Today’s “standard” is: Relates well to adults. I use the word “standard” in quotation marks, because it does not come from an “official” document of standards and benchmarks from a public school system but from the teacher conference form I was given at my 3-year old’s preschool located just outside Washington, DC. Sam attends preschool there three afternoons a week, and he is expected to relate well to the adults in the room, which include a head teacher, an assistant teacher and another adult who helps out, depending on how many children are in the classroom for the afternoon. Thankfully, Sam received a “check mark” in the “most of the time” column, as opposed to the “some of the time” or “not yet” columns.
An ability to relate well to adults is a crucial school readiness skill that can be easily overlooked. Most of us probably assume that, of course, children will relate well to adults since the grown-ups around have taught the children that they are cared for and loved. However, the truth is that many children, especially those who have been raised in homes in which the adults were unavailable, neglectful, significantly stressed-out, and more, have not securely attached to the adults around them. For example, an African-American teacher, who taught third grade in an urban-setting public school, told me that although he had the skills, curriculum, motivation and enthusiasm to teach the students, the students did not “trust” him or believe that he “had their best interest at heart.” He went on to share with me that no matter what he did, he could not convince most of them that he wanted what was best for them, and that they should follow his guidance. They simply did not trust him and did not attach to him (my word, not his) over the course of the entire school year.
Building trust and attachment skills in children begins at birth. It stems from the nonverbal emotional relationship between an infant and primary caregiver. According to several sources, the success of this “wordless” relationship, based on a caregiver’s movements, gestures and sounds, enables a child to feel secure enough to develop fully, and affects how he or she will interact, communicate, and form relationships throughout life. An infant’s nervous system can only optimally develop in the light of a warm, safe, loving emotional exchange between an infant and his or her primary caregiver. It cannot be emphasized strongly enough that this attachment bond is a key factor in the way an infant’s brain organizes itself and influences a child’s social, emotional, intellectual, and physical development.
The following activities, taken from the ORB3 Infant-Toddler Curriculum, can help build a strong attachment bond for future school success:
1) Respond to a child’s cries with language and a tone of voice that reflects the cry. For example, if the child is tired, tell him in a tired voice while yawning, “Oh, you are so tired. It’s time for sleeping.”
2) When you are feeling a certain way, put language to it (e.g., I’m feeling frustrated, I’m feeling angry right now, I’m so happy right now, etc.). Show the child your facial expression while you say the words.
3) Place the child within earshot and eyeline of people around him as often as possible so that he can watch and listen to them. Carry baby or toddler in a wrap, front carrier or hiking/back-pack style carrier whenever possible.
4) Imitate the child’s facial expressions that express emotion every opportunity you get. If he’s happy, show him your happy face. If he’s sad, use a sad voice and facial expression to show him you understand how he is feeling.
5) Take turns with the child when he is engaging you in “conversation” with sounds/words and/or eye gaze (e.g., looking you in the eye). This shows you are interested in him and value him, which develops into his developing self-esteem. When he is engaging you, do not interrupt or look away, but take turns appropriately (e.g., After he makes a sound while looking at you, look at him and make a sound. Wait for him to make another sound, then take your turn again.)
6) Tell the child how much you love and care for him. Thank him for being part of your world.
7) Respond immediately and excitedly to his smiles, which lets him know he’s important to you, that he can control his world to some extent, and that he can trust you.
8) Hold the child securely and lovingly as often as humanly possible in your day.
9) Speak in a firm, but loving, voice when you discipline the child.
10) When your child is expressing immediate or urgent needs (e.g., hunger, pain, fatigue, fear, anxiety, etc.), respond immediately.