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Assisting and Discipline – What should I do?

It is common for parents to experience some anxiety about guiding children’s behavior in the classroom. Engaging with children about discipline issues face-to-face is very different than reading about our policy in the comfort of your own home. For this issue of Handprints, I’d like to share an article written by former Co-op teacher and director Courtney Aldrich. This article provides points of consideration for you to think about regarding your role in our classroom. As always, I’m happy to discuss any questions you may have!
– Claire

Assisting and Discipline – What should I do?

One of the trickiest parts about being an assist parent is understanding your role in the classroom when it comes to the topic of discipline. Unfortunately, there is not a “one-size fits all”, straightforward set of procedures. It depends upon your comfort level and the dynamics of a particular situation. Hopefully this article will help you feel more comfortable and confident in handling the uncertainty of discipline issues.
For starters, there is a buzzword in Early Childhood Education called “guidance”. Guidance has replaced the word discipline, which has a negative, authoritative connotation. Guidance is the means by which we help children learn about working together, self-control, decision-making, problem solving, and conflict resolution in an encouraging atmosphere that maintains their self-esteem. Before a situation ever arises, it is so helpful if we have a mindset that allows for children’s mistaken behaviors (as opposed to misbehaviors) as an opportunity for us to help them learn. We expect adults to guide them in their academic learning, so why not expect that they’ll need guidance in their social and emotional learning as well?
OK, now that we have everyone thinking in a more positive manner about guidance issues, what do we expect of you as assist parents? The only mandatory involvement on your part is if a child is hurting him or herself or someone else. Safety is number one always. Unsafe behavior must be stopped immediately.
Usually, however, guidance issues are not issues of immediate safety. Often a child is not working well with another child or not following the teacher’s directions. In these cases you are more than welcome to help guide the child in a manner consistent with our preschool’s philosophy and within your personal comfort level. Prior to assisting, if you refer to our Guidance Policy, you’ll see that there are levels of guidance that range from very low intervention (such as consciously ignoring the behavior, physical proximity, and eye contact) to higher interventions (such as re-directing behaviors or giving choices). When talking or interacting with the children, it is helpful to use the “talk” and techniques you have heard and seen the teacher use. When in doubt, follow the cues of the teacher. Of course, you can always summon the teacher to handle a situation you are not comfortable addressing.
Another factor to keep in mind is that different children have different needs at this age depending on their own personal developmental timetable. This complicates guidance issues because “cut and dried” rules aren’t always appropriate. For example, it may not be appropriate to expect one child to be able to sit through an entire gathering time, while other children may be expected to do so. Once again, follow the cues of the teacher, and remember safety issues are always non-negotiable.
Always know that as teachers we appreciate your help with guidance in the classroom. One of the unique aspects of co-op is that we only have one teacher per class, so we cannot have one teacher attending to an individual child while the other teacher leads a group activity. We have a teacher’s aide position to help alleviate those guidance situations that demand the teacher’s undivided attention. There can be a variety of demands on our time depending on the day, however, so we still really depend upon parents. In your role as a teacher’s helper, guidance issues always take priority over cleaning or other assist duties in the classroom. The teacher will also guide the parent helpers in guiding the children when necessary – it is all part of how we work together to create a consistent, caring program. Hopefully this letter has helped ease some of your concerns – assisting in your child’s education is truly a privilege and a joy, and we want you to get the most out of it.
Written by Courtney Aldrich
Special Note: Our guidance policy, along with other useful information, is available in our Handbook located on our website: www.chelseacoop.org