At some point over the next few weeks or months you should, hopefully, get to reopen your childcare settling after it has been closed for the COVID-19 lockdown.
Having been at home for some weeks with a different routine or a lack of routine, young children are going to need support to find their way back into the routine of life at your childcare setting. They are likely to feel anxious, unsettled, tearful as they leave their primary carers for the first time in weeks. Their carers may well be feeling the same.
You know that the best thing you can do to support these children is to gradually settle them back into a routine with you. Along the way, though, you are likely to see some challenging behaviour as children find the way to express the big emotions they will be experiencing.
Below are some tips for help promote positive behaviour at a time that is going to be particularly challenging for all.
Help children develop self-regulation
Self-regulation is the ability to understand and manage your behaviour and your reactions to feelings and things happening around you.
For young children, this means they will be able to better control their reactions to emotions like frustration, anger or excitement. They will be able to calm down after finding something upsetting, and they will learn behaviour that helps them get along with other people. It also means they will have the attention skills to focus on a task. Children are really going to need to draw on these skills when childcare settings reopen. We all will. The best way to help children self-regulate is to support them by:
- Talking about emotions. There are many visual prompts that you can use to support this such as emotions cards, a mirror to look in, and different faces. Teach these in a circle time and, if there Is an incident, talk to the child about how they were feeling at the time.
- Naming the feeling. When your child struggles with a strong feeling, say to them “I can see that you are feeling angry”. Once they have calmed down, support them in labelling the emotion themselves.
- Teaching children a strategy to follow if they are feeling a particularly strong emotion. It might be that you have a quiet corner that they can visit to calm down, seek adult help or use a calming sensory toy.
- Remembering to be patient - it can be very hard for young children to cope when they have strong feelings.
Use positive attention.
- Use attention to encourage the behaviour that you want. Catch children doing something brilliant and praise them – your attention is a big reward for a child. If a child behaves in a particular way and gets your attention, they are likely to behave that way again.
- Children won’t always behave in the way that you would like them to. The trick is to pay more attention to the behaviour that you do want to see, and less to the behaviour that you don’t want to see. Basically, giving positive attention increases the likelihood of you seeing that behaviour again in the future.
- When faced with challenging behaviour, stay calm. If you show an extreme emotion then this is both interesting for the child, plus children will copy this and react to it.
- Going back to the subject of self-regulation, always offer praise where a child self-regulates well. This will be particularly important in your first few days of reopening.
Plan for challenging situations
If you know that you have a situation coming up that is going to be particularly challenging for one or two children, then plan for it. For some children with additional needs, this might be the change of routine that comes with a one off day event, or the sensory overload that a child might experience in a supermarket.
For occasions such as this you can pre-empt any behaviour challenges by preparing a child for what is to come. Use visuals to talk them through their day so that they know what to expect. This reduces anxiety, and therefore reduces negative behaviour. You can prepare for sensory overload by offering headphones or limiting the amount of time that child is exposed to the sensation.
Taking small steps such as these will make a big difference to the anxiety levels of certain children and therefore make the whole day calmer and happier for everyone.
Reopening your setting is going to be such a joyous occasion for many reasons, but there is no doubt that it will also be met with mixed emotions, especially if things aren’t quite back to normal. You are very equipped to help children settle back in though. Simply having an understanding of how they are feeling is half the battle towards helping them feel better. Wishing you all the best.
About the author
Gina Smith is an experienced teacher with experience of teaching in both mainstream and special education. She is the creator of ‘Create Visual Aids’ – a business that provides both homes and education settings with bespoke visual resources. Gina recognises the fact that no two children are the same and therefore individuals are likely to need different resources. Create Visual Aids is dedicated to making visual symbols exactly how the individual needs them.