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Author: Lindsay Pereira

Lindsay Pereira is a Montréal-based freelance writer, creative writing Master's student, parenting and early education blogger, "mommy products" and children's book reviewer, and (exhausted!) mom of three darling troublemakers (including twins!). She has extensive academic writing experience in the fields of art history, anthropology, and English literature. In her previous (pre-mommy) life, Lindsay was a licensed MassoKinesitherapist and enjoyed writing and blogging on the subjects of therapy, health, and wellness.

Child having a tantrum

How to Address Challenging Preschool Behavior

Figuring out how to deal with challenging behavior in preschool-aged children can certainly be a daunting task for any parent, caregiver or educator. The preschool years can be, more often than not, a tough time to get through (for both children and adults), chalk full of tantrums, troublesome habits, anxiety, and fibbing. Truthfully… that’s merely the tip of the toddler-sized behavioral-issue-iceberg. Nonetheless, these little people need our encouragement and support while they try to understand, process and navigate the sometimes hard to decipher world around them. Let’s help guide them, shall we?

What Exactly IS Considered to be a Challenging Behavior?

Typically, challenging behavior is considered be repeated patterns of behavior that often interferes with a child’s learning or interaction in social settings. This may include an obvious unresponsiveness to developmentally appropriate guidance, as well as reactions such as prolonged tantrums, disruptive vocal and motor behavior, both verbal and physical aggression, destruction of property, noncompliance, withdrawal, and self-injury.

One very important point for parents, educators, and guardians to consider is that challenging behaviors during preschool years is often one of the strongest indicators of more serious problematic behaviors later on, such as delinquency, antisocial behavior, aggression, and substance abuse.

Interestingly, research shows that participation in a high-quality preschool education, one which takes into consideration an emphasis on children’s social development, may reduce challenging behavioral rates. Therefore, a good, solid, well-established preschool program can indeed serve as a long-term protective factor for children deemed at risk for developing challenging behaviors.

The Importance of Responding Positively to Negative Triggers

Once a child’s challenging behavior triggers are identified, then that information can be used to respond in a more positive manner to the child’s needs. Consider these tips on how to get started:

1) Sometimes, a simple change in setting makes a big difference:

Guide the child to another (play or class) room, change the class activity, have them seek out different friends…whatever it takes to refocus their energy. If they’re feeling overstimulated, help them take their negative energy level down a notch or two by suggesting activities that are more relaxing, like painting and listening to music. Or, (and here’s my personal favorite) get into nature. Why not take everybody’s energy outside with some good ‘ol fashioned outdoor playtime? Redirecting energy into physical activity can solve a myriad of behavioral problem situations.

2) If you keep it calm, chances are, they will, too:

Respond to their challenging behavior calmly. Yes, it’s harder than it sounds, of course. But, do keep in mind that if a child’s behavior has made you (the adult in charge) angry, taking a quick step back and a few minutes to calm down is a must. Before deciding how to respond to the troubling situation, this mini-mental break will help you keep your cool and figure out how to deal with it all.

3) Explain and clarify what appropriate behavior is:

Perhaps a child simply has a hard time understanding what is considered to be a socially acceptable behavior. In this case, you may need to talk them through more suitable ways of expressing themselves and their desires. If a child continually argues about sharing toys with classmates or siblings, then teach him how to ask to trade or borrow.

4) Take notice of any positive changes in behaviors:

When a positive behavior presents itself, always provide kids with genuine praise for their effort. Hey, they worked very hard to get to this point. So, verbally acknowledging their new positive approach lets them know that you respect them and their efforts.

5) And, most importantly…be consistent and avoid surprises:

Consistent and predictable routines give kids with challenging behaviors cues on follow-through. As the adult in charge, be consistent in what you ask them to do and follow through on what you say. Anxiety sets in when there is a change in routine or schedule, setting the stage for tantrums and meltdowns, so prepare a child ahead of time if something different is going to happen. A clear explanation will minimize behavioral outbursts and stress.

You Can Never Get Too Many High-Five’s and Pats on the Back

Encouraging a child to alter their challenging behavior, from negative to positive, can be one tricky tightrope walk. But, when children get plenty of praise, genuine encouragement and even sometimes a few rewards for behaving well in a normally cringe-worthy situation, then they’re more likely to want to keep behaving well.

Children & Tech

The Importance of Sensory Play in a Tech-Driven World

What exactly is ‘sensory play’ you may ask? Though it might sound odd to you, sensory play is, simply put, a hands-on activity that encourages children to use their senses.  How can playing with a bunch of stuff in some bin actually help our kids develop? Well, sensory bin play time stimulates a child’s senses: touch, sight, smell, sound, and taste, as well as encourages physical movement and balance, all through the exploration of a chosen learning media.

Ummm…OK…So, What IS a Sensory Bin?

In order to understand if sensory bin play will be useful for your children and classrooms, you obviously need to know what a sensory bin is! Basically, sensory bins are tactile experience (mini)environments. For example, a sensory bin can be something as simple as a storage container filled with an interesting medium, such as beans, sand, pasta, rice, or even water. This container turned ‘mini learning environment‘ should ideally be large enough to allow children to experience and explore its contents without the worry of those contents overflowing.  Honestly, the learning possibilities with these bins are truly limitless!

