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.


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.

It’s OK to be Angry

As I tucked my ten year old into bed I noticed a picture with me in it and my face had been scratched out. This is issue number one. So I asked, “What happened to that picture?” My daughter responded with the typical “I don’t know” answer. Well, I knew what had happened, or at least I was 95% sure of what had happened. As soon as I asked her I realized I set her up to lie, which I should not have done. This is issue number two.

I was fairly certain that at some point I made her mad for something and she defaced my photo in anger. It didn’t upset me at all, I actually had flashbacks of all the things I would say and do when I was her age when my mama had made me mad. I recall thinking things like, “I hate her, she is the meanest mama ever, maybe I will run away, and then she will be sorry.” But then I immediately would change my thoughts to, “Oh no, what if she died.” And then I would start to cry. Oh the lovely thought processes of a young child.

So let’s revisit the issues, issue number one was that my daughter had tried to ruin my face in a picture when she was mad at me. This is absolutely normal and not the least bit surprising. She had made an impulsive decision out of anger and now regretted it and wished she could take it back. What she had initially done was put white out on my face and then when her anger ceased she tried to scratch it off, completely ruining the photo.

I used this as an opportunity to talk to her about how it is ok to be angry and mad but to consider the consequences of her choices or actions. Now she regrets ruining the picture and wishes she could take it back. It is my hope that when she is older and faced with impulse decisions she will stop and remember that her choices will determine her experiences.

www.helpyourchildwithanger.com states that “The most effective anger management comes from recognizing the difference between Reacting and Responding. What’s the difference between reacting to a situation or responding to it? The answer is simple: a lot! A reaction is often a quick, rash action that does little or nothing to remedy the original situation. A response is more calculated; it is thought before action. Reacting and responding are two totally different ways to deal with an anger situation.”

Issue number two was, I set my child up to tell me a lie. It is like asking a child with their face covered in chocolate and crumbs if they ate the cookies out of the jar. Well duh, of course they did so why are you asking, knowing that most children are going to respond by saying NO.

www.truthaboutdeception.com, shares, between the ages of two to three, children start lying when they break established rules. By age five children get quite adept at being able to successfully lie to others. Not only are children predisposed to using deception, but more often than not, children learn this behavior at home.

Children watch their parents lie and they are explicitly taught to lie by their parents. What parent has not lied to a child in order to prevent him (or her) from knowing an unpleasant truth (“everything will be ok”), or taught their children to lie to someone they love (“tell grandma how much you love the gift”) or instructed a child to lie on their behalf (“tell them I’m too busy right now”)?

A better choice of words could have been for me to say, “I see my picture is messed up, I must have made you really mad sometime for you to have done that,” then proceeded with the conversation about it being ok to be angry. Not all anger is acceptable, below are some warning signs to be aware of:

What are the signs that tell you your child needs professional help?

-Anger in the child becomes severe; he tears up his books and breaks things in the house.

-The child’s behavior poses a danger to himself and others.

-Anger in the child is sustained, lasting for an hour or more.

-Teachers at your child’s school have voiced concern over his anger and behavior.

-The child has performed acts of violence against others (like setting fire in school or torturing animals).

Deborah Howell is the Assistant Director for Partners In Learning.

Deborah Howell is the Assistant Director for Partners In Learning.


Deborah Howell is the Assistant Director of Partners In Learning. Her education includes an associate’s degree from Rowan-Cabarrus Community College in early childhood education and a bachelor’s degree from UNC Greensboro in human development and family studies with a concentration in birth-kindergarten. She also holds a master’s degree at UNCG. She also serves as a CBRS therapist for the center.

Playing is our Job!

IMG_2141Children learn and develop by exploring the world in which they live. From the beginning of life they explore using their senses. A young infant learns that crying brings comfort, a toddler learns that biting may get what they want, a preschooler learns about math through building with blocks and the possibilities are infinite! It is our role as parents to ensure that we have a loving nurturing environment that encourages and stimulates the child’s natural inquisitive nature.

It is our role as parent to provide quality learning rich environments. Parents need to have a sound understanding of young children’s developmental milestones. By understanding the milestones, we are able to provide developmentally appropriate activities. We must be genuinely kind and nurturing. This allows children to feel safe, loved, and allows children to take risks.

IMG_2182But sometimes we adults think we need to rush a child along. Because we know how important education is, we want our children to learn and so we set out to teach them as much as we can. Although this impulse is good in itself, sometimes we can actually get in the way of a child’s learning by trying too hard to teach them!

We don’t need to push children or cram information into their heads. We just need to ensure they have the opportunities to explore knowledge for themselves. We can expose them to a rich environment and then allow them to explore it freely.

Let’s step away and let the PLAY begin!


Norma Honeycutt, Executive Director

Norma Honeycutt, Executive Director

Norma Honeycutt is the Executive Director of Partners In Learning Child Development & Family Resource Center. Norma is one of the states strongest advocates for children with special needs serving on boards and commissions including the North Carolina Child Care Commission, Rowan County NCPreK Advisory Committee, and Rowan County Local Interagency Coordinating Council. Norma is also a CBRS therapist and facilitates support groups, activities, and other programs for families of children with special needs.