The Self-Reg educator or parent seeks to understand, rather than manage a child’s behaviour. In effect, what is being reframed here is what it means to see the Kindergarten teacher as a professional and not a glorified baby-sitter: someone who has been trained to ask the right kind of “Why” and has the tools to find an answer.
If it sometimes feels more like being a nanny than an educator, it is because young children become so impossible when they regress under stress. But being a “professional” is not a matter of insisting on expectations and not tolerating any deviations. The “professional stance” is that of recognizing and helping children to recognize when they are becoming overstressed and what to do about it: even—especially—when it is particularly hard. We don’t have the luxury of not asking Why: not when the stakes are so high for a child’s future. Nor can we afford the error of asking the wrong kind of “Why.”
One of the great challenges for Kindergarten teachers is that they have little idea as to what the first years of a child’s life have been like. At first, they don’t know what the child’s strengths or vulnerabilities might be, what to expect when the child is over-stressed, why she is over-stressed, what the signs are that she is becoming over-stressed.
The one thing to bear in mind when setting out to answer these questions is that, despite its name, Kindergarten is no garden party for kids. In fact, all of the “expectations” I mentioned in part two of this series represent a massive increase in the stresses that the child is exposed to. For example, the child must:
- Be with a lot of kids the same age, all with developmental limitations
- Be in a confined space
- Be in the presence of older kids
- Be cared for by a strange adult whose nonverbal cues are foreign
- Stay regulated (calm and alert) over the course of what, for any child, is a long day, and for some children, an excruciatingly long day
- Follow a structured program and set of rules
- Pay attention when asked to do so
- Take turns, share, and cooperate.
Once we get started on this Self-Reg way of thinking, we see our role in meeting the needs of young children in a completely new light. Nothing will ever rival Robert Fulghum’s wonderful All I Really Need to Know I learned in Kindergarten. But Self-Reg does present us with a twist on this classic: All I Really Need to Know About Handling Stress I Learned in Kindergarten: well, started to learn!
Helping the child get started on this life-shaping journey forces yet another “Why” on us: Why am I reacting in a negative way to a child’s regressive behaviours? Is it because I have not yet learned about the different states associated with Blue Brain, Red Brain, and Brown Brain? Once I begin to understand the science of self-regulation, will I begin to see the child differently? Will I see a different child?
This last question is the easiest of all to answer. The answer is: YES. When you see a child differently, you really do see a different child.