Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Empower the "out of control" Child with the Gift of Control

Young children have an innate desire to be in control.  Some, more then others. 

The children who "ruin everything I have planned" are simply seeking control.  They are feeling "out of control" because, well...they are.  You may have even found yourself saying "Whew...these children are out of control".  Your natural reaction is to tighten the reigns on those children by making your program more scheduled and led by you in order to "help them gain control".  When, what they are in need of , is the gift of control.

A child whose behavior is "out of control" may simply be lacking control.  Their bodies are screaming for control.  Here is the worse case scenario for the "out of control" child:  The schedule consists of children arriving and having 30 minutes of "free play" before it is STOPPED (removing the control from the child) to hold a meeting controlled by the teacher (aka:  Circle Time).  The rest of the day is highly structured with large motor time (teacher-led), station time (setting a timer and forcing children to rotate from station to station. Remember, this is the WORSE CASE SCENARIO), story time, small motor time (teacher-led), writing time (teacher-led), blah blah blah....  AAAAACK!!!!  This spells disaster for children who have an intense desire to have some control!  You are creating an environment conducive to children seeking control in socially unacceptable ways.  There is a huge amount of control in knocking down a friend's tower, interrupting the teacher while she is reading a story, or plopping one's legs all over their neighbor during Circle Time.  All of these situations will ease that screaming desire for control.  They will also feed that monster inside and create an even larger urge for MORE control, because, being in control feels good.  It is empowering.

SO THEN...what do you do?  We want young children to be empowered, right?  We know that empowered young children have the confidence needed to do things for themselves, ask for what they need, try new things, fail and pick themselves up and persevere.  All are valuable life-long skills.  We also know that being in control is empowering. 

Ask yourself the following questions: 
1)  Do we want a child to be empowered by being "out of control", by controlling those around her, and controlling YOU?
2)  Do we want a child to be empowered by being in control, by giving them the freedom to control their play and lead their learning?

Guess what?  When you step back, ease up on your structured agenda and give young children control of their task (what they are doing), technique (how they are doing it), time (when they are doing it) and team (who they are doing it with)  their desire for control will be fed, and in MOST situations, the behavior problems simply disappear.  (note:  I said MOST.  These are children after all -- there is no one-size fits all -- but there IS one-size fits MOST)

Does this happen overnight?  No.  Remember, the children are use to you being in control and telling them what to do.  They are not use to having ownership of the control.  It will take them a while to truly believe that you are indeed trusting them to make choices for themselves and gifting them with control.  The children in your program may go through a phase of "boredom" ( my opinion, children need to be bored, but that's an entirely different topic).  This is a natural "consequence" (if you will) of an adult always being in control.  Children don't know how to think for themselves when they are use to an adult telling them the plan all the time.  When that control suddenly switches, children won't necessarily know how to react right away.  GIVE IT TIME.

It may also take you a while to adjust.  If you are use to planning out a very structured day for the littles in your program, it will take a while, and, admittedly (I've been there), the process may be painful, for you to step back and follow children.  Giving the gift of control is not always easy.  But, from my experience, it is truly the best for young children.  Isn't "best practice" our goal?

Also, don't misinterpret "Children in control" as a "free-for-all".  There needs to be boundaries.  Clear and consistent boundaries.  My favorite rule (Heather Shumaker, author of It's Okay Not to Share and Other Renegade Rules for Raising Competent and Compassionate Kids says it the best):  "It's okay as long as you aren't hurting people or property" (my version is wordier, I have editing issues...ha!!).   I'm not suggesting the adult turns around and lets children do whatever they the end, the adult IS in control, just not in a controlling way. 

Do you have some "out of control" children in your program?  The first thing to do is to evaluate your program.  Look at your schedule.  How much of the day do the children feel in control?  Do they follow you the majority of the time....or do you follow them?  Is the problem the child?  OR... Is the problem you, and your fear of sharing control?

I want to leave you with this final thought:
When your car is out of gas, what do you do?  You give it more gas, you don't take gas away.  You fill the tank.

Children are the same.  When their behavior is "out of control" we need to give them more control, not take control away.  We need to fill their tank.  We need to empower children by giving them the gift of control.

(thank you Daniel H. Pink, author of Drive for the "Four T's":  Task, Technique, Time and Team.)