Want a better behaved child? It’s all about the relationship.

A group of parents from Partners In Learning has just completed a six-week workshop where we  discussed how to go about promoting behaviors we love to see in our children and how to diminish behaviors we’d like to see go away.  We had a great time working our way through the course.  It’s always good to learn that other parents struggle with challenging behavior, and that other people’s children are also not perfect.  We’re celebrating the completion of the course this week by meeting up at Ryan’s to enjoy the shared comradery that has developed during these past six weeks.

The workshop was developed by CSEFEL, (Center for the Social Emotional Foundation for Early Learning) who created this Positive Solutions for Families series, and here is an outline of what we learned.

Making a connection

Every child needs that one special person who is just crazy about them.  Who was that person for you?  How did that person make you feel?  What impact did that person have on who you are today?  What are the benefits and barriers to spending quality time with your child each day?  Children build self-esteem and are introduced to new social skills when parents spend some (even small) portion of their day directing their complete, undivided attention to their child.  But230098_10150558896370504_696465503_18282160_1354090_n where do we find the time in our busy complicated day and how do you devote individual time to a one child when there are siblings?   These are questions we discussed at length.   How do you support positive behavior?  First, get the child’s attention and be very specific about the behavior you are acknowledging.  Don’t be too wordy with your praise and do it with enthusiasm! You can multiple the effect of the positive acknowledgement by including a kiss or a hug and/or by presenting the acknowledgement in front of others.

Making It Happen

We started this session by talking about the benefits of engaging in play with your child.  For example, parents are able to teach their child new skills such as problem-solving and how to interact with others, and this one-on-one play time with your child will also serve to build more positive relationships.  I don’t know about you, but I tend to be much more willing to be positive around person whom I have established a consistent and ongoing positive relationship.  When playing with your child, talk about what your child is doing, follow your child’s lead, work to extend the play in order to encourage creativity and imagination, be aware if your child might be losing interest and avoid power struggles.

Why Do Children Do What They Do?

lightbulb momentParenting is a very “boots on the ground” proposition, I agree, but if you are able to step back and look at your child’s behavior from an objective and scientific perspective, you will discover that these little people are very interesting indeed, and that’s what we did during our third meeting.  We discovered that sometimes children misbehave because they simply haven’t learned the correct way to act in a particular situation.  Just like anything else, social skills have to be taught, and what one person can learn quickly, another person may need much more practice to acquire the skill.  For example, it took me forever to grasp algebra, but I knew how to act appropriately in a restaurant long before my older brother, David, had a clue.

Teach Me What to Do

“You get more of what you pay attention to.”  Though this isn’t a very well-constructed sentence, it is research-based, time-tested motto we use here at Partners In Learning and it is absolutely true!  So much of our children’s behavior is motivated toward obtaining our attention.  So, if we want to see more positive behavior, be consistent about acknowledging when you see it happening.  In this session, we also talked about emotional literacy.  What’s that, you ask?  Emotional literacy has to do with being able to recognized and label your own emotions as well as the emotions of others.  Self-regulation is a vitally important skill for social and academic success, and learning how to recognize ones emotions is a step toward being able to self-regulate. ]

Facing the Challenge:  Part 1

The homework for session four was to establish some household rules around behavior.  Our mission was to provide our children with the visual support of a chart with a few, simply and very specific house rules.  We didn’t include any rules such as, “be nice” because “be nice” is a very vague concept and though it might mean something to you, it very likely might mean something completely different to your four-year-old.  Then we got into a discussion about logical consequences.  If a child throws blocks, for example, perhaps it’s time to but the blocks away for a while.  If a child is throwing his food at the table, it might mean that the child is done with his or her dinner and the child needs to clean up the mess he or she made.  We practiced this concept with role-playing.

Facing the Challenge:  Part 2

During the final session, we studied some examples of challenging behavior and tried to figure out if the behaviors we observed were the result of attention seeking or because of an attempt to avoid or escape a situation.  Almost all challenging behavior is motivated by one of these two reasons.  Then we talked about what happened just before the challenging behavior occurred, what was the message the challenging behavior was trying to communicate and what happened after the challenging behavior occurred, or in other words, what was the consequence.  Very often, you see, the consequence feeds the challenging behavior.

Parents who attended this workshop series have been trying out what they have learned.  We plan to share our findings when we meet this week.

