DOUBLE TAP TO ZOOM WITH PHONE OR TABLET COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL DOUBLE TAP TO ZOOM WITH PHONE OR TABLET When Young Children Need Help Understanding and Addressing Emotional, Behavioral, and Developmental Challenges DEBOR AH HIRSCHLAND COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL DOUBLE TAP TO ZOOM WITH PHONE OR TABLET Published by Redleaf Press 10 Yorkton Court St. Paul, MN 55117-1065 © 2015 text by Deborah Hirschland © 2015 photography by Sage Sohier All rights reserved. Unless otherwise noted on a specific page, no portion of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or capturing on any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher, except by a reviewer, who may quote brief passages in a critical article or review to be printed in a magazine or newspaper, or electronically transmitted on radio, television, or the Internet. First edition 2015 Cover design by Elizabeth Berry MacKenney/berrygraphics Cover and interior photographs by Sage Sohier. Originals in color. Interior design by Erin Kirk New Typeset in Sentinel and Cronos Printed in the United States of America 22 21 20 19 18 17 16 15  1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Library of Congress Cataloging in Publication Control Number: 2014037385 Printed on acid-free paper COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL DOUBLE TAP TO ZOOM WITH PHONE OR TABLET To Libby Zimmerman, who helped forge the path, Loretta Wieczner, who walks it by my side, and My grandson Avi, who is teaching me about early childhood in a most wonderful new way COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL DOUBLE TAP TO ZOOM WITH PHONE OR TABLET Contents    Preface ix Acknowledgments xiii Introduction xvii Part 1 Getting Specific Before Getting to Work 1 Chapter 1 From Reflection to Action: Looking Closely, Thinking Clearly, Intervening Effectively 3 Chapter 2 Generating “Maybes”: Observing with Depth, Breadth, and an Eye for Surprises 17 Chapter 3 Spotlight on Development: Understanding the Building Blocks of Early Childhood Mastery 31 Chapter 4 Spotlight on Causation: Considering the “Whys” behind Worrisome Behavior 39 Chapter 5 Developing Child-Specific Portraits: Making Sense as the Foundation for Making Progress 53 Chapter 6 Pathways to Growth: Joining Big-Picture Thinking with Practical Strategies 65 Part 2 Connection Is Key 83 Chapter 7 Spotlight on the Three Cs: Connection, Communication, and Cue Responsiveness 85 Chapter 8 Getting to Work with Hannah: Helping a Child with Dark Moods and a Dark Past 97 Chapter 9 Getting to Work with Hannah, Continued: “Seeding the Day with Connection” and Other Strategies 111 COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL DOUBLE TAP TO ZOOM WITH PHONE OR TABLET Chapter 10 Getting to Work with Jenny: Helping an Intensely Shy Child 127 Chapter 11 When Home Has Been Hard: Helping Children Climb (or Re-climb) Developmental Ladders 139 Chapter 12 When Language Is Limited: Helping Two Boys Who Struggle to Communicate 155 Part 3 Addressing Problems in Self-Regulation 171 Chapter 13 Getting to Work with Gabrielle: Helping Out When Energy Is High and Focus Is Low 173 Chapter 14 Getting to Work with Brian: Helping an Easily Frustrated Child 193 Chapter 15 Getting to Work on “Big Feelings”: Helping Children Who Get Swamped by Anger or Anxiety 211 Chapter 16 Spotlight on Parenting: Helping Families Set Effective Expectations at Home 231 Part 4 Putting It All Together 247 Chapter 17 A Letter about Sam: Helping a Child with Multiple Challenges 249 Chapter 18 When Young Children Need Help: Big Changes Start with Small Steps 265 Appendix A Seeking Clarity—Useful Forms 271 Appendix B Staying on Track—Principles for Intervention 283 Appendix C Learning More—Tools and Resources 289 References 295 Index 299 COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL DOUBLE TAP TO ZOOM WITH PHONE OR TABLET COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL DOUBLE TAP TO ZOOM WITH PHONE OR TABLET Introduction This is a book about young children who are hard to understand, hard to help, or both. If you’re a teacher or child care provider, you know how stressful it can be to work with kids like this: they’re often the ones you focus on the most yet sense you’re reaching the least. You may feel relieved as you say good-bye to such youngsters at the end of a long day. But when you get home, you can’t stop thinking about them. You care about them, fret about them, and truly don’t know what to do about them. You see their gifts peeking out from behind their vulnerabilities but can’t seem to help those gifts shine more fully.   When teachers feel this stumped, an early childhood consultant is sometimes called in to take a fresh look at what’s going on. I’ve been such a consultant for many years now. This book tells the stories of some chil- dren I’ve met along the way and the caring adults who worked to help them. Through those stories, it offers a picture of how we can understand chil- dren’s difficulties without losing sight of their strengths. It looks at how to generate step-by-step goals for growth. And it provides many practical and child-friendly ways to foster that growth for a range of challenges.   