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Helping a Child Rebuild Relationships

  • 1.  Helping a Child Rebuild Relationships

    Posted 12-12-2019 11:08 AM
    I have a preschooler (turned 5 in October) who had a very tough introduction to our class. He came to us after having been kicked out of two separate preschools. With us, he bit a teacher, threw objects in the room, pushed, poked, etc. other children. His way of attempting to join play was to hiss at other children, take something they were playing with, knock their structures over or worse. We have been working hard, and his behavior has calmed quite a bit at this point. The problem now is that he has burned all of his bridges. We have a small class (11 children), and none of the children want to play with him. I don't feel it is right to "force" other children to play with him, since I think they should be assertive enough to decline someone who has scared (and hurt) them in the past. But I also want to help him get positive feedback in the form of friendships/relationships (which he desires) for he improved positive behavior. Suggestions?

    Nicole Fravel
    wildwood nature school
    Portland OR

  • 2.  RE: Helping a Child Rebuild Relationships

    Posted 12-13-2019 02:52 AM
    Hello Nicole,

    I find the challenge with the situation you described is that it usually is complex. I would suggest building a relationship with the family, grounded in trust and respect for each other, that allows for meaningful conversations about how you can work together to strengthen the prosocial behaviors of their child. With this in place, I would want to know if the family has consulted with the child's Health Care Practitioner about getting Behavioral Health Services for the child and his family. I would also want to get the permission of the family to contact the Early Intervention Program in your community to refer the child for an Evaluation to determine if the child would qualify for Early Intervention Services. I would also contact a local Behavioral Health Program to discuss how they might enter into a partnership with your Program to support the family and the young child, as well as the teachers and other children in the classroom. Finally, I suggest you explore the Center on the Social Emotional Foundations for Early Learning,, to learn about the Pyramid Model and the wealth of resources at this site.

    Robert Gundling, Ed.D.
    Better Futures LLC
    Senior Consultant
    Washington, DC

  • 3.  RE: Helping a Child Rebuild Relationships

    Posted 12-13-2019 07:26 AM
    We too have experienced similar situations in our center.  Many children act out or are aggressive because they lack the skills to enter into play in an appropriate manner.  In the past we have had children enter our program who have been asked to leave others and with patience and understanding we have had them be successful in our program and beyond.  Our teachers make it a point to have a minimum of 5 positive connections with the child a day if possible, in the beginning they are intentional and planned or scripted, but eventually they are more natural and help the child feel more comfortable.  I ask them to put the child in their shoes, they are moved again to a new place and they know if they act out they may be moved again to somewhere new.  How unsettling!
    I would suggest finding a child whose personality would complement that child's and provide teacher facilitated activities in which you are there to help each child build a relationship through play.  Other children may choose to join if they see that teacher in the area also, gradually over time remove yourself and allow the children to play together on their own.  It will take time and patience and if something occurs you are available to help provide the words each child needs to communicate their thoughts and feelings.

    Hope this helps.

    Lisa Vorpahl
    Chandler AZ

  • 4.  RE: Helping a Child Rebuild Relationships

    Posted 12-13-2019 08:28 AM
    When I have had this issue I incorporate "buddy play".  The first 10 minutes of center time I have the children paired with a buddy.  Each group works on an activity that I choose such as putting a puzzle together, building a block structure from a plan, etc.  An adult is positioned very near groups where one of the children needs more support. We teach them how to appropriately get a friends attention (tap gently on the shoulder and say their name), ask for or tell the friend what they want/need and take turns.  Once the targeted child knows what they need to do and has some success during the "buddy play" I have seen it carry over in how they get a friend's attention during centers.  When we see that happen we make sure to give that child plenty of positive reinforcement.  It isn't an instant fix but over time I have seen great improvement in both behavior and other children's acceptance.

    Mary Townsley
    St. Joseph School
    De Witt IA

  • 5.  RE: Helping a Child Rebuild Relationships

    Posted 12-13-2019 10:42 AM
    Hi Nicole,
    This response may sound very simple, but it is not.  "Love Him Up!"  I agree with you not to force the children to play with him if they don't want to.  So now the challenge becomes how to "re-shape" both his perspective of himself and how others perceive him.  While there may be biological reasons for his behavior, which should be ruled out, much of his behavior seems like he has learned in order to get attention he must "behave badly", which in turn reinforces his "bad" and "unlovable" self-perception. (this may be a coping strategy he learned long ago)   Some suggestions - emphasize the behaviors you want to see and involve the entire classroom.  Place a large heart shape cut out on the wall titled Ways we are Helpful and Kind to our Friends - on smaller hearts teachers recognize all students that demonstrate these characteristics by writing their name on the heart and what they did.  This student gets acknowledged FREQUENTLY - for helping, waiting, picking up, listening, following requests, being a good friend, etc.  Can also use a token system with a labeled jar and pom poms.  Create an important classroom job for him to do - care for a classroom pet rock, water plants, safety inspector, etc.  Have him help in "making thank you cards" for staff, administrators, other classrooms.  Have him be a teachers helper and help prep projects, invite only one other friend to join in.

    I try to look at "mis-behaviors" as a stress response - and the children are coping as best they can.  Through modeling you will be able to offer more adaptive strategies.  If you don't already, introduce a deep breathing practice into your classroom routine - 2 deep breathes for the whole classroom paired with a chime to mark all your transitions, deep breathes when the room is "too busy" for the whole classroom or with individual students as you see their stress level rising.  The attached "What Do You Need" poster may help you identify what basic emotional need is not being met for this child, and based on that, you can begin to introduce activities to support that need - physical well being (sometimes a quick snack or drink of water will help) Connection-Interdependence (feeling connected within the classroom) Meaningful Expression (draw pictures of how he is feeling and have the teacher say "tell me about this" and writes his words on the picture) and Autonomy (provide more opportunities for making choices - which type of paintbrush/ crayon/marker, etc).  Sorry, the file wouldn't upload.

    Hope this helps - deep breathing can make a HUGE difference for everyone!

    Lisa Burton
    Educational Consultant
    OneJoy Consulting, LLC
    North Haven CT

  • 6.  RE: Helping a Child Rebuild Relationships

    Posted 01-11-2020 06:48 PM
    Hi Lisa, thank you for your thoughtful response. I am trying for search for the poster you mentioned in your post. "What do you need?" I would like to reference it in a topic I am researching.
    Thank you!

    Donna Marie Brain
    Olympic College
    Milton WA

  • 7.  RE: Helping a Child Rebuild Relationships

    Posted 01-13-2020 01:45 PM
      |   view attached
    Hi Donna,
    I've attached the poster - good luck!
    Let me know if you have any questions,

    Lisa Burton, MPH, OTR/L

    Educational Consultant

    "Bringing Mindfulness into the Classroom"