Thirteen month old Riley is working very diligently with the foam blocks to build a building. Alongside him in the block center, there are two other children working with the waffle blocks. Riley very carefully chooses each block based on color and shape and places it on his masterpiece. The caregiver is sitting just outside the block center as to be close enough to facilitate but far enough away to allow the children their space. One of the children playing with the waffle blocks lets out a loud, joyful squeal, startling Riley. He quickly turns to see what was happening and in doing so, he knocks his structure to the ground. Riley’s eyes open wide, his mouth drops open, and a mournful sob exudes for him. Riley picks up one of the pieces of his devastated structure, looks around at the rest of the rubble, realizes the extent of the damage and begins to wail.
“Your building fell and I see that made you very unhappy,” the caregiver calmly but sincerely says to Riley. “I wish that had not have happened to the building you had worked so hard on,” she added with genuine concern for him. Riley’s cries become louder and he starts to stomp his feet on the ground next to his crumbled building. The caregiver, looking at Riley with true concern, remains silent.
She turns to the other children and explains, “Riley’s building crashed down and he is very unhappy about it.” She then turns her focus back on Riley. Riley’s cries are quieting slightly and the stomping has stopped completely. Riley slowly walks over to the caregiver, climbs in her lap, wraps his arms around her, and sobs into her chest. She gently pats him on the head and soothingly strokes his back. When Riley has quieted down she says, “Do you want to rebuild your building? I will help you if you would like me to.” After a moment, Riley stands, takes the caregiver’s hand, leads her to the rubble and starts the rebuild.
The caregiver in this story respected Riley’s right to have and freely express his feelings and she offered support without over doing the sympathy. She also did not distract him with a great deal of gushing emotions and entertainment which allowed him to pay attention to what was going on inside of him. He was able to associate the action with what he was feeling. The caregiver gave Riley the space to learn how to properly express his unhappiness with his building crashing.
Often we are very quick to tell a child how they should feel or we try to fix the situation for them so that they do not have to suffer through the agony of being upset. We want them to be alright, to protect them, so we project those feelings on to them in hopes that they will not have to feel those uncomfortable feelings. But by doing this, we are robbing the children of the ability to learn how to properly express their feelings. Everyone, yes even children, have the right to express how they feel. We may not always want to hear it but they deserve the respect to be able to express it. Instead of rushing right over to help a child that is upset, call over to them to let them know you are there for them if they need you. Allow them to make the decision as to whether or not your help is needed. Sometimes just knowing you are there for him is all the comfort he needs.
Jeannie Morgan-Campola has been in the Early Childhood field for 25 years in which she held many different positions. She began working as a part-time instructor for Rowan-Cabarrus Community College in the year 2000 and became a full-time instructor 6 years ago. She was promoted to Program Chair of the Early Childhood and School Age Education Programs in the summer of 2012. She holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Individual and Family Studies: Applied Child Development, and two Master’s Degrees: one in Adult Education and Distance Learning and the other in Early Childhood Education.