Just who are the kids I’m describing as hard to help? What do they do? Some of them make the lives of everyone around them exceedingly difficult. Perhaps they respond to little problems in big ways—sobbing or punching, hurling insults or toys, and upsetting the children around them over and over again. Perhaps they wiggle and cruise their way through each part of the school day, annoying their buddies during circle time and mak- ing it difficult to get out to the playground without mishaps along the way. Maybe they refuse to listen—or listen but can’t make use of what they hear. Maybe they do a lot of these things at once.   Not all hard-to-help children are disruptive, however. Some have trou- ble communicating and, tired of trying to make themselves understood, quietly lose their zest for friendship and their passion for learning. Others react to the world of their classroom as if it’s terribly unsafe, hovering on COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL xvii DOUBLE TAP TO ZOOM WITH PHONE OR TABLET the edges of play and clamming up in response to friendly overtures from classmates and teachers alike. Then there are the kids who respond to both people and activities with a kind of dazed disengagement. Such children can be gently propelled through their days in school and don’t make life difficult for others. But as easy as it is to have them in a classroom, they may be just as hard to reach as kids who lash out regularly.   These descriptions capture only a few of the ways young children show us that they aren’t feeling comfortable in themselves and confident in their worlds—and aren’t developing the skills they’ll need to succeed as friends and learners in the years to come. Whatever the particulars, such difficul- ties often lead staff to ask a set of questions. If it hasn’t happened already, is it time for a child to undergo an assessment process? Might some outside services—or even a different school placement—be helpful? What about what’s going on at home? Should a referral for child or family therapy be made?   These are good questions, and their answers often help us help kids. However, while assessments can offer valuable information, they don’t always capture the fullness of who a child is and how his difficulties are nested in the worlds of his family and classroom. They usually don’t clarify how teachers can support that child’s growth in a moment-to-moment way either. And while supplementary services can be very useful, most hard- to-help kids remain in their classrooms for many hours each day.   All of this means that even after assessments are complete and extra supports are in place, teachers still have a big job: To use whatever infor- mation is at hand to understand the most worrisome children in their care. To come up with their best guesses as to what approaches will support growth, and to start using them as skillfully and compassionately as pos- sible. To keep a close eye on how those approaches are working, tweaking and revamping them as needed. And to partner with children’s parents whenever possible, so that the most important people in a child’s life are collaborating on how to move forward with hope.   When Young Children Need Help delves deeply into the progression just described—one that goes from making meaning to making progress. It does this, however, without suggesting that if a child does this, then teachers should do that. As young children learn and grow, they’re supremely and uniquely themselves. That’s what can make working with them such an adventure and such a pleasure. Hard-to-help kids are no exception, and the approaches we use to assist them must be tailored to who they are. There’s another ingredient to add to the mix too: the strategies a teacher uses to xviii Introduction COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL DOUBLE TAP TO ZOOM WITH PHONE OR TABLET support growth have to be a good fit for that particular child. Approaches to intervention work well only when the people using them find ways to make them their own.   My intent, then, isn’t that you’ll finish this book knowing exactly what to do when a particular child is having difficulties. You will find plenty of strategies you can add to those you already like and use. But, just as impor- tantly, you’ll encounter some perspectives that may help you think more clearly about the challenging children you teach, and allow you to come up with your own creative approaches to supporting them and their families.   When Young Children Need Help is organized as follows. The chap- ters of part 1, “Getting Specific Before Getting to Work,” take a close look at the process of observation, reflection, and action planning. Then the book moves on to examine specific approaches used to target specific dif- ficulties. The six chapters of part 2, “Connection Is Key,” highlight the nature of work with children who struggle to connect with pleasure and communicate with ease. The chapters in part 3, “Addressing Problems in Self-Regulation,” put a spotlight on how we support kids who have trouble slowing down their bodies, focusing their minds, managing their feelings, and controlling their impulses. Part 4, “Putting It All Together,” begins by taking an integrative look at intervention through the story of a hard-to- help child with a mix of developmental challenges. Then the book’s final chapter celebrates the little steps that lead to big changes as it looks back on what has been explored and forward to new possibilities.   