We need more references and contexts to help our children understand who they are, why they feel and think the ways they do, why there’s no need to pidgeon-hole others who are different, and how we all fit into the grand design of life. But first, we need to remember and get back into these contexts of living ourselves.
We need to more deeply understand, practice and teach the Continuum of Being – of being in the world and of the world in a just way.
Traditionally, we know that the wise goal of “being in the world but not of it” means that while we live in our bodies on this planet we refrain from over-identifying with material things, often displayed outwardly by attachment to appearances, to things, to over-consumption, to the monopolization of goods and services, etc. This material identification takes us away from our real selves – our true essence, and therefore away from a broad holistic context of how we can relate to the whole of the world. The absolute magic of amending this is the parallel process of connecting more deeply to ourselves as we act on the recognized interconnectedness that life is.
I think we can change the context of being both in the world and of it by acting on the growing remembering that everything and everyone is connected and interdependent for our survival and thriving. In other words, the less we identify with the more material, finite things of life and instead focus on what is truly meaningful and globally sustainable, the more we can be both in the world and ”of it”.
The mistake many of us have made in perceiving ourselves as a person in the world is one of language and its meaning: If we see ourselves living on Earth, on a continuum, the word “on” may suggest even unconsciously that skipping along through life taking from Nature is the way it’s supposed to be. Yet when we perceive ourselves living within the continuum of being, it feels different, doesn’t it? It smacks, appropriately so, of belonging, and her sibling – personal responsibility.
Of course you don’t live on a family, you live within a family to whom you have a responsibility as a member.
We are related to Nature and responsible for Her.
We don’t survive because of Nature, we survive because we give back to Her what she needs to sustain us.
One of the best foundational ways we can help our children is to remember that we live within a continuum of being, and in two major contexts: the first is as individuals interacting with and responding to the local relational and environmental subsets of life that are our day-to-day experiences, and the second is as the human race perceiving, responding to, and interacting with the larger forces of Nature, making up our collective whole here, in anticipated harmony.
Our relationships inform our future. How we think about our relationships is the Key to whether our future holds gloom or magic.
As a teacher in a room full of teachers, I have a choice of how I think about me. About them. About us. If I am coming from a place of fear about my ability to support myself amidst all of these teachers teaching essentially similar content to essentially the same group, I may likely think and act competitively. Similarly, if I am coming from a place of insecurity for not knowing what I believe to be “enough” as I compare myself to others, I get defensive and see others as a threat. My ego becomes inflated. This only leads to competitive thoughts and feelings, and even anger.
If I instead choose to think about and appreciate the diversity of teachers and how they relay their helpful messages, I’m feeling more certainty and gladness that the mass variety of listeners/students/readers – with their different learning and communication styles – will be reached, receiving the best messages for them at a given time from the teacher they most resonate with. This produces the greater good overall, for all listeners/students/readers and for all teachers. Here there is no need for competition. Discernment, always. Competition, no.
There’s another important point about the relationship of teacher and student: When are we ever one and not the other? When am I not learning as I assist a client or family in my consultation practice? When I teach students, teachers, and parents? When am I not a student of any person or circumstance, or day?
Also, when I feel overwhelmed as I learn hard lessons and feel ashamed about the “wrong” things I have done, or because I know so little compared to others from whom I am learning, I realize that for all the lessons and healings I receive, I am simultaneously teaching the teacher, and healing the healer. This happens to everyone. This realization of our shared human condition normalizes my feelings and ameliorates the embarrassment and shame that is rearing its head in order to be acknowledged, rationally addressed, and freed.
We inform each other. Life is this. Progress is this. Can we embrace this and lessen competition as we celebrate each other, celebrate the magic of open, shared learning for the highest good, and collaborate more willingly? We can find great meaning in this realization of our unified service to each other in and for the world, and know we are individually and collectively of the greatest service as we engage in these acts of conscious growth.
