its inevitability. So bearing the duality of a person’s identity in mind, letting them know they are understood and presenting them to themselves as changeable is a core step in alleviating the oppressive feelings associated with being or behaving inappropriately, which is in turn a necessary part of transcending that behaviour.
The first step to successfully dealing with a tantrum or emotional outburst is to reassure the person that they are safe. Until the tantruming child is assured of their safety, no amount of logical reasoning will reach them. It might seem strange to us, to observe a child fear for their safety in a situation in which they are not under threat, but a characteristic of an emotional fissure is that once we are triggered into it, we no longer perceive our surroundings objectively. Everything is colored by our fear.
Reassurance of safety can happen in many ways, but often the most effective response has been one which blends a form of physical touch, environmental stimulation and verbal reassurance. For example, if a child in my care is experiencing an emotional outburst, I will typically offer them a hug and invite them to come with me into a more quiet part of the setting while I repeat a variation of, “You’re safe, I’m here, you’re here”. This mantra is designed to invite the tantruming person into the present and into a sense of security. Once we are somewhere more private and less-stimulating, I encourage the child in my care to focus on their breathing by joining me in a one-breath meditation. A one-breath meditation is a great way to tune into regulating ones breathing patterns without the prospect of attaining a deeply meditative state, which can feel very daunting, especially during an emotional outburst. Once the child has regained a greater degree of control over their breathing, I ask them whether they are ready to listen. Once they are, I explain what the situation demands from them – patience, calm, don’t hit Gary on the head with the Teddy, etc – and why. I ask them whether they’ve understood, and whether they would like to add anything. Once they are ready to rejoin the activity, I invite them to do so just as I would had there been no behavioural issue. This forgiving and inviting approach to misbehaviour gives the people I involve myself with / children I care for the space to process and grow from their mistakes. Few things bruise our relationships and dampen the nurturing benefits of our relationships like holding a grudge. Once the child has calmed down, demonstrated an understanding of their mistakes and a will to engage positively with the rest of the group, they must be treated no more suspiciously or begrudgingly than any of the other children – which is to say, of course, not at all.
The following is a plan for a typical day within an ECCE setting. Free play around designated activity stations is facilitated until 9am, with children arriving at the setting as early as 7.
(Typically, Irish creches and preschools accept children – as young as 6 months – as early as 6am, letting them go as late as 7.30pm – but as this is my creative vision for an optimal day, I allow myself to take creative liberties. Children are collected from the setting at 3.30pm.)
At 9am, children engage in circle time, in which themes of cooperation are discussed and cooperative games are played (eg. Taking turns adding onto a story as they pass a ball). This is in order to bring the often individualistic vibe of free play into a vibe of cooperation in a way which does not negate the individual – rather, makes room for it. Other circle time activities include song singing, show and tell, etc. At 9.30, children are each given pen and paper and encouraged to draw a picture of their feelings. 10am – snack time – fresh fruit and water. 10.30-11am – free play. 11am – music lesson – children swap drawings and “play” whatever emotion is on the drawing they hold, taking turn experimenting with a variety of instruments as conduits for emotion. 12am – lunch. Fruit, rice and vegetables. 1pm – free outdoor play. 2pm – 10 minute guided meditation followed by nap time. 2.40pm – afternoon snack, crackers and grapes. 3.30pm – children are collected by parents and taken home.
Long working hours split the family unit. An optimum day in an ECCE setting would be able to occur in a society which was oriented around the family, in which the community comes together to promote the well being of the child. In lieu of a healthy culture stemming from a functionally egalitarian economy, our attempts to facilitate the optimal development of our children (and consequently species) will be dragged through the recurring nightmare of being nipped in the bud, time and time again.