It is my hope that the ideas you’ll find throughout When Young Children Need Help will make those little steps easier to take and those big changes easier to believe in. I hope, too, that the children whose lives and struggles fill its pages will bring those ideas to life. All of these youngsters—and their families—have been heavily disguised. Their issues, their classrooms, and the interventions used to help them, however, are absolutely real.   Anyone who writes about young children and their caregivers runs into a problem: it’s hard to find an efficient yet inclusive language with which to describe early childhood work. In this book, I use the word teacher to stand in for toddler, preschool, and kindergarten teachers, program-based child care staff, and family child care providers. Parents stands in for moth- ers, fathers, grandparents, aunts and uncles, foster parents, and any other adults who anchor life at home. Finally, classroom and school represent all early care and education settings. In addition, I generally alternate the pro- nouns he and she from chapter to chapter to offer gender-neutral language without having to repeatedly use he or she and his or her. COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL Introduction xix DOUBLE TAP TO ZOOM WITH PHONE OR TABLET   One last note before these explorations begin. It is my good fortune to have as a dear friend a wonderful photographer. Sage Sohier heard about this writing project early on and very generously agreed to take photos of some of the classrooms where I consult. The kids whose photographs you’ll find throughout this book, including on its cover, are not the hard-to- help youngsters I describe in its chapters. Rather, they’re children going through their days in school, experiencing the joys of play, learning, and friendship—and the challenges of being little in a big and sometimes com- plicated world. I’m indebted to Sage for capturing the nuances of their experiences so beautifully. I’m indebted as well to their parents and teach- ers for being willing to share Sage’s photos of life in school. xx Introduction COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL DOUBLE TAP TO ZOOM WITH PHONE OR TABLET 1 From Reflection to Action Looking Closely, Thinking Clearly, Intervening Effectively It’s a Monday afternoon in early November. A group of teachers, many with some much-needed coffee in hand, settle into their chairs as they prepare to begin one of their program’s lead teacher “drop-ins.” These monthly groups carve out time for the head teachers of a large preschool program to seek advice from each other, get support, and think about new ways of approaching their work when things in their classrooms aren’t going as well as they’d like. Often, they end up seeking help in regard to children they’re finding particularly challenging.    As the program’s early childhood consultant, I’m in the room too, sipping my own cup of coffee. We all exchange greetings, grumbling good-naturedly about the fact that the season’s first snow is forecast for later in the week. Then Julia, the lead teacher of a prekindergarten classroom, asks whether she can start us off. The group willingly agrees: she’s one of the program’s most admired teachers and is more likely to offer help than request it. Her colleagues know she must be feeling on shaky ground if she’s asking to take the floor. With a nod of thanks, Julia begins to speak.    “I really need to talk about Gabrielle. Things are getting worse. Well, not totally. She’s not bolting out of the classroom like she was, and that’s a huge relief. But she keeps grabbing the toys kids are using during free play or shoving their arms away if she wants something they’re reaching for. And she’s constantly telling them what to do and what not to do. So even though they know Gabby has fun ideas, most of the children won’t play with her anymore. When they leave her alone, she does okay. She’s a terrific artist. She loves the dramatic play corner, too. If she’s there by herself, she’ll pretend to be a mom, and you can hear her telling these long stories about what her doll babies need and how she’s help- ing them. But we can’t ask the other kids not to share the area with her, and then things fall apart immediately.    “It doesn’t get any better either. Gabby roams around the classroom during cleanup—it’s almost impossible to get her to help out. And now she’s starting to push back big time about coming to circle at all. Even if we can get her there, she probably sits for less than a minute or two most days before she starts cruising the room and creating a big distraction. COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL 3 DOUBLE TAP TO ZOOM WITH PHONE OR TABLET    “Then there’s the playground. That’s been a nightmare. I got there just in time the other day when Gabby was so focused on being first down the slide that she almost pushed little Jie-ling off the ladder. And you know how hard we’ve been trying to help Jie-ling feel safe here.”    Julia has said a lot already. But before anyone has a chance to offer support or ask questions, she barrels ahead. Her stress and concern fill up our meeting room like this girl’s energy and impulsivity fill up her classroom.    “Gabby does pretty well at snack and lunch though. When she’s focused on eating, she seems to settle down, and then she can be really sweet and funny. You know, even though she does all these outrageous things, I don’t think she’s actually all that aggressive. She just does whatever comes to mind to get what she wants right then. When she’s calm, she can be truly kind. Yesterday, one of the girls forgot her lunch, and Gabby offered to share her sandwich even though she was starving. She’s really smart and curious too . . . when she’s not being so difficult, you can see what a neat kid she is.    “The thing is, I know she’s getting to me. I’ve become so frustrated with how she doesn’t listen and how much time she’s taking away from the other kids that I’m sure she can tell I’m more and more annoyed with her. I noticed this week that when I come close to her, it seems like she assumes I’m going to tell her she’s doing something wrong. And she turns away even more than she used to.    “Here’s something else. I know I didn’t do a good job talking with her mom yesterday. I had the feeling Beth was doing everything she could not to cry when I told her what Gabby’s day had been like. She just stood there looking sort of shell-shocked with her baby’s nose running and her two-year-old tugging at her sleeve and Gabby ready to tear out the door into the parking lot like she did last Monday. I think Gabby’s dad might be out of the house, too. I’m not sure what’s up there.”    A number of teachers nod. This is a family that has been on the program’s radar since shortly after Gabrielle arrived some months back, and Julia isn’t the only one who wonders how things are going at home. Julia, though, isn’t quite ready to step back and begin reflecting on either Gabby or her family. She has more she needs to get out.    “I do feel so bad for Beth. But then I watch how she just lets Gabby run wild when they first get here. I mean, yesterday, Gabby literally climbed on a table right next to Beth. And Beth didn’t say a thing! Then I hear how Gabby talks back to her mother at pickup time, and I sort of feel like these parents really shouldn’t have had three kids so close together. I start judging Beth and feeling so angry with Gabby that I find myself wishing we could just kick her out. And you guys know me, right? That’s not like me, it’s really not who I am at all.” 4 Chapter 1 COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL DOUBLE TAP TO ZOOM WITH PHONE OR TABLET    Now it’s Julia who looks close to crying. Her openness isn’t a surprise: the group has worked to create a nonjudgmental atmosphere that everyone has come to trust. These teachers aren’t just seeking to “vent” during our meetings, however. Their hope, like Julia’s, is to return to their classrooms with new per- spectives and fresh ideas for intervention. That’s a weighty agenda for sure. But not only do the teachers and I find our time together full of learning, we laugh a lot as well. Sometimes, even more than some interesting new ideas, it’s that laughter that allows a teacher to take heart, regroup, and move forward.    It’s clear, though, that it’s going to take some sharing around the table before Julia can regain a sense of humor about Gabrielle. And even though some friendly laughter will help lighten her load, this teacher also needs our company in taking a closer look at her student’s experience. From Reflection to Action: An Essential Progression What our drop-in group does, month after month, involves a set of steps. First we outline what we already know about what a child is doing and feeling, and add information about her inborn nature, history, and life at home. Then, using the information we’ve gathered, we consider the rea- sons behind what is going on and identify specific areas in which a child needs help. Finally, based on our understanding of these first two steps, we generate ideas about how to support growth. Framed more simply, we progress from reflection to action by answering three questions: What do we see? What do we think? What should we do?   This three-step progression is useful far beyond the work of our monthly drop-in group: it is central to understanding and helping any youngster whom teachers and parents are worried about. Taking the time to move through it fully can make all the difference when a child isn’t thriv- ing and the adults who care about her can’t figure out what to do about it. That’s because the keys to change often lie in observing what is going on even more carefully in order to get a better feel for why a child is struggling. It is only then that a sensible and child-specific action plan can be put in place to move things forward.   As we progress from seeing to thinking to doing, we need some “anchor- ing” ideas to keep us on track. A number of them, listed here, are rooted in widely shared beliefs connected to our field’s knowledge base: • The worrisome behaviors of hard-to-help kids are filled with informa- tion about developmental skills they’re having trouble mastering and From Reflection to Action COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL 5 DOUBLE TAP TO ZOOM WITH PHONE OR TABLET troubling feelings they’re experiencing. Helping them to thrive involves paying attention to both. • Understanding the reasons for those skill deficits and emotions means having to think about the mix of a youngster’s constitutional nature (what we sometimes call “hard wiring”), the family situation into which she was born and lives, and difficult experiences she’s had dur- ing her childhood. • The nature of early relationships has a huge impact