I am so very grateful for my many teachers for assisting me in reaching this place of consciousness. Thank You.
Maria had wanted a freer teenage life than her parents had, and had allowed her to have. When Maria rebelled and hung out with other rebellious kids her age, her parents used harsh threatening and punative measures to scare her into following their rules. This deeply scarred Maria, who never forgot how it felt to be fourteen.
Her underdeveloped social-emotional and critical thinking experiences by this age caused Maria to experience an arrested development: she continued to see the world through the eyes of her fourteen year old self – a world that was unfair and withholding, even until and throughout the time she raised her own children. As they grew up, she could not see past this lens of parenting from a position of remembering her own desire to be friends with her parents, and of not getting what she felt she deserved. So, Maria parented as a friend who felt guilty when her children begged her to go here and there, to have this gadget and that outfit, and stay out until this time, and go clubbing at this age, etc. Maria parented from a place of her own fourteen year old needs not being met and not being understood by her adult self, and therefore, out of a place of the wrong kind of guilt.
Maria felt guilty that the kids didn’t have every thing they asked for. Maria felt guilty that she and their father divorced. Maria felt guilty that her children witnessed their mom being treated poorly by a man in a subsequent relationship. Maria felt guilty that she was, in her eyes, such a bad parent. So she made up for this guilt by letting her children walk all over her. Maria set limits all the time, but never followed through on them by making sure the consequences she issued were really made to happen. Maria let her frustrations build up without addressing them for fear her children would hate her. This frustration would build up until she screamed at them, sometimes cursing and calling them names. Later, she bought them things and let them do whatever they wanted to make up for the guilt she felt for what she had done. And not done. Still wishing she could give them everything they wanted, and that they could all be friends.
And her children resented her for all of this, for they wanted the structure that made them feel cared for by a stable parent with consistent limit setting and follow through. Whose parenting stance and rules made them feel emotionally safe. They wanted to have limits set for them by emotionally stable parents, and wanted them to follow through with consequences when they crossed the line. Despite what their behavior sometimes suggested, they wanted to feel the emotional safety of being cared about and loved enough by parents who risked being unlikeable and unfriendable, and even temporarily hateable.
Setting limits and walking the talk means that Maria risks not getting her own teenage needs met vicariously through her children. It means that she must get past her own guilty self-recrimination and seek understanding as an informed, mature adult. To do this it means Maria must seek support to learn to lovingly “visit, see, and hold” her fourteen year old self with compassion as this mature woman with objective, sensitive thinking skills. It means she must learn and develop healthy relationship skills so she can be the balance and structure her children need most from her. For the safety and security of her children, and that of their children whom they may likely parent as she does.
The right kind of guilt is the kind that gnaws at our self interests and actions when they seem to over ride the greater needs of our children’s development, their chances for capacity building, and their experiences of stability, health, balance, and safety.
Actions taken from the right kind of guilt demonstrate recognition of responsibility rather than an entitled victim mentality. If we’re lucky, the support we receive to get there can include achieving a wisened humility and gratitude for what blessings we already have.
Understanding and applying the Total Load Principle helps to shore up our methods of better relating to and raising our children through our perception, approach, and management of them. Here is a definition for the term total load from a medical dictionary as it relates to health which parallels the holistic health needs that inform a child’s self-regulation abilities:
total load: n, the sum of factors that influence an individual’s life and health, including food, chemicals, microbes, psychological factors, and other elements. Any one of these factors would not normally cause illness, but the cumulative effect of these agents may overload the functioning in an individual. – From Mosby’s Dictionary of Complementary and Alternative Medicine. (c) 2005, by Wayne Jonas, M.D., Department of Family Medicine, Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, Bethesda, MD, U.S.A.
