Health and Safety E-News for Caregivers and Teachers

Welcome to the October 2006 issue of the American Academy of Pediatrics Health and Safety E-News for caregivers and teachers.

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This issue includes information and action steps for you on the following topics:

What Young Children Need to Be Ready for Kindergarten

Most of us think that getting children ready for school means helping them learn to tie their shoes, count, write, and read. While these skills are important, teachers tell us that it is easier for them to teach children who can:

  • Talk to and play with others
  • Follow directions (listen, ask questions, and finish tasks)
  • Identify and talk about feelings
  • Handle a problem with others
  • Ask for help when they need it

Learning is a social process, and children who have trouble with social skills might act out or use undesirable behaviors. These children may receive fewer compliments, have trouble developing friendships, and cannot always focus on schoolwork. This makes school harder for everyone. When parents and child care providers help young children learn how to make friends, follow directions, and complete schoolwork, everyone benefits!

Expressing Warmth and Affection, Helping Children Build Relationships

Expressing warmth and affection to children is important for many reasons. It's also crucial for young children to be appropriately touched and hugged by adults. Touching and holding infants and toddlers helps them feel secure and learn to trust their caregivers. A good relationship (that is positive and supportive) promotes brain development. By remaining calm and responsive to the child's needs, adults can reassure and calm an anxious child. Finally, these activities will help you develop a good relationship with the children, and this will help you feel good, enjoy your work, and have fun.

Here are some things you can do:

  1. Greet each child warmly. Smile, make eye contact, and use a positive tone of voice that says you are happy to see the child. Use the child's name. Help the child to say good-bye to the person who brought them and then to decide what to do as their first activity of the day. This approach is especially important when a child has been absent or is new to a program.
  2. Be friendly and affectionate with each child. Warmth and affection can be shown through your expression, laughter, voice, and words (e.g., "little one", "I am glad you are here"). It can also be expressed through touch. Leaning against a child, giving a quick gentle touch on the head, arm or shoulder, and hugging are appropriate ways to show affection through touch. Snuggling with several children while reading together is a natural and enjoyable way to do this. Show each child you care by responding individually and being sensitive to their needs. Remember to:
    • Provide regular positive attention to each child every day
    • Get on the child's level for face-to-face interactions
    • Use a pleasant, calm voice, and simple language while making eye contact
    • Provide warm, responsive physical contact
    • Listen carefully to children and encourage them to use words to express their feelings
    • Praise children when they do what you ask them to do or are playing well with other children
  3. Think about whether your joy and your good feelings about children are easy for them to see. Remember that children who act out are often those who need the most warmth and affection.
  4. Make sure that your words and interactions with children are more positive than negative. Avoid criticism, nagging, yelling, and scolding. Look for each child's strengths. Enjoy each child's individuality and sense of humor; smile, laugh, be playful, and have fun.
  5. Show children how to talk to other children and build friendships. Use group activities such as circle time or story time as well as role-playing to help children learn how to say nice things, share, and help each other. Model these positive behaviors and praise children who follow directions. If needed, use incentive charts or stickers to encourage desired behaviors.

Knowing What to Do if Children Act Out or Hurt Others

Knowing how to respond when children act out or hurt others can be very difficult. Many caregivers/teachers report that having even one child in their care who acts out can lead to exhaustion and decreased job satisfaction. Caregivers play a key role in identifying the positive behaviors and skills they want for children and actively teaching and strengthening these behaviors. By teaching children positive behaviors, caregivers/teachers will spend less time correcting negative behaviors and will have more time to interact with children and enjoy program activities.

Here are some things you can do to help children learn positive behaviors:

  1. Reinforce desirable behaviors by ignoring things that are trivial, providing frequent praise when you see positive behaviors start to emerge, and modeling respectful communication.
  2. Respond to children's negative behaviors by redirecting them. For example, when a child throws sand from the sandbox, do not take away his favorite toy. Talk to the child about their behavior calmly and with empathy. Tell the child that he may not throw sand (because it is dangerous). Explain that because he did this, he cannot play in the sandbox and needs to play somewhere else.
  3. Provide children with opportunities to make choices when possible and help them to learn to understand the consequences of their actions. Watch children who act out and consider why they might be behaving that way. For example, many children have trouble during transitions (when they need to finish one activity and start another). If problems tend to occur during transition times, you can recognize that this child will always need help during these times.
  4. Try role-modeling and having children practice the behaviors that you want to see. Determine what the negative behavior is and identify the desired behavior. Talk to the children about the desired behaviors and show them what you expect. Anticipate when a child is likely to engage in a negative behavior and offer them help and/or encourage the child to ask for help. Ask children as a group to show you what it means to "use inside voices", "keep hands and legs to ourselves", or "ask for help when you need it".
  5. Provide clear messages that hurtful behaviors are not allowed, and give the child acceptable alternatives. For example, tell the child to express his anger but not to hurt his friends. Time-outs should be used when all other interventions have failed and should be used as a "cooling off" period for the child. Time-outs should not be used with infants or toddlers. Children should always be told why they are receiving a time-out. A time-out should be supervised by an adult and last only a few minutes.
  6. Talk to a child's parents early on if you observe problem behaviors. If the problems last several weeks to months or are getting worse, you may want to refer a child for further evaluation. Start with the child's medical home (a doctor or health professional who makes sure the child receives comprehensive primary care). This individual can provide additional support and refer the family appropriately, depending on the child's condition and available community resources.


For resources on Social and Emotional Competence, visit the Resource Library.


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