WORDS: Madhavi Nawana Parker, Positive Minds Australia
As you grab a moment to have a quick and quiet read, reaching over for your half started/half finished lukewarm coffee, know that early learners are also exhausted, especially the under fives.
The early years (officially 0-8) are such an important time in a young person’s life. They have an enormous thirst for knowledge and pretty much everything is new.
Here are 8 simple ways to help early learners thrive, that won’t put you under more pressure than necessary.
1. Help them with their feelings and don’t take them personally.
There isn’t a young one on earth who hasn’t lost their mind over something minor and had a full blown emotional meltdown. Children often show their biggest emotions around the people they feel safest with. Hopefully (and usually) that’s their parents, primary caregivers and teachers. So, when they lose it, don’t take it personally and don’t fall into the trap of thinking they’re doing it on purpose. Handling big feelings is hard work for young people. With the brain only reaching full maturity in your late twenties and often even into your thirties, it’s no wonder an early learner’s brain gets so upset so often. Young ones get flooded with emotion very easily.
2. Teach good social skills.
The early years are a golden opportunity to teach young people how to get along with children their age and play in a mutually respectful, friendly and fun way. It’s also a great time to introduce them to a broad range of personalities so they gather experience cooperating with children who aren’t exactly like them, where they can learn to compromise, communicate calmly, adapt, manage emotions and frustrations and much more in real life social situations.
3. Offer warm, compassionate support when they do the wrong thing.
Try using discipline (teaching) instead of punishment. There’s plenty of research showing that punishing them for testing limits and crossing boundaries actually makes behaviour worse. For example, if an early learner tells you they hate you, instead of ‘don’t you speak to me like that, now go to time out,’ (punishment) try ‘boy, you must be really upset to speak to me that way. It’s hard to hear me say ‘no,’ and it’s still a ‘no.’ (discipline). Just a warning, you’ll require the patience of a Saint to consistently be calm and measured like this every time. Just do it as much as possible.
4. Provide early learners with clear boundaries and respectfully hold them accountable when their actions cross a boundary.
Help them make things better if someone else’s feelings get hurt along the way.
5. Make sure they have enough strong and healthy relationships with caregivers, teachers, family and friends.
This is especially important in those early years when their sense of trust and confidence about the world is developing. Everyone thrives when they feel genuinely connected to people who see, hear and value them for who they are. Special time with emotionally supportive adults helps their brain development. If they are at preschool or school, it’s important they feel warm, supported and connected where they attend their learning.
6. Provide enough opportunities to experience disappointment, losing and hearing the word, ‘no.’
While these are the least fun ‘opportunities for learning’ any parent or teacher wants (because they are often very difficult to navigate), the way kids learn to handle disappointment, losing and ‘no,’ is simply by experiencing it. This doesn’t mean you have to go hard on them and hurt their feelings, saying ‘no’ at every opportunity. They need to enjoy success and the word ‘yes’ often enough too. What I mean is, if all that warmth in your heart makes you a tad lenient with a tendency to fix their problems for them, making sure they avoid disappointment and hear ‘yes,’ more than is healthy, then maybe it’s time to think about what that might look like when they aren’t so cute and squishy.
7. Provide plenty of time resting, playing, laughing and creating, away from screens.
While we’ve all used the iPad and TV for much needed parent wellbeing and rest time, too much time on screens can change the way brains develop, potentially shortening attention span for life.
8. Offer choices when you want cooperation so they experience a sense of control through a win-win solution.
By offering choices that are both okay with you, children get to pick a preference and choose from two acceptable options. Side stepping power struggles is always a good idea. Make sure choices are limited and palatable to both of you, eliminating any choices you don’t want.
Madhavi Nawana Parker, Director of Positive Minds Australia is a widely published author of resilience, wellbeing, confidence and social emotional intelligence books, articles and programs.