There are many factors that need to be considered for a child to be fully self-regulated. It’s helpful when we look through several lenses to discern what might be going on for a child when he’s exhibiting “challenging” behaviors. In my practice over time I’ve come to observe nine lenses which I use to clarify where there is an imbalance to be made right for a child. I like this system because it is holistic in nature, and even though it’s a universal framework to use with all children, I can still individualize a treatment protocol for each individual child. These nine lenses are also nine domains of health and well-being. They are: Attachment/Relationships; Creative Self-Expression; Cognition/Intellectual Stimulation; Nutrition; Nature; Environment; Sensory; Biological/Physical Expression; and (non denominational) Spirituality.
Personally, I think of spirituality as personal for everyone who chooses to consider it a factor in their life. I also consider spirituality something that knows no religions and all religions which unites us all in our ability to experience awareness of our connectedness to all of life. So for this reason I feel good about keeping it in this configuration because it speaks to holism, and to what I feel is greatly missing in our children’s lives.
There is a Venn diagram containing these lenses which you can access from my home page when you sign up to receive email notifications of my blog posts. You can find the Wheel of Holistic Perception here. It’s a good visual to put up in your classroom or kitchen as a reminder to see your child through these lenses of holism. (I address more about all that “fits” into each category ongoingly; some experiences and functions are obvious; others are not so obvious.) We can think about the lenses making up our Total Load Principle (and other principles) as ways to perceive a child, and the various strategies we use as the ways to approach and manage them. It’s all about “perception and approach”; everything distills down to these two actions.
Before we continue, I want to be clear that the Principle of Total Load has two components related to time. The first is that we use this Principle to observe what is going on for a child in the here and now. The second is that we use the Total Load Principle to consider what has been happening over time that affects a child’s states of imbalance that we’re now witnessing. Let’s address this part first, then get deeper into the big picture.
In thinking about this second time aspect of Total Load related to children’s imbalances, we need to consider all that might have led up to a child having a meltdown (or – insert other challenging behavior here) on a particular day. It could be x years of overly controlling caregivers; it could be building anger and frustration at a peer; it could be the accident his dad had that the child has been so worried about. It could be lots of things we’re not seeing. It’s up to us to be great communicators and sleuths.
The best practice is to incorporate the presence of another very related Principle – that of Generational Influences. Between our grandparents’ and great-grandparents’ generations and our own, we’ve undergone many changes in the ways different systems operate: everything from food production and intake, to educational and child-rearing philosophies, to media and technology, to that which affects air and water quality, and many, many more. It is imperative for us to remember that small changes over time add up. Good and bad. Productive and non productive. Healthy and toxic. Healing and damaging. There are cumulative changes which create toxic outcomes, and we need to take off the blinders now about this fact. There is so much to consider and this occurs across systems such as the ones we’ve mentioned. What may not have outwardly damaged our elders has been passed on to us and to our children, affecting the health of one’s whole being – everything that makes up our mental health. We need to remember that the Principle of Total Load is related to imbalances due to often overlooked, accumulated changes which occur culturally (within our families, communities, and/or within the larger Western culture) over time.
In our quest to understand and increase a child’s capacity for self-regulation, it’s helpful to use a perceptual format which the Total Load Principle and The Wheel of Holistic Perception provide, since factors in one or more domains of health and well being could arguably account for a lack or absence of this hugely important developmental skill. The Total Load Principle suggests that we assess what may be going on for a child in each of these domains, ensuring the highest degree of our success in helping them, and of the child’s success in feeling his happiest, most fulfilled, well adjusted, and competent self.
Said another way, when a child’s domains of health and well being are sufficiently identified and addressed, he is feeling balanced within himself, and he is feeling safe. He is experiencing what he needs to in order to feel calm, to think clearly, relate well with others, and to stay focused appropriately for his developmental stage and age. When all caregivers work together to identify and serve all of these needs of the child, we strengthen the factors making up the “total load”.