Katherine Generaux,Community Inclusion Specialist, Partners In Learning

Katherine Generaux,Community Inclusion Specialist, Partners In Learning

Katherine Generaux serves as the center’s Community Inclusion Specialist. In that position she has been effective in modeling appropriate interactions with young children with special needs. Her ongoing presence in the classrooms modeling best practices for infants and toddler is resulting in additional experience while making a positive difference in early childhood programming. She is very aware of what is developmentally appropriate and engaging with the children. Her birth through kindergarten degree and experience are evident in her service to children and families.


Preparing Your Child with Special Needs for School

Even though summer break just began, parents of children with special needs often are already thinking about the coming school year. New curriculum, new teachers, new environments, and new routines can all take time to adjust to, especially for a child with a disability.

New Routines

chartJtan Whisenant is a retired career special education teacher, who currently provides CBRS services for Partners In Learning. She suggests starting at the beginning of August with a calendar displayed in a prominent place to begin a countdown. “Talk about it every day. Several weeks before school starts, be sure to adjust their schedules to reflect school hours. Get to bed early and don’t sleep too late.”

Jenn Scott’s family keeps the same morning routine for the school year all summer. “Wake up, eat breakfast, get dressed, and then out the door for an activity or to the table for an activity,” she said. “Something so that he (her son Sean) knows he has to get moving.”

New Environments

Norma Honeycutt, executive director of Partners In Learning, says it is essential to familiarize your child with the new school prior to the year starting. Along with visiting, she says to take time throughout the summer to talk about the new school and even ride by it in a vehicle.

The summer before her daughter Camille entered kindergarten, Larina Pierce took her to visit the new school and playground several times.

New Expectations

Honeycutt suggests to find out the specific expectations for your child prior to the school year starting. “Begin to practice during the summer, such as following in a line, not running, and carrying a tray.”

With each year of school comes greater expectations in relation to academics and attention span. Corey Coggins, whose daughter will be in the first grade next year, says it is very important to practice attending to a task for a certain period of time. “Getting my child to focus is tough. Practice makes perfect,” she said. “It needs to be daily over the summer.”

The lunch room is often a new environment with new challenged for children entering school. Children with find motor delays often have difficulty opening lunch containers and managing lunch trays. Pierce said her daughter ate out of a lunch box at home for two weeks prior to school starting.

As the New Year Approaches

CharlieWhisenant emphasizes the importance of visual reminders. “A week before pack their book bag and hang it where they can see it. Visual reminders will help them understand that it’s time for school to begin.”

Maureen Wallace had her son Charlie practice walking with his book bag filled prior to entering preschool.

Regardless of the grade level or what strategies used, parents of children with special needs find the best practices are to picture, prepare, and practice, practice practice.

Jill WagonerJill Wagoner is the mother of a child with Down syndrome. She serves as an advocate, writer, speaker, fundraiser, and grant writer for organizations that support children with special needs. A former journalist and current marketer and public relations specialist, Jill has been published in many publications and blogs, including The Salisbury PostModern ParentSalisbury Life Magazine,and Rowan Magazine.

End of the School Year

kids1As the school year is coming to an end, the friendships, the cliques, dance parties, year-round sports, will now turn into new friendships at summer camp, field trips to the discovery place, swimming, and a whole lot of unforgettable memories.

Speaking for myself, I was always shy and had to have my mom walk me to the classroom door on the first day of school. Not knowing anyone in a room full of kids was not something I looked forward to. But that first day of school determines what friends you will gain, extra curricula activities and a big opening door for the next 180 days.

kids2As weeks have gone by, I’ve gained my new friends that make me feel comfortable to be around. I suppose this is how cliques came about. Finding out what sports you like to play or just being the type that likes to “get in the books,” happens during a school year. Each day a child grows into their own individual, independent, person as the countdown from one hundred eighty days left of school begins.

I always dreaded the last day of school and then at the same time just as excited for it to start my summer vacation. I’m sure you’re thinking, “dreading the last day of school?!” To me, it was leaving my friends and everything I’ve gotten adjusted to; to starting all over again in two months. School becomes a second home to children during the school year. When you get adjusted to a daily schedule, change isn’t easy.

To a lot of kids, summer means summer camp during the week. Summer camp opens many doors for children. For example, there is no other bond better than a summer camp family bond. This is my first year as a Summer Camp Coordinator for Partners in Learning. As a child I had my mother to entertain my brother and me for 65 days. She loved having play dates over and keeping us busy (kept her busy too!). Summer camp is just as rewarding. Planning all the field trips, themes for the weekly lesson plans, planning what to do to make this a memorable summer, is a wonderful challenge. I am excited about the end of the school year so that the summer fun can begin!

