Q&A Series: Toddler Classroom

voices of your village Sep 19, 2019



In the second episode of our Q&A series, I got to chat with Sarah, who is both a mama to her 14-month-old son and a teacher, who primarily works with two-year-olds. 

There is certainly an emphasis on teachers connecting with parents in order to gain an understanding of their students’ backgrounds, but I think it’s equally important and is sometimes overlooked, for parents out there to hear what it’s like behind the scenes for the teacher. It’s beneficial for parents to hear that teachers are working with just as much intention as they are. This understanding can lead to parents and teachers finding some common ground, and realizing they are all doing what they believe to be in the best interest of the kiddo.

Sarah’s first question for me has to do with the CEP method - she has found it difficult to find the one-on-one time needed to implement the CEP method since she is responsible for so many kiddos. For instance, she has one particular kiddo who, whenever another child is getting attention, likes to climb on her. This makes taking the time to use the CEP method difficult. This is a very valid question, and also applicable to parents of more than one child.

As part of the CEP method, we have something called a “come watch” which is specifically used in the classroom. The key is to get the other kiddos involved. We want to normalize that it’s okay to have feelings, and we can use these situations as ways to build empathy. So, when we have a kiddo who is feeling a hard emotion, we want to respond to them in a bit of an increased volume so the rest of the kiddos in the classroom can hear, and then we want to get them all involved. For example: “Ugh, Mya, you were working really hard to build that tower, and somebody bumped into it and it fell down. Ugh (looking around the room to the other kiddos), what could we do to help Mya?” I’m not only connecting with Mya in that moment but then giving the other kiddos the role of “supporter” while also giving them attention at the same time. When I was working in a classroom with small toddlers, it was amazing to see how excited they were to take on this role. 

Next, Sarah asked me how to allow kiddos to feel their emotions in situations in which it’s disturbing to the other kiddos, like naptime. Naptime is 2 ½ hours in Sarah’s classroom, and she has a couple of kiddos who tend to wake up much sooner than that, who end up feeling some hard emotions and throwing fits while the other kiddos are trying to sleep. I first suggested that Sarah talk to parents to find out what naps and sleep schedules look like at home, to figure out why short nap times may be happening in the first place. I also suggested implementing sound machines in her classroom. Once she’s got the white noise thing nailed down, I suggested setting up a table in the corner with quiet activities like playdough or coloring. The white noise of the sound machines will make any voices much less disruptive to the sleeping kiddos. 

She then asked how to handle two kiddos who are upset at the same time, for example, if there is a conflict over something. Which child to attend to is circumstantial. As the teacher, she will know which kiddo really needs the emotional development support more (spoiler: it may not be the kiddo who got hurt or had something stolen from them). If at all possible, she can attend to the kiddo who needs her the most, while passing the other child off to the other teacher in the room. If it’s the kiddo who hit another kiddo who needs her more, for example, I advised her that what she doesn’t want to do is add more shame: “I saw you hit her and now she’s crying.” Instead, empathize: “Ugh, you really wanted to play with that ball and she was still using it. It’s so hard to wait.” Remember, behind every behavior is a feeling, so we want to connect with that feeling first. I reminded Sarah that if no one is bleeding and everyone is safe, she should take a few breaths to find her calm so she can respond instead of react. 

We chatted a bit about how to handle a kiddo who seems to be seeking attention through negative behavior. When a kiddo is doing this, we want to find little ways to give him positive attention. Focus on highlighting positive character traits and behaviors. For instance, “Steve, thank you so much, I saw you step aside so Julia could walk by you. That was so thoughtful of you to make space for her.” Every tiny little moment you can find, point it out and praise him. Remember the 4 to 1 ratio: for every negative thing we say to a child, we want to say four positive things - for this kiddo, make it more than four. When this attention-seeking kiddo, say, pushes another kiddo, rather than putting the focus on him, limit the attention you give him in that moment and instead focus on the kiddo he pushed. You can still validate him: “Oh, she was in your way so you pushed her. I’m going to go make sure she is calm,” and leave it at that. Try to make as much of the attention you are giving him positive attention rather than negative attention. 

Sarah asked how to handle other adults who aren’t totally on board with this stuff, for example, a co-teacher. The good news is we don’t have to do this right 100% of the time. It’s so hard to break our habits and many folks are just using the tools they have and doing what they know. It takes a lot of work and intention to change. I suggested she share some of our podcast episodes, because it is a tool, and some episodes which are helpful specifically for teachers and educators are Episode 38 on coping, and Episode 63 with Lauren, the co-creator of the CEP method, which is about emotion coaching for emotion processing. Also, Self-Reg and The Whole-Brain Child are two great books I suggested recommending to her colleagues.

I’d like to emphasize that early educators are overworked and underpaid. When we moved to Vermont, If I were to take a position teaching in an early childhood center, I would have taken almost a 50% pay cut, which is a huge reason why I left the classroom. Thank you, Sarah, for doing this work with such intention, even outside of school hours. Cheers to you, sister - you’re amazing. I’m so grateful there are teachers like you doing this work. 


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