When we use specific strategies of perception and approach within these domains of health and well being, we are helping to create the overarching concepts or schemas for the child of, “What I experience matters,” and, “I have ways of thinking things, and ways of doing things” that help them feel safe and balanced. They “have” these ways of thinking and doing because - within the Attachment/Relationship domain, for example, we have directly and/or indirectly taught them how to think and what to do to support themselves through our relationships and dialogues in play, in social stories, through addressing meaning-making, through normalizing and role modeling, through engaging them vs. redirecting them, etc. Children “have these ways of thinking and doing” because they have internalized the very words we use with them as their own self-talk. Our task is to also be sure that what we communicate nonverbally through our attitudes and actions parallels what we say to them. We have to match up and walk the talk, otherwise the child gets mixed messages and we fail to teach properly. This is no small thing. Emotional schemas develop from before birth, and are arguably more important than cognitive schemas. These emotional schemas for self-worth, competence and for how safe the world is are learned as emotional imprints
In an example of a preschooler who is irritable, “punchy”, and seemingly physically defensive in a classroom, we might observe that during the day he is most upset when around the most children, when he has been inside for many hours at a stretch, and after seeming unfulfilled by the available toys. We might help him with some more obvious issues related to his behavior by way of seeing him through the lenses of Attachment/Relationships, Creative Self-Expression, Cognition/Intellectual Stimulation, Environment, Sensory, and Biological/Physical Expression.
Here’s how the obvious connections might play out. You can follow along with the actions we’ll take as they corroborate with the lenses/domain names listed above: We can let the child know that we see his distress, which validates him; he feels seen and respected. We might use a question or statement to describe what we observe, and which he can incorporate into his own thinking and relating vocabulary, like, “Are you feeling “out of sorts” right now?… Let’s think of the ways we know to feel better…” (I love this term “out of sorts” because it is non labeling, non judgmental, and therefore non shaming; because it’s a good phrase to help the child cue into his own body and needs; and because it’s a general statement into which any and all domains of health and well being can fit.) Then describe what you can help him with (now and in a little while as schedule permits). Too much activity going on? Maybe sitting in a quieter corner is more soothing. Perhaps any boredom might be dampened by some time with an activity you know he’s interested in (let him lead). Bright lights and loud noise? Consider hanging colored scarves to buffer glaring lights, playing soothing music, or turning lights, tvs and radios off (recommended). As soon as you’re able, take the child out of doors to change the environment, allow him to play creatively outside, since the fresh air “airs us out”, and running and playing allow energy to be sublimated. These are more well known strategies and they work well; however, there are other aspects of his being that as yet are unaddressed.
Specifically, we can do more by looking at this child’s imbalances under the lenses of Nutrition and Nature, and by revisiting Sensory. First, the Nutritional changes to consider: this alone can help with many or all of the other behavioral concerns as seen within each domain mentioned, as the health of the gut (our digestive system) affects the health of our whole being. In my observations of all of the children I have worked with over the years, nothing makes such a sudden improvement to a child’s behaviors than changing what we feed him. I’ve seen children’s behaviors turn around within hours to days after eliminating processed foods, particularly flour products and sugar products, and adding in the nutrient-dense foods their bodies really need. You have to stay firm and not cave in to resorting to the flour/simple sugar products when a child tantrums about eating healthy snacks and meals, or refuses to eat anything but carb, dairy, and simple sugar-based food items. Many readers may be shocked to learn that this issue is ultimately considered by many to be one of addiction, and parents may choose to enlist a skilled and informed health specialist for education, guidance and support. Meanwhile, readers can get more educated by researching sensory processing disorders and their nutritional causes and symptoms.
