Calling all parents! (And, honestly, anybody that will listen and read about this topic!)
There are a ton of things educators are asked to do every day when it comes to working with children. Amazingly, educators accomplish most of what they are asked to do with good old fashioned hard-work and compassion.
Yet, if we’re being honest, we know they can’t do it all. They really can’t.
It is safe to argue that about 80% of all kids in school are doing okay. They’re doing okay with their academics, they’re doing okay with their friendships, and they’re doing okay with their behavior.
There is another 15% of kids that struggle with academics, making friends, and behaving. Our hard working educators really do some amazing work with these kids.
Then, there is another 5% of kids that are the lost boys (and girls). They aren’t reaching their academic potential, they have little or no healthy friendships, and they end up misbehaving—a lot.
Turns out, this small group of kids can dictate how well any given school year will go. If the child, the school team, and parents rally, the school year can be successful. If the child, the school team, and parents don’t communicate and (gulp) eventually give up, well, everybody is worse off in a very big way. Like, a long-lasting way.
I work primarily in the realm of friendships and behavior when it comes to kids. I can tell you that there is plenty of stuff we can do to help kids be successful–even this 5% group of kids. I’ve written a concise little book that goes into detail about what that stuff actually is.
Yet, my little book of comprehensive awesomeness isn’t enough. Why? Because while I reference the significance of early intervention in helping students succeed socially, emotionally, and behaviorally, my book doesn’t actually facilitate early intervention.
Early intervention is pretty self-explanatory: Intervene with problems early so the problems don’t endure across the lifespan.
It’s the safest, smartest, and most efficient use of our time and money. So, it should come as no surprise why I am SHOCKED that we don’t take this seriously. I’ve worked in education and mental health for the past 17 years. In 17 years, I have yet to see any efforts to improve the mental health of families and children in early intervention settings. (Heck, I’ve even worked for a department of health’s early intervention program—I was the only practitioner for 300 miles that worked in this area.)
So, until something happens, (oh, I don’t know, some sort of parent-led revolution?), all I have to help with early intervention is the following:
Stuff ALL OF US CAN DO WITH TINY, IDDY-BIDDY KIDS:
- Promote social-emotional development. How the heck do we do that? We all have to play with our little kids. We have to use exaggerated facial expressions and sounds indicating happiness, excitement, sadness, and anger. We have to wrastle! (See also: wrestle). Kids need to rough-house a bit (not so much with each other, but with a goofy adult that can gently gauge intensity, and provide immediate feedback while providing a bunch of vestibular movement. These two activities help us model for kids that emotions are normal and we must validate their emotions in play. Nobody likes a lecture and tiny kids just learn the best by playing. Honestly, add a 30-minute minimum in goofy, fun, noisy play with your kids a day.
- Be predictable and establish routines. How the heck do we do that? Write it down. Take 5 minutes and right down your weeknight routines and your weekend routines. You don’t have to get overly specific, simply identify a morning and afternoon (tentative) structure and routine. Stick to those routines as best you can. Acknowledge that erratic and random behavior may be confusing to kids and send them into an anxious state of stress and frustration.
- Be responsive. That’s right! Don’t ignore your kids. Kids are never-ending attention magnets and you have to accept that. You can take a break (and I’ll tell you how!) Ignore them when they’re being snotty or bratty, but DO NOT ignore them when they’re being awesome. In fact, you should be working pretty hard to catch them being awesome. (This will be the second-hardest thing you will ever do. You’re doing the hardest thing right now by NOT doing this.)
- Team-up! Get out of your comfort zone and find a network of parents where babysitting and play dates can be traded and worked with regularly. Single parents are in critical need of a supportive network. Please include any/all parents and kids that you can in a rotating babysitting and play-date network. (Special Note on Playdates: Don’t just leave the kids in the basement with goldfish crackers and gatorade. Provide specific parameters and goals for the play date so it doesn’t turn into Lord of the Flies.) Also, play your cards right, and “ta-da”: You get a break!
- Contact your local legislative bodies and ask why the heck mental health and family life satisfaction aren’t targeted in early intervention programs through the department of health. Then drop all this research on them:
Ackerman et al., (1999). Family instability and the problem behaviors of children from economically disadvantaged families. Journal of Developmental Psychology
Blair et al. (2010). Use of positive behavior support to address the challenging behavior of young children within a community early childhood program. Topics in Early Childhood Special Education.
Brown et al. (2001). An intervention hierarchy for promoting preschool children’s peer interactions in the natural environment. Topics in Early Childhood Special Education.
Dunst & Kassow, (2007). Characteristics of interventions prompting parental sensitivity to child behavior. Winterberry Research Syntheses.
Sanders et al. (2000). The Triple P—Positive Parenting Program: A comparison of enhanced, standard, and self-directed behavioral family intervention for parents of children with early onset conduct problems. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology.
For more information on parent trainings, early intervention trainings, and good-old-fashioned help, contact us at Totem PD.