Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Helping Children Engage in Appropriate Touch

STOP touching her! 

Keep your hands to yourself!

How many times have you heard yourself saying these things to one of your children?

I remember when I was a child and we would all load up in the family station wagon to head out for a vacation.  There were three of us kids and I was the youngest so of course that meant I usually had to sit in the middle! 

We would hardly get out of the driveway and someone was tattling because someone was touching them!  (Just for the record, it was usually my brother and sister!  I was a complete angel!). 

It's actually pretty funny now to think about some of the things my mom and dad would say to us in an attempt to get us to stop touching each other and just get along!  It usually sounded something like, "If you kids don't stop touching each other I'm going to put a piece of tape down the middle of the seat between you and you won't be allowed to cross the line or you'll be punished."

Similar scenarios play out in classrooms and homes across the world every day. 

Children need touch.  In fact, it is the only sense you cannot live without.  We've heard the devastating stories of children in situations where they have been left swaddled or in cribs without touch and it results in extreme cognitive, physical, and social delays and even death.

If we need touch so badly, why is it that it is usually the first thing we do away with when children start tattling about the annoying child next to them that is touching them?  "Keep your hands to yourself!"

Would you like some strategies to help you teach children to touch appropriately so they can get their physical need for connection met in a way that will lead to willingness, greater impulse control, and improved attention? 

Children want need connection.  They also need our assistance learning the social skills necessary to get along with others.  If we want them to constantly sit "criss-cross applesauce hands in your lap" then when are they going to get the opportunity to connect with one another appropriately?  Put simply, they don't!  Since that need isn't being met, they are seeking that input in inappropriate ways.  Either because they don't know how to do it any differently or because they are in need of connection.  That's part of the reason they can't stand in line without poking, pushing or bumping their friends.

Let's start with connections.  When you are building connections with children there are four ingredients that are necessary:  eye contact, touch, presence, and playfulness.  Just like when you bake a cake, if you don't get the right measurement of each ingredient the result will be a flat cake.  It is essential that you look for creative and novel ways to help children connect with one another and with YOU!

One of Dr. Bailey's suggested "Top 10 Rituals for Connection" is Greeting and Goodbye Rituals.  They are super simple and fun!

At the beginning of our day in preschool I used to wear a greeting apron and greet each child in a playful way as they arrived each day.  Then during our circle time they would also get a greeting from a friend.  This was a great opportunity to not only build connections, but also teach social and communication skills!

During the month of November we would do lots of fun activities about Thanksgiving. 

Most of my preschoolers didn't know what a turkey looked like nor what sound it made.  We read books about turkeys and looked at lots of pictures.  We practiced making gobbling noises and even made up a fun turkey greeting! 

Here is a short video of my preschoolers offering their peers a choice of greetings.  The turkey greeting was one of their all time favorites!  Notice the brief eye contact, joyfulness, and communication that occurs as the children connect appropriately!

In the video they are using a super simple greeting plate.  You can make your own by using the template on the Make and Take cd form the Conscious Discipline website.  Basically, you use a paper plate.  Divide it into 4 sections using ribbon.  In each section, you adhere a piece of Velcro and a picture to represent a choice for greetings such as a turkey to represent the turkey greeting.  Using Velcro allows you to switch the greetings throughout the year to keep it novel and engaging.

I've included a free printable below with four new greetings that would be appropriate for Fall and Thanksgiving.  You saw the turkey greeting in the video.  I'll go ahead and describe how I would do the other three greetings.  Feel free to tweak them and make them work however would be best for you and your children! 

Pumpkin Greeting:  Give the child a hug and say, "If you were a pumpkin I'd pick YOU!"

Scarecrow Greeting:  Pretend the child is a scarecrow as you pull their arms out to the side, put a hat on their head, add some buttons on their chest (basically decorating your scarecrow).  When done smile and say, "You may scare crows, but you don't scare me!"

Football Greeting:  Take a step back away from the child and pretend you have a foot ball in your hand like you're going to make a pass.  The child puts their hands out as if to catch the "ball".  Once the child "catches" the ball, you take their hands in yours and raise them up like a goal and together shout "TOUCHDOWN!"