The domain of Sensory is deeply entwined with all other domains. In fact you could say that we are primarily sensory beings. Children’s sensitivities to sound, light, food, touch, their impulsivity, inattention, anxiety and aggression can be caused and/or aggravated by food toxicity. These kids can be difficult to soothe. Just like us, though, they feel better when they are nutritionally balanced and are regularly in Nature. Here in Nature children can get renewed and balanced within all domains of health and well being as they learn about and deepen their relationship with the cyclical nature of seasons and the very cycle of life, death and rebirth. Activities in Nature can at once be wonderfully calming and stimulating, and can be tweaked to fit most age and developmental groups. It’s a great time to share the concept of us as living beings needing food from living sources in order to feel our best, run our best, think the best and laugh the most. If a child is lucky, he can explore a plant growing, animals nesting, run around in the sunshine, make art or structures with the grass and flowers, or pine cones and leaves, or snow, or play in a small pool of water. And not just on occasion. All domains of health and well being are met here in Nature and we should make it a priority to get kids outside interacting with her as often as possible. If it’s not in the curriculum, change the curriculum! If it’s not a part of your daily home life, how can you make it happen? It’s all interconnected. We’re all interconnected.
Our kids are so compartmentalized these days because what makes up our lives has been so compartmentalized. Their lives are detached from what provides them with the nurturing, nourishing, expansive and freeing feelings of balance, safety, and joy that only living with all cylinders firing optimally in a state of holism can provide.
Within a period of two weeks I observed two very different styles of nurturing from two different caregivers in different schools. Both teachers are wonderfully kind and caring, wanting only the best for their students. And, like every caregiver -like all of us- they do the best they can with the skills and awareness they have at the time. That said, the outcomes the teachers’ actions had on their tantruming students had very different results, and I wanted to write about my observations in light of seeing how different forms of the help we provide produce different outcomes…
The tantrums of both children had different dynamics for which I recommended different strategies. The first observation looked like this:
Miss Leslie teaches five year olds. My client, “David” was having trouble with transitions, and had meltdowns during these times and then difficulty self-regulating. He’d get so upset he couldn’t even make decisions.
The trouble for David and his teachers was that when it came time for nap, he screamed and screamed, refusing to sleep. His teachers had no true sense as to why this was happening. We looked more closely at the transition time before nap. There certainly was a lot going on in a short period of time. It looks like this: Recess, then hang up jackets, wash hands, set up cot for nap, set up for lunch, eat, clean up, settle into cots for nap. That’s the routine. (I don’t like that the kids don’t have time to sit upright after eating for proper digestion but that’s a different story.) Although David seemed to be calm up until it was time to set up cots, my sense was that his anxiety level was ramping up at warp speed during that period. His meltdowns seemed to occur because of the extreme over-stimulation he felt at some point in this time period. It was too much for him to do all these activities in the manner of the class schedule.
Even though David’s teachers wanted to encourage responsibility by having the kids do as much for themselves as possible, what benefitted David and ultimately solved the problem was asking them to reduce their expectations of David and build in more supports for him during this tricky time. What Leslie ended up doing differently had a wonderful outcome: she simply made David’s cot up for him, which involved getting it from the stack of cots, setting it down in his spot and setting his sheet and pillow on it. It took less than a minute. She realized she didn’t have to view it as giving in, or as babying him. She rightly viewed it as supporting him and nurturing him in this way. She also provided more physical nurturance to David during transition periods in general by putting her hand on his shoulder, or reassuringly rubbing his arm kindly, while being “present” with him for a few moments. Specifically, her setting up his cot helped so much that David immediately began transitioning and napping with no meltdowns.
This simple change David’s teacher made allowed David to experience success in the transitions, to feel a sense of control within these transitions, and to therefore feel good about himself as someone who is competent. Every child senses if they are competent in something or not; Leslie’s wise support helped David experience and strengthen his “I am competent” schema, which is no small thing, especially for a preschooler developing foundational identity constructs.
The second scenario I observed involved a teacher who was so over the moon about a three and a half year old who tantrumed in her classroom that she unwittingly “saved” him from natural outcomes. By not using appropriate strategies in a timely manner she impeded “Jake’s” abilities to experience problems and learn to solve them.