on how kids learn and grow. If a child’s early and ongoing connections haven’t been filled with trust and ease, a focus on positive relationship building is going to be central. • When a child is struggling at home or school, adults often react in ways that make things worse, even though that’s not their intention. Changing those patterns is another element behind successful intervention. • Parenting is hard work—especially parenting in the face of life chal- lenges or a child whose medical situation, constitutionally based vul- nerabilities, or temperament makes her harder than usual to care for. Finding ways to partner with and support the parents of hard-to-help kids is often an essential piece to moving things forward. • All kids have a core need to be loved and appreciated. When things aren’t going well, a mix of support, affection, and optimism can go far in setting the stage for change.   Gabrielle’s teacher, Julia, believes strongly in these ideas and frequently uses them to come up with thoughtful and compassionate approaches to all of the kids in her care. That’s why she’s highly respected by her colleagues and why so many parents feel good about dropping their children off with her each day. Even the best teachers can feel overwhelmed by particularly challenging kids, however. That’s what has happened here. When a child’s difficulties leave teachers feeling as concerned as Julia and her team are, it doesn’t mean that the progression from reflection to action has lost its usefulness. It does suggest that we’ll need to look even more closely and think more deeply before figuring out what mix of strategies (and, at times, outside supports) might make a difference. It also tells us that if possible, finding a way to partner successfully with a child’s family will be an impor- tant piece of the puzzle.   Looking more closely at a child’s experience isn’t always as easy as it sounds. It requires pulling together a range of information about what’s 6 Chapter 1 COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL DOUBLE TAP TO ZOOM WITH PHONE OR TABLET going on, and that can feel overwhelming when a youngster is on the com- plicated side or taking up a great deal of energy already. Luckily, we often have much of the information we need on hand. Our job is to assemble what we know in useful form.   Consider, for example, the plea for help that opens this chapter. Julia plunges into her description of classroom life with more desperation than organization. Even so, her keen observations touch on many of the areas our teacher drop-in group will have to sort through to make sense of what’s going on. First, Gabrielle’s behaviors can be very problematic. A number of them suggest that she is lacking some of the developmental skills kids need to do well—things like the ability to slow down her body, focus her mind, and control her impulses. Second, Gabby may be weighed down with some troubling feelings. Her way of pulling back from her teachers and talking back to her mother indicate that she may be both angry with others and feeling bad about herself. Third, the quality of her relationships with adults has become filled with tension, as her teachers get increasingly annoyed and her mother’s eyes fill with helpless tears. In addition, Gabby is “starting to push back big time” and “turns away even more than she used to.” It appears that the back-and-forth between how this child behaves, how people respond, and what she does next as a result—what we might call interactive patterning—may be causing her worrisome behaviors to become more extreme rather than less so. Finally, things at home don’t seem to be going any better than things at school.   Certainly there’s a lot to be worried about. We also learn, however, that Gabrielle isn’t always as difficult as she appears at first glance. She’s bet- ter at snack and lunch than at other times. She has some interesting play ideas on which she contentedly elaborates when no one is around to get in her way. In addition, she has genuine empathy for others when she’s not at the mercy of her impulsivity. She is smart and curious, too, and has a great sense of humor. In fact when Gabby’s strengths shine through, she is, in Julia’s words, a “neat kid.”   Behavior, developmental skill, emotional well-being, adult-child rela- tionships, interactive patterning, life at home—all of these are at the core of what we need to understand about Gabby’s struggles. Times when things go better or worse, the capacity for play, the ability to feel for and reach out to others, and strengths that peek out from under difficulties—these, too, are of great importance in our efforts to make sense of what is going on. Now, how do we take such broad-ranging areas and organize them From Reflection to Action COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL 7 DOUBLE TAP TO ZOOM WITH PHONE OR TABLET systematically? How do we use them to progress from reflection to action in a thorough yet efficient way? “Three-Part Flips”: Using Observations to Set Goals and Consider Strategies What do we see? What do we think? What should we do? How might we assemble the information we gather in answering the first question to help us reflect on the second? And how can our answers to that second question generate ideas in regard to the third? There’s a lot to keep in mind, and the “three-part flip” framework that follows can help. It gives us a way to orga- nize the information we have on hand by providing categories for consid- eration. And it encourages us to take what we’ve noticed and learned about a child and family, think about where we’d like to head, and use our hopes for change to ask questions about intervention. In that sense, it adds some “meat” to the bones of the “see →think→ do” progression.   