Early Childhood Behaviorist Corner


    Thoughts from the Behavior Department

    The  school wide behavior management system in our Early Childhood Program focuses on three behavior characteristics that are the building blocks for success.  These characteristics are;  I can be a friend, I can try my best, and I can use my words.  This month we take a deeper look at the first characteristic: I can be a friend.

    “ A friend is one of the best things you can have, and one of the best things you can be.” -Winnie the Pooh

    As adults we hardly ever think about  what it means to be a friend or what we need to do to develop friendships. From our point of view, friendship has become a natural part of life. We are friends, and we have friends, there is no need to spend time thinking about how this came to be.  We believe our ability to make and maintain friendship came to us organically, and we can sometimes get frustrated when our children seem to have difficulty in this area.  But we have forgotten something important.  Once upon a time we had to learn how to be a friend.  It did not always come naturally to us, and we should not expect this skill to come naturally for our children. 

    Let’s consider friendship from the  point of view of our preschoolers.  The concept of friendship can be vague and confusing. We tell them to “Be nice” or “Be a friend”, but what does that mean?  To help our children understand what it means to be a friend, we first have to think about the behavioral characteristics that define a friend. Next, we examine what are developmentally appropriate expectations for developing friendship.  Finally, we look for a way to effectively teach and reinforce the skill set. 

    Since the concept of friendship can be vague, we looked for specific concrete behaviors that are necessary for developing friendships. In our program, these behaviors ( respect for personal space, safety, turn taking/waiting and sharing) are the starting point for our teaching.   

    We seek opportunities to encourage and reinforce these behaviors when our children  engage in them.  Lining up to go to the bathroom without bumping into the person in front of them.  (respect for personal space, waiting).  Letting a peer have ½ of the stringing beads during table top activities (sharing) and so on.  When we see our children engaging in these behaviors we acknowledge and praise, “Wow such nice waiting on line!  You are being good friends!”  This approach helps them understand what they have done well and how their actions relate to  being a friend.  In other words, we try to catch them being a friend and make sure they know we are proud of them.  This reinforcement of the behavior encourages them to continue to engage in the desired “friend” behaviors.  One of the beautiful things about preschoolers is how excited they get when adults are proud of them! 

    We have also started our daily Mindful Morning program. The Mindful Morning uses a developmentally appropriate approach to teach our children to focus on their environment, both  internal (emotions) and external (what/who is around them).  Over time, this will help in developing self regulation skills and increased empathy towards others; both important skills for establishing and maintaining friendships. 

    At home, there are many opportunities for parents and guardians to reinforce the friendship behaviors. Practice turn taking while playing games, share toys or a snack with siblings or with parents, watch the Mindful Morning videos posted on our DoJo and practice the skills presented by Dr. Lopez and Angela.  The possibilities are endless, not to mention a lot of fun!

    Here are some fun videos available on YouTube about friendship that you may enjoy watching with your child: 
    Sesame Street: Elmo and Rosita Teach Friendship
    Sesame Street: What is a Friend? (Cookie Monster shares)
    Sesame Street: Anyone Can Be Friends Song with Elmo
    Elmo Belly Breathes

    Some read aloud stories about friendship that are available on YouTube:
    My Friend is Sad  by Mo Willems a read aloud 
    Llama Llama Time to Share by Anna Dewdney - Children’s Books read aloud 

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