Miss Jan is a wonderful teacher; she is extremely caring and is a loving presence in her classroom. What I respectfully showed her was how she had become enmeshed with this little boy; that is, she was actually too involved with him emotionally to see that some of her behaviors were adding to the problem of his acting out. She wanted to help him feel better, but by giving him too much of the wrong kind of attention for negative behaviors, and at the wrong times – i.e.: feeding into his tantrums – her overall goal of helping him backfired. So in this case we agreed that she would jump in less and let the second teacher in the classroom get more involved with Jake during the times when he acted out. Both teachers would be sure to use the strategies I recommended consistently, multiple times per day, every day, to include not feeding into or “giving” too much of oneself to the point that Jake manipulated the staff. Please note: this is not to say that I recommended withholding warm feelings or that I asked Jan to be something other than the caring teacher she is. It is to say that I asked her to begin to see the situation differently, and to see these new approaches to managing Jake as an even better way to love him. I essentially asked her to reformulate her methods of caring for him, without compromising the depth of her fondness for him. For example, we agreed that Jan would continued to warmly nurture Jake with hugs but only during appropriate times, i.e.: when there was a transition in activities; during play time; in the hopefully rare occasion that he got hurt physically from say, a bump or bruise; and always to reinforce when he was displaying positive behaviors.
These changes caused Jake to act out even more initially, and this was to be expected. Over time, both teachers kept the balance between co-teaching and intervening without feeding into negative behaviors. They and Jake’s parents used all the strategies consistently. Jake developed more “self-and-other”, and “actions-and-results” awareness, and benefitted from the appropriate, external balance he experienced from his teachers (and parents). The benefits were noted as more stable moods, less attempts to manipulate adults’ emotions, and more compliance. Eventually his tantrums began to decrease and he was not asked to leave the school.
Both stories have happy endings. For both boys, this translated to more behavioral successes which resulted from increased feelings of control and self-competence. These feelings and experiences, in turn, inform their social-emotional trajectory and give continued confidence to new activities and ways of relating.
By ensuring and honoring “Internal-External Congruence” with your child, you really help place her on a fast track to self-esteem and self-regulation.
What I mean by this kind of congruence is when we communicate and act in ways that accurately (congruently) reflect what it is we truly feel, sense, think, and want to do. It’s interesting to consider how often we actually do this. When we make a decision, are we sure it is our decision? That we are making it for ourselves and not for another? When we answer a question about how we ar feeling, are we expressing the truth? Yes, there are times when we need to use discernment and not disclose certain things, either to keep something private or to avoid hurting someone’s feelings, etc. I’m referring to other unhealthy examples when a person’s feelings, thoughts, needs and desires are discounted, minimized, or ignored. (And as this relates to children – not when we are attempting to steer them away from bad habits or decisions.)
Inherent in this practice of Internal-External Congruence is the degree of self-respect with which we honor ourselves, or not. Are we robotically answering with words and actions we think someone will want to hear us say and do, thereby sweeping our own wants and needs under the rug? Someone who has done this since childhood may likely not be in touch with what he is feeling at all by the tme he reaches adolescence. How happy will this child be throughout life if this continues? What quality of relationships will he have if he remains passive and inattentive to his own feelings, thoughts, needs and desires?
Obviously this is a huge piece related to self-esteem and how we correctly foster it in raising our children. We very much want them to be skilled in asserting themselves in life, but they first have to know how it is they actually feel and what it is they actually want. We can be sure to not make those assumptions and related decisions for them (in the right contexts), and, we can help them get in touch with what’s going on inside of themselves.
A simple coin flip exercise I’m about to share will help your older preschool or school-age child get in touch with the subtleties of her emotions, wants, and thoughts, and also get her connected to her intuition – her sense of what she knows to be true for her – or not; her sense of what is right or wrong; of whether to trust or not trust; of whether to act or not act, etc. Therefore, congruence – speaking and acting in accordance to how one really feels, thinks, and senses – is greatly related to self-regulation. A child who knows and trusts how she feels, and then acts on this inner knowing, is respecting herself. She is validating herself. This is no small thing, as it sets the stage for further self-trust and leaps in self-confidence, self-respect, and self-competence – all vital skills for self-regulation.
