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Children You May Meet in Preschool

As a cooperative preschool, we are unique because you as parents are regularly involved in the daily routine, exposing you to the immense joy and mess of preschool. As you form relationships with children in the classroom, it is common to notice certain behavior traits you may find concerning or even alarming. In this edition of Handprints, I have selected an article written by former Co-op teacher and director Courtney Aldrich. This article is immensely useful in helping us address our own children as well as addressing other children at preschool. It emphasizes that understanding is the key to navigating a child’s behavior, and provides tips to interact in these situations. I invite you to contact me if you have any questions about the ideas presented below. Thank you for all you do!

Children You May Meet in Preschool

Why won’t she play with anyone? Why doesn’t he smile? He’s having another temper tantrum! She just can’t sit still!
Did any names come to mind as you read the statements above? Every year we have children who exhibit behaviors like those mentioned above, which is to be expected in any group of preschool children. Why then, do we insist on “fixing” those behaviors, as if every child should come to preschool as an extroverted socialite, ready to participate in everything with a smile, while still following every transition, direction and teacher’s wish willingly and appropriately? What a mundane preschool classroom (and world) it would be if all children fit the mold of the child described above. We need introverts, extroverts, leaders, followers, instigators, reconcilers, risk takers, healers, thinkers, observers, questioners, movers, rule followers and rule breakers to give us a rich world of diversity and talents. My purpose in writing this article is to get all of us, as teachers, parents, and helpers in the classroom, to embrace the different behaviors and personalities we will see among children in preschool.
I cannot possibly focus on every type of child you will meet at preschool, but I’d like to discuss two of the more common types of children we see from year to year that may make us uncomfortable or unsure of what to do.
The Introvert
An introvert is a person who gets their energy by being alone. “They prefer to interact with the world on the inside by reflecting on their thoughts and ideas before sharing them with others on the outside. They refresh themselves by having quiet time and space. If they get it, they’ll play well with other kids and be more cooperative. If they don’t get it, their behavior will deteriorate.” (Kurcinka, Raising Your Spirited Child, 1998). In preschool, you may see these children play with others for a short duration, then go over to the library or writing center by themselves. You may notice they talk a lot with their own family or special friends, but then become quieter in the larger preschool environment.
We have to understand that introverted does not mean shy or unhappy. Sometimes a well meaning parent will try to “excuse” their child’s introverted behavior by saying, “He/She is just being shy.” We need to be careful about saying such words for a couple of reasons. First of all, we should not label our children. Labeling kids disrespects who they are as a whole person and puts them in a “box” that does not allow for growth or change. “Mom says I’m shy, so I will be shy.” Secondly, an introverted child is not necessarily shy at all. Because we perhaps don’t understand an introvert’s need for personal space or time to observe before joining in an activity, we wrongly interpret that behavior as someone who is shy. Another mistake we can make is to assume that if a preschooler is not playing with others, they must be unhappy. For an introverted child, just the opposite is true – having time alone is the key to happiness. While we always want any child to be welcomed and invited to join in others’ play, we need to respect an introverted child’s decision and need to pull out of the action and take some time to refuel. (Kurcinka)
In summary, know that we as teachers are paying attention to each child’s varying behaviors and needs. There is a difference between having social development issues and being an introvert. Just because a child does not choose to interact with others does not necessarily mean that they do not have the ability to interact with others. Just think, those introverts will make great decision makers, great listeners and learners, and they will form deep, long lasting relationships as they journey through life!

The Intense Child
“Intensity is the driving force behind the strong reactions of the spirited child. [It] makes every response of the spirited child immediate and strong. Managed well, intensity allows spirited children a depth and delight of emotion rarely experienced by others. Its potential to create as well as wreak havoc, however, makes it one of the most challenging temperamental traits to learn to manage.“ (Kurcinka) In preschool, you may see these children yell out, push, or hit if something upsets them. You may also notice them yelling out or physically trying to contact others when they are excited.
We have to understand that intense children do not understand their own intensity. They don’t know why they shriek or “overreact” to minor things. Their emotions overwhelm them. It is important not to label these children as “bad” or “aggressive”. Once again, children will live up to their labels. It is better to focus on the whole child and help them manage behaviors that are not desirable for them or us. As we learn to recognize children’s cues that their intensity is growing, we can redirect them to soothing activities such as sensory activities (sand, play-do) or reading books. We can also use humor to diffuse reactions, and we can help children recognize their own need for a self-imposed “time out” (not a punishment!) to calm themselves. (Kurcinka)
What should you do if a child does hurt another child (physically or emotionally) with their intense reaction? First of all, any unsafe behavior must be stopped immediately. Secondly, we always go to the victim first. Ignore the perpetrator for now. Make sure the victim is okay, empathize with them, and apologize on behalf of the perpetrator. “That really hurts when you get hit. I’m sorry that happened. Let’s figure out how we can make you feel better.” Or,” That really feels bad when someone calls you those names. I’m sorry you had to hear those words. Let’s figure out how we can make you feel better.” Later on, it is important to follow up with children on how to interact with children whose intensity is hard for them to deal with. Help them with words they can say, “I don’t like it when you yell in my face.” “Please don’t hug me so hard. That hurts.” Also help them with choices they can make in the classroom – play with someone else, tell a grownup – if another child’s intensity makes them uncomfortable.
Next, you need to address the perpetrator. If the child is still experiencing an intense emotional reaction, you may just need to be present with the child until he/or she is calm enough to talk. Then there are a series of things to do. 1) Identify the child’s emotion “You seem angry”. 2) If appropriate, ask, “What happened before you got angry?” 3) Use a red light/green light technique: Red light – identify the unacceptable behavior and why it is unacceptable (“That was hitting. We don’t hit because hitting hurts”), and Green light — identify a substitute (“Next time use your words to tell her you are angry or you can come find a grown up to help you.”) 5) Come up with restitution for the victim. Do not force a child to say sorry if they are not sorry. That is just teaching them to lie and deny their own angry feelings, and quite frankly, it can become the easy out so they don’t have to really change their behavior – they just keep saying “sorry” to get out of trouble. It is better to have a child express their angry feeling with words, and “express what they have learned from their behavior and what they are going to do differently next time. ‘I was angry that you took the ball. I learned that you don’t like it when I hit you. Next time I’ll use my words.’“ (Moorman, Weber, Teacher Talk, 1989) Sometimes you can brainstorm how to make the victim feel better, and the child can act on that idea.
In most cases, a teacher will handle the above situation, but it is helpful even as a parent to have the tools for working with your own children.
Just as a reminder, intense children are not necessarily aggressive children. Some intense children may express their intensity through intense sensitivity and crying meltdowns. Regardless of how a child expresses intensity, it is so important for us to realize that they are not doing this to drive us crazy, push our buttons, or manipulate us. They are just children and are learning how to manage themselves emotionally. And just think, these intense children will embrace life with enthusiasm, energy, and creativity, and will make great leaders or performers someday!
Our world is so wonderful because we are all so different. As members of a cooperative preschool, you have a unique opportunity to see how those differences are developed at a very young age. If we respect and embrace each child for who they are, we can help them be the best they can be with a message of love and acceptance.

Written by Courtney Aldrich