Here, then, are a number of exploratory “three-part flips” (with credit given to my colleague Loretta Wieczner for her central role in developing them). In each one, we first ask what we see that we’re worried about. Then we flip our initial query on its head to consider what we don’t see that we hope to foster instead. Finally, we pose some questions that ask us to start brainstorming about how to head toward that growth. These flips ask us to consider questions about: Behavior and Developmental Mastery • What is the child doing that concerns us? • What isn’t she doing that we’d like to see instead? • How can we teach her the developmental skills she’ll need in order to move in that positive direction? Emotional Well-Being • What is the child feeling when he is behaving in problematic ways? • What feelings do we hope he will start experiencing more of instead? • What can we do to foster those positive feelings? 8 Chapter 1 COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL DOUBLE TAP TO ZOOM WITH PHONE OR TABLET Adult-Child Connections • How are we feeling toward this child? (Is she “getting to” us as Gabby is getting to Julia?) How is she feeling toward us? • What feelings, on both sides, do we hope might develop instead? • What can we do to foster more feelings of pleasurable connection in both directions? Interactive Patterning • Are there things we do when interacting with this child that seem to be leading to more rather than less problematic behavior, even though that’s not our intent? • What kind of “he does →we do →he does” exchanges do we hope to get going instead? • What can we do during our part of these patterns to help the child begin having different responses on his end? Life at Home • Are there things about this child’s home life that may be contributing to what we see? • What changes in the way her parent(s) interact with her might help her feel better and act differently? Might those changes also help family members feel more positive about their relationship with her? • How can we forge a partnership with this family so that we offer sup- port and mentoring around issues they’re experiencing at home, while they help us become more successful at school?   These first five flips help us use our observations to come up with sen- sible goals, which then serve as a springboard for thinking about effective approaches to classroom-based support and home-school partnerships. But these flips don’t give us the complete framework we need to organize the information we have at hand. Nor do they ask us to pay attention to all aspects of intervention. That’s why we need to look at some additional categories, each one of which—like those just offered—involves a series of questions. The following question sets continue to ask about what we see and hope to see. They help us frame goals for getting to work as well. This time, we consider: From Reflection to Action COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL 9 DOUBLE TAP TO ZOOM WITH PHONE OR TABLET Triggers for Difficulty and Setups for Success • What times of day, what situations, and which people seem to set off behaviors of concern? • At what times of day, in what situations, and with which people does the child fare better? • How can we use the answers to both these questions to shoot for more situations that help him to thrive? How can we use them to support him differently through periods of predictable difficulty? Challenges “Playing Out in Play” • How does the way in which this child plays (or doesn’t play) reflect her vulnerabilities? • What would her play look like if she was beginning to master her chal- lenges successfully? • What kind of classroom-based play support can we provide to help her gain the mastery she needs? Family Culture and History • What is this family’s heritage? Are the norms at home different from those the child experiences in school? Did this family come to this country recently or under duress? • How might we reach out to this child and his family? How can we help the family build a comfortable bridge between the child’s experience in his home culture and his time in school? • How can we convey the respect this child and family deserve, support his growing mastery in our classroom, and create an inclusive experi- ence classroom-wide? Outside Supports of All Kinds • Does this child appear to have developmental challenges and/or emo- tional issues that could benefit from assessment or outside support? Is the family struggling with financial, housing, mental health, or other issues that make it hard for them to provide the basics their kids need? • What kinds of assessment, support services, and/or advocacy might be useful? 