When your child is unsure of how she feels about something – say, whether she should invite a classmate to her birthday party who has bullied her and some of her friends in the past but who also has shown appropriate social skills and kindness at times, pull out a coin. Have your child “assign” to “heads” the decision to invite the classmate to the birthday party, and “assign” to “tails” the decision to not invite the classmate to this party. Have your child flip the coin and when it lands, ask her to describe how she feels about the “decision” the coin has made for her. Does she feel relieved? Glad? Sorry? Confused?
There is no judgment in expressing the truth of what one feels and acting upon it, even if it does not seem like the “politically correct” response at the time. In these types of cases when we fear that others may view our decisions as socially awkward, rude, or unkind, there are graceful ways of handling it, and we get more comfortable doing this the more it happens – and I think it’s good when it happens.
In our example, your child may have any type of feeling and decision and it’s your job to honor them, keeping your feelings out of it. It might be that she’ll benefit from you helping her to come up with what to say to either explain why the classmate wasn’t invited, or for how to invite them to the party. If she happened to feel like she wants to give her classmate a chance, you might sit down and think of a “script” for her to use to talk with her classmate about the expectations she has for them at the party. An example might be, “I’d love for the whole group to get along and have fun, like the times when you’ve been kind to me and my friends. Though there have been times you haven’t been and I was really hurt. Let’s talk about how to to be sure everyone’s nice to each other and has a good time.” This added step increases self-regulation skills, too, because it maps out ideas and skills for thinking about non judgment, kindness, compassion, self-respect, putting oneself in another’s shoes, steps to building friendships, solving problems, and trying again.
Please note, that although it may seem odd to hear someone state what seems obvious, and to suggest such simple scripts to share with children, I’m afraid it’s actually because we’ve stopped paying attention to the “obvious” that we have so many children with challenging behaviors to begin with. For anyone who’s not used to these suggestions, please read and consider this with fresh eyes. Then try it, and see what happens, and write us with your stories!
The coin flip trick is a simple exercise which when used regularly can help your child gain insight into, and respect for her internal experiences. Your encouraging guidance for her to act on her level of “knowing” what feels right for her will greatly increase both her sense of safety with you, and her own personal empowerment. In time, she’ll internalize this process without the use of the coin, increasing her skill set for validating herself. She’ll also likely lead others to use the same process of self-validation.
I’ve worked with all ages, including preschoolers and find the language in our example works well with 4 and 5 year olds, and can easily be adapted and simplified with 2 and a half and three year olds. It’s also helpful to use age-appropriate toys for playing out scenarios and lessons. The best are those that the children really like which might be personified, like toy cars, dolls, and puppets. The idea is to get the concepts across in language they’ll understand. I don’t think we can underestimate how much even young babies and toddlers can understand conceptually, and especially through our attunement to them. It’s a learning curve and skill set for all of us to continually develop in sensing what works for each age group we are caring for (and of course age doesn’t necessarily denote typical cognitive or social-emotional congruence). The overarching goal is to make our responses and the activity be about how the child’s emotions matter, that we honor what they are feeling and intuiting, and that they should pay attention to what their emotions and intuition tell them. We practice nonverbal honoring by holding a child, validating them by being present with them, and not ‘shushing’ them when they cry or are angry, etc.
These steps build the way for the more developed cognitive strategies for increasing self-regulation we use as the kids grow up. As caregivers we are always paving the way nonverbally and verbally. It’s all happening all the time.
Note: this post was edited; it was originally published as “Congruence and Self-Esteem” on Oct. 9, 2009 on my previous blog.