I am the supervisor of a day care
centre and I am a great believer in the Jane Nelson methods and
have read many of your books. I purchased 6 copies of Positive
Discipline and gave them all away to needy parents. I seek
your advice on a situation I have at work.
The child is four years old. His language, gross motor, fine
motor and cognitive skills are developmentally appropriate. He
has a good attention span . His difficulty is in expressing anger.
When he is faced with a situation (not always just sometimes but
often enough to cause concern) where he has to wait his turn,
wants something someone else has, etc. he can display extremely
aggressive behaviour. Usually it is directed at the adults in
the centre but lately he has threatened children as well. Fortunately
no child has been hurt as teachers are prepared to anticipate
his response. We are concerned about the safety of the children
since we may not always be able to be right there.
Through many consultations with staff and parents we have developed
a plan that included reinforcement of positive behavior (and
there are many opportunities for this), plenty of one on one teacher/child
time, etc. When he gets angry we can see by his body language
when a tantrum is about to begin. We try to talk him through it
but when this does not work he will start to kick, hit, spit at,
bite and then throw objects (sometimes as large as a shelf). When
this happens we calmly hold him in our lap, restrain his hands
and if necessary his feet telling him it is not acceptable to
hurt our friends. We validate his feelings .." I understand
you are angry, you wish you could have that ball but you may not
hurt me or anyone else. I will hold you until you say you are
ready to play". He is always in charge of the time limit.
He understands the situation and after a few minutes (although
it seems like hours) he calms down and announces he is done, we
hug, get a drink, discuss it briefly - no lectures, etc.
We have no choice but to hold him as his fits can cause serious
damage to people and property. We communicate with parents via
notes sent home to eliminate discussion in front of the child.
He is however fully aware of these notes and when he has a good
day we write a note together telling mom and dad the good things
that happened today. We strive to continue to be positive, we
never yell or humiliate him. We tell him often (as the children)
how important he is in our group and how wonderful his contributions
are. He can be a very delightful, creative, caring child. At this
point the tantrums occur a few times a week - we haven't
noticed any pattern in them although we certainly have tried -
we are detectives sometimes.
I leave work feeling drained and discouraged because I don't
feel like we're making much progress - although improvement
has definitely been noted over the last six months. My concern
is long term - what happens when he enters the school system —what
form will this aggression take when he is 12, or 18? Are we doing
all we can? I have suggested — and the parents have followed
through (we meet next week) to acquire professional assistance.
He is a very strong child and is capable of really hurting another
child. The children have not displayed any serious negative behavior
towards him although they have often told him to stop hurting
the teachers. They fully accept him as a playmate. We think he
is very fortunate as we know this is not always the case. Are
we doing the right thing? Am I missing something? Do you have
any advice for me? Thanks
As I read your letter, I kept thinking
how lucky this child is to be in your day care centre. I cannot
see anything that you are doing wrong — and everything that
you are doing right. I hope it is encouraging for you just to
know that. It sounds like you would like "to save the world"
in a single bound. (I have been known to have that problem.) As
difficult as this child seems, know that you are doing the best
you can (which is a lot) and don't worry about the future.
Be grateful for the small improvements, and don't worry
about perfection. I will give you a sneak preview of one other
thing you might try, which will soon be coming out in a new book.
Perhaps you have read in some of my later books (do you have Positive
Discipline for Preschoolers and Positive Discipline A-Z?) about
positive time out. I have just ordered the most adorable, full-sized,
stuffed Grandma from some people who make puppets. Her lap is
a cushion. She is built to fit on one of those resin lawn chairs.
She has a big soft bosom and arms with Velcro on the fingers so
her arms can fit snug around a child. She has pockets that contain
a small stuffed animal and small books. The idea is for children
to go sit on her lap when they need time to calm down and feel
better. When children are taught that time out is a place to help
us feel better so we can do better (instead of punishment) you
can ask a child who is having a tantrum, "Do you think it
will help you to go sit on Grandma's lap for awhile?"
When they truly understand the spirit of positive time out, children
often love this option to help them calm down and feel better.
Again, I applaud you. Keep up the good work.