10 Chapter 1 COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL DOUBLE TAP TO ZOOM WITH PHONE OR TABLET • How can we reach out to this family successfully, especially if they are hard to engage? How can we help them begin to access the help they and/or their child need in a way that feels safe and supportive to them? Getting Specific Before Getting to Work If the answers to question sets like these were easy to come by, books like this wouldn’t be necessary. Each one requires exploration, and each is discussed in the following chapters. Attending to their content starts us down the road to change, helping us “get specific” about a youngster’s overall situation and “get to work” with approaches that are tailored to her unique needs. That’s what starts to happen after the drop-in group’s meet- ing about Gabrielle.   As is so often the case at the beginning of the progression from reflec- tion to action, our drop-in group notes information connected to many of the categories just listed. But as is also common, a few content areas take precedence in our discussion. In this case, we focus partly on key areas of developmental mastery with which Gabrielle is struggling, and how teachers can find effective ways to teach her the skills she lacks. We also take note of some worrisome interactive patterns that have emerged in response to her skill deficits. Those patterns, we surmise, appear to be putting her emotional well-being at risk: she’s starting to see herself as an out-of-control “bad girl” rather than a delightful child with some impor- tant things to learn. The group poses many questions about life at home as well, and Julia leaves with a commitment to reach out further to Gabby’s mother, Beth.   I have a chance to visit the classroom about two weeks after that meet- ing. Julia tells me that she’s become even more aware of what a big role Gabrielle’s trouble regulating energy plays in what has been going on. As a result, she and her team have come up with some new ideas about how to break down and teach that developmental skill, step by step. As just one example, they’ve been running some group games that help children use their minds to direct their bodies to slow down. Gabby and her class- mates have been moving to music using big, fast motions and then little, small ones. They’ve played games in which they dance and then freeze, or run fast and then walk slowly. They’ve pretended to be quick-moving eels alternating with leisurely sea turtles, too.   The teaching team hasn’t just been working on energy regulation. They’ve also realized that Gabrielle’s oppositional behavior stems in part From Reflection to Action COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL 11 DOUBLE TAP TO ZOOM WITH PHONE OR TABLET from the fact that she has been feeling more nagged than appreciated. To change that dynamic, they’ve been “seeding the day with connection”— seeking Gabby out for brief moments of pleasurable engagement through- out her hours in the classroom. (See chapter 9 for more on this multifac- eted strategy.)   Now it’s circle time, and Julia is working to help the group settle in. Gabby has shown up without too much fuss—a wonderful change—and is squirming on her mat next to her classmate Susannah. Julia, smiling at Susannah and then at Gabby, calls out, “I like the way Susannah is sitting!” She appears to be hoping that Gabby will use the encouraging cue to imitate her friend. Gabby turns to look at Susannah, who is sitting “crisscross applesauce.” Barely able to sit at all, Gabby glances toward her teacher with genuine puzzlement. “How does she do that?” she asks.   It is a sweet and telling moment. The (problematic) interactive pat- terning that the drop-in group noted earlier has begun to shift. Gabrielle is trying, not balking. She’s looking to Julia and asking for help rather than shutting her out. In addition she’s starting to engage in some self-observa- tion, a precursor to impulse control. As she does this, she notices that she’s not managing to do what is expected. Gabby, however, doesn’t know how to do what her teacher wants: her mastery of the skills connected to regulat- ing energy and sensory input are still very low. Julia is right there with her student though. With the team’s increased emphasis on both connection and developmental mastery, this teacher uses the moment beautifully. Julia smiles at Gabby again and says out loud, “Great question!” Then she tells her that one of the other teachers, Maryanne, will be right over to lend a hand. Maryanne takes the cue and moves to sit behind Gabby. She places her large hands on Gabby’s spindly upper arms with a bit of friendly pressure, giving her student some of the sensory “diet” the team has noted she needs. Maryanne also offers Gabby some whispered instructions that help her settle a little more. Not as fully as Susannah, but as fully as she is capable of at this point. With a “thumbs up” directed Gabby’s way, Julia briefly stops the story she’s relating to the group. She smiles at her wiggliest classroom member one more time. “I like the way Gabrielle is sitting!” she says. Gabby grins back.   There is a lot going on here, though what these teachers are doing looks quite simple. Julia and her team have come up with a picture of where 12 Chapter 1 COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL DOUBLE TAP TO ZOOM WITH PHONE OR TABLET Gabrielle’s vulnerabilities lie. With that picture as a guide, they have agreed on a set of goals. They’re working on relationship building, on skill devel- opment, and on boosting Gabrielle’s experience of well-being and confi- dence. They are also trying to change the back-and-forth patterning that was leading Gabrielle to become increasingly oppositional. And they’re doing all this while still making sure that circle time continues apace for the other children in their classroom. It’s impressive teaching that reflects what Julia, her colleagues, and I call “thinking big but acting small.”   