Shanna-FreezeShaina Freeze is the School Age Coordinator at Partners In Learning. She graduated from UNCC in December 2012 with a BA in Sociology and a minor in Women’s studies. She recently returned to Partners In Learning after having worked there two years while in school.

Go Say You’re Sorry

On a daily basis, we as parents and teachers, run into situations in which children are verbally arguing, physically fighting, or both! Oftentimes, this arguing leads to hitting, spitting, kicking, and even to biting.

After evaluating the entire situation, the adult and child work together as a team to determine who hurt who and why. We then tell the child that hurt the other child to say “sorry” to the other child and encourage them to share a friendly hug. Refusal to apologize sometimes creates a whole other argument between the children.

While we may assume that teaching children to apologize after hurting another child is a positive thing, there are some reasons we need to consider why we should NOT force children to say I’m sorry.

1)     Do children really understand what it means to say “sorry?” It is honestly just another word to them. We need to sit down and teach the meaning, “sorry” as a feeling, just like “sad” or “mad.”

2)     Everyone is entitled to their own feelings and they don’t necessarily HAVE to be sorry. There have been times where I have done things that I truly am not sorry for doing; children should have this right to decide their own feelings as well.

3)     We shouldn’t force children to say “sorry” because WE want them to be sorry. We need to encourage apologizing because the CHILD is truly sorry for their action.

4)     The feeling may not be justified. The child needs to understand that what they did was not a good choice and that their behavior was wrong. You can’t be sorry for a behavior that you don’t understand was wrong.

When dealing with situations and problems between children, we need to make sure to teach them how to solve those problems with words, not our hands (or feet, teeth, etc.) We need to teach that words have meaning and when you use a word with feeling behind it, you need to mean it!

We also need to keep in mind that words do not have magical powers and words are not what actually fixes the problem.

Katie Zink, Infant-Toddler Family Specialist

Katie Zink, Infant-Toddler Family Specialist


Katie Zink is a graduate of Catawba College and serves as a CBRS therapist for Partners In Learning. Prior to her role as a therapist, Katie served as a teacher beginning in 2009.  Working with children is her life’s passion.

Helping Children Learn to Grieve

Bailey My three-year-old granddaughter lost her other grandmother in March, and the family has been grieving.  It’s just been in the last couple of weeks that Izabella has started talking about the death.   She has been talking about it a lot.  More recently, our Scottish terrier, Bailey, (also known at Noel, Santa’s Christmas dog at Downtown Salisbury events) passed away.  Iza and Bailey were great pals.  Last night, Iza approached me with an idea.  “I’m going to get a dog cage,” she tells me.  “I’m going to sneak into Heaven, get Bailey and sneak out with her.”  She added, “Then we’ll all be together again.”  I tried to explain to her that Bailey is gone forever and we can’t get her back, but Iza was persistent.  She went to her grandfather and explained her plan to him.  I could hear the pleading in her voice as she tried to convince her grandfather that the idea would work.  She so very much wanted to get a grownup to validate her plan.  In the midst of our family grief, we had assumed Izabella was not touched by the sorrow in our family, but we have recently discovered that, in her three-year-old way, she is trying to work out the concept of death.

weddingPreschool children have not yet developed the cognitive ability to understand that death is permanent.  They are unable to comprehend that the body can stop working or that the deceased no longer eat, sleep or do the things they did when they were alive.  Some children may not display signs of grief for weeks or even months after the death of a loved one. Preschools may pretend play that they have died, and this is normal.  You might also expect to see some regressive behavior, such as reverting back to needing pull-ups, for example.

Everyone, including children, experiences grieving differently.  The important thing is to maintain an open dialog with your child, be attentive to any cues that your child might be distressed or depressed and build reassurance by displaying as much love and affection as you have during  those first weeks and months after your loved one has died.

Katherine Generaux,Community Inclusion Specialist, Partners In Learning

Katherine Generaux,Community Inclusion Specialist, Partners In Learning

Katherine Generaux serves as the center’s Community Inclusion Specialist. In that position she has been effective in modeling appropriate interactions with young children with special needs. Her ongoing presence in the classrooms modeling best practices for infants and toddler is resulting in additional experience while making a positive difference in early childhood programming. She is very aware of what is developmentally appropriate and engaging with the children. Her birth through kindergarten degree and experience are evident in her service to children and families.