Sounds Like Fun…But, Let’s Talk About Research, Shall We?

Research on the benefits of children’s sensory bin play experience tells us lots of great things we, parents and teachers, all LOVE to hear, like:

1) Physical skill development:

Through bin activities, children develop and strengthen new motor skills through the sifting, shaping, scooping, molding, dumping, splashing, and whatever else they can think of doing with the sensory medium. All these actions support the development of their muscles and fine/gross motor skills.

2) Cognitive skill development:

Children develop an understanding of their environment, even before they can speak, by actively exploring their surroundings via their senses. As they grow and become more verbal, they can then describe the similarities and differences in what they touch, taste, see, hear, and smell. Sensory play is excellent for such growth.

3) Social and communication skills development:

Working closely together with your classmates at the sand and water bin/table provides kids with wonderful opportunities to observe their fellow peers handle sensory materials, which in turn gives them the idea to try out what their friends just did, which in turn leads them to share their own unique ideas and discoveries, thus, building relationships. Additionally, their actions during sensory play give children the opportunity to communicate both verbally and non-verbally. A young preschooler may display a look of surprise as their hand makes contact with the table sand. Another may happily giggle when they cause water to splash repeatedly.

4) Developing a ‘sense of self’:

As children directly play and explore with/in a sensory experience environment, they learn to communicate their preferences, essentially making sense of the environment (and world) around them.

5) Emotional development:

As you can imagine, sensory play can be a calming experience for children. For many, it helps them work through any anxiety, frustrations, or troubling emotions. As well, sensory play grants children a place to express their positive feelings, such as happiness, excitement, and curiosity.

Why is Sensory Play Specifically Important for Preschoolers?

As children interact with their environment, and each other, they develop an ‘internal dialogue,’ leading them to question their surroundings and investigate their world. How? They do so by smelling, listening, grasping, rubbing, shaking, tasting… anything and everything! THIS is the amazing part, where they are using their senses to collect precious data about the world they live in. And, from this such data, they will then attempt to answer their own questions and quench their precious curiosity.

Bullying Girl

How to Calm an Angry Child

It can be quite difficult to express our emotions, even as adults. But, as a young child, with limited vocabulary and trouble figuring out exactly how they feel, dealing with emotions can be just plain overwhelming. Anger is a particularly tricky feeling to verbalize, and tiny tots sometimes have no clue whatsoever how to handle such a big, fiery feeling. So, how can parents and teachers help soothe an angry little person?

Angry Child+Trouble Expressing Emotions=Temper Tantrum Trouble

Whether it’s fighting over a toy with a classmate or waking up on the wrong side of the bed in the morning, young children do certainly get frustrated and angry at times. Now, while the emotion of anger itself isn’t necessarily deemed a ‘good’ or ‘bad’ thing, the manner in which a child does deal with that anger can be classified as either constructive or destructive. As a parent, guardian or teacher, it will often be tempting to simply give the child in question a time-out or consequence for verbally or physically acting out in anger. However, it can be infinitely more productive if you, dear adult-in-charge, help them instead to develop the ability to cope with that anger.

Let’s Start by Identifying Anger and Aggression in Young Children

All children, at various times in their development, display frustration, aggression, and anger, even during infancy. By the time young children start preschool, approximately between the ages of two and three, these types of behavior are quite common, although children do vary widely in this behavioral area.

One prime example of anger in a toddler/preschool aged child is the ever-so-dreadful temper tantrum which is characterized by emotional outbursts and is often triggered by a moment of frustration, or an inability to deal with a particular emotion or situation. Aggression can manifest directly because of these “angry emotions.” Although dealing with a tantrum can be one emotionally exhausting roller-coaster ride for the adult present, it is in fact considered to be an entirely normal occurrence one observes in young school-aged children.

Use These Strategies to Help Calm an Angry Child

1) Discuss the (Explosive) Situation:

It can be hard to stay calm and composed when a toddler is flying-off-the-handle-berzerk, but keeping your cool is what you’ll need to do. Start by asking the child to explain what happened to cause the angry outburst. Sometimes, all it takes is some adult help in talking through an issue, especially when children find it hard to verbalize their anger, and calm down. If a child doesn’t want to talk to you about it, they may feel more comfortable “talking” to a stuffy or puppet, a classroom pet, or even an imaginary friend.

2) It’s Important to Always Give Comfort:

Little people always want to know that you’re on their side and that you genuinely care about how they feel. All children, regardless of age, are comforted by your physical presence when facing an emotionally frustrating situation. Never underestimate the power of a smile, pat on the back, high-five, or quick hug to help make a child feel accepted.

3) Get Moving and Shake the Anger Out:

A wonderful way to help kids let off some (angry) steam is to get them moving. Let them (safely) get physical (within reason) by encouraging them to stomp their feet, run around, punch a pillow, or pound on play-doh. Don’t like those ideas? No problem. You can also have them release all that pent up angry energy by dancing around the classroom or taking everyone out for a walk. Any activity that helps a child refocus their thoughts away from their anger, especially ones that encourage a child to do things they particularly enjoy, like reading, drawing, or painting, is a step in the right (calming) direction. For some kids, getting creative IS getting physical.

4) Speak Up and Praise that Good Behavior:

Lastly, always remember to let a child know that you notice when they deal with their anger in a positive manner. Water that little flower and watch it grow.