Ah, Spring. The time of new growth, warmer weather, and storms…lots of storms. Swirly wet, angry storms surge all around us this time of year, but not outside. Inside the classroom, a little crock-pot-like enclosure, friendships have been growing, pulling and mixing all year. We are no longer a bunch of strangers, getting used to one another. Instead we are a family. Where once the children held back their frustration, anger, and tears, they comfortably let loose. We’ve all become their siblings. This is wonderful in that they realize how much all of us care for them. They also know that they can depend on each other and the adults. On the other hand, they are also more apt to react to each other unkindly.
Many things can go wrong in a pre-kindergartener’s day. Your best friends may want to play farm, but you want to be a dinosaur. The person next to you might think your noodles look yucky. The blue scissors that you really wanted are in another person’s hands. A very common reaction to all of these perceived insults is to say, “Well, if you are going to do that, you’re not going to be my friend ever again!”
Pre-K children are very “here and now”. They are literal people who generally aren’t good at seeing a statement said in anger as just a passing emotion. If another child tells them that they will never play with them again, they believe it to be so. It is also hard for young children to consciously take time to choose words before they speak. Thus, although I wish it would work, simply telling them to stop saying mean things and be nice won’t help very much.
So what do we do? We help them practice. We are there when they make a mistake, when they tell their friend that they will never invite them to their birthday party. We talk with them about what they are feeling, why they are talking in this way. Our job is to help them recognize the emotion they are feeling and put it into words. We explain that it is o.k. to say, “I’m mad at you,” and is preferable to, “I’m never playing with you again.” It is not always easy to express our feelings truly. Instead the reaction usually come first, before we’ve really got a hold on the situation. This is why it is our job to help them practice. You feel an emotion. You express it. If something needs to be done about it, you do it. We usually skip the first part and move right into the “do it” section, later feeling regret that we acted rashly.
Remember, though, we are talking about 4 and 5-year-olds. (O.k., maybe 38-year-olds should be included, as well.) We are not expecting them to master this skill this year. Metacognition, or “thinking about your thinking”, is hard. My well-adjusted 92-year-old grandmother hasn’t yet mastered the ability to completely control her emotions 100% of the time. Practice is the key word. We will practice identifying the emotion that preceded an unkind comment. Practice stating what our feelings are. Practice finding a solution to assuage those feelings without harming others.
Mrs. Pless and I have been working with the class this week on this very skill. We (and all of the other Pre-Kindergarten teachers on the planet) are trying to help the children understand that it is alright to tell your friends your feelings, but it is not acceptable to threaten them in any way. This includes threats of lost friendship, exclusion, and bodily harm. Most of the anger exhibited in our class stems from misunderstandings. When the children practice recognizing that they are angry, sad, frustrated, they can develop a more appropriate response. We are practicing saying, “I’m angry because….”