The work that Julia’s team does to support Gabby and her mother serves as a case example of the approaches we use to help the kids I call “the wig- gly ones.” Other features of that work are explored in chapter 13, but there are a few additional points worth noting here. The first is that being aware of what’s going on for a child always means considering life at home, not just in school. The second is that we can’t underestimate the importance of staying open to new information. Sometimes, it’s that information that helps us envision the best pathway to mastery for a child or family. The Importance of Staying Open and Curious—with Kids and with Their Families As lead teacher, Julia has witnessed Beth’s close-to-tears concern and her seeming lack of response to Gabby’s impulsive behaviors. However, as is so often true, there is considerably more to discover about what is going on. Julia and I reach out to Beth over a number of meetings. We quickly learn that she’s well aware that Gabby is not in good control, and very willing to accept some support and guidance. The problem for Beth is that one of the few things Gabby responds to when she’s misbehaving is loud yelling. But this mother hates yelling and for good reason. Beth, it turns out, grew up with a father who had a terrifyingly violent temper when he’d had too much to drink. And he drank a lot.   When Beth became a parent she promised herself she wouldn’t scare her kids. However, trying to stay calm at all costs has caused a different kind of problem. Gabby has been so energetic, so wild, and so unwilling to listen when her mother speaks softly that Beth ends up locking her in her room when she has behaved especially badly. Gabby hates that, and it makes Beth feel awful too. Sometimes, though, it seems to be the only thing that works, at least in the moment. Longer term, Beth knows that what she is doing isn’t really helping. Gabby is just impossible in the grocery store From Reflection to Action COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL 13 DOUBLE TAP TO ZOOM WITH PHONE OR TABLET and embarrassingly out of control when she’s picked up at school. In addi- tion, Beth has been wondering something: Has Gabby been running out of the classroom because she has been locked in her room regularly and now can’t stand feeling closed in? It feels as though the whole business of trying to parent with gentleness has backfired.   As Julia and I talk with her more, this soft-spoken woman tearfully reveals that she married a man who has turned out to have a temper not unlike her father’s. Her husband works all the time, she notes. In some ways, given what he is like when he’s home, that can be a relief. In fact, Beth is so unhappy in her marriage that she has been thinking about divorce. But she feels stuck, she tells us. She and her husband have three young kids and not enough money to support two households.   In our ever-deepening conversations with Beth, the first layer of obser- vation leads to a second and even a third. And what Julia and I learn about underlying issues leads directly to hopes for change. The categories behind our three-part flips come in handy, too, as we brainstorm with Beth about goals she has for getting support, for gaining control over Gabby, and for changing the back-and-forth between them that is leading her daughter to become less and less compliant. As we move from what we all see to what we think to what Beth can do, the three of us do some role playing. Beth tries out what a firm but reasonable “voice of authority” might sound like (see chapter 16). We talk about how she can set effective limits at home. In addition, we consider how she and the team can partner to help Gabby learn to “pop up and tune in” (an attention-related skill examined in chap- ter 7). With help, Beth becomes far more effective with Gabby and far more confident in herself. Watching this mother start to experience a sense of empowerment is a pleasure. Shooting for an Ideal While Living in the Real There is much to celebrate as Gabby moves through her final year of pre- school. But Gabby and her family’s story isn’t one with a perfect ending. Like so many children with challenges, this girl makes wonderful progress. Yet she heads off to kindergarten in a way that has everyone holding their breath. Not surprisingly, Julia gets a call from Gabby’s new teacher before the end of September. He wants advice as to how he can help his most chal- lenging student stay focused and calm when he is on his own in a classroom with twenty kids. It is a great credit to the preschool team that Julia has 14 Chapter 1 COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL DOUBLE TAP TO ZOOM WITH PHONE OR TABLET many strategies to suggest. At the end of their conversation, Gabby’s kin- dergarten teacher thanks her profusely: her way of understanding Gabby, he says, is truly helpful. Will what Julia has conveyed lighten the task the new team faces in supporting this lovable yet still-challenging girl? Julia hopes it will. Gabby has a long way to go. From Reflection to Action COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL 15