Have a Question? Need Parenting Advice? Ask Michael Hawton

Successfully limiting young children’s challenging behaviour is a topic that has perplexed generations of educators. A recent widespread trend has been to ‘notice the positive’ in the hope that by acknowledging children doing the ‘right thing’ will foster better behaviour in the future.

However, this type of approach has undergone some revision of late in the light of studies on the topic of praise and its effects on children.

There is also research showing that when children are incorrectly praised by teachers, in a school environment, children stop trying as hard. That is, they develop what Carol Dweck calls a ‘fixed’ mindset. Then, there are books like Generation Me that are saying that by over praising children we are breeding little narcissists.  In this book, Jean Twenge brings together lots of historical research to compare what is happening nowadays to children of a generation ago.

Parentshop, a Byron Bay-based training company has developed an online training course for early years educators that has been especially designed for early childhood settings. The course is registered with the NSW Board of Studies Teacher Education Standards (BOSTES) and fits with principles in The National Quality Framework – generally used by early years educators as a guide for promoting children’s well-being.

Michael Hawton, a psychologist and a trained infant teacher, who has a history of training educational professionals says that early years educators are often one of the first people to notice if a child’s behaviour is different to his or her same-age peers, so they are well placed to intervene to stem behaviour problems developing down the line.  Hawton, who is the author of the book Talk Less Listen More – solutions for children’s difficult behaviour, says that the new online PD course for early years educators was a natural extension of work he has been doing with educators for over a decade.

Pam Briggs, a pre-school director from Lismore, says that she completed the course this past month and that what it provides, is a necessary rebalance to the more behaviourists’ examples of professional development that have existed in this space. The course was engaging with sequenced lessons that build to provide a useable method. The e-course emphasises how educators, who care for children can help them develop a greater sense of self-control by helping children practise ‘frustration tolerance’.” Pam also says, the fact that the course can be completed anywhere, anytime means that staff can do it, and the centre does not have to pay for relief time. I think this makes the course very appealing for directors and centre managers in our sector.

“The other thing is that we all want young children to become better problem solvers. By helping them understand and better manage their emotional reactions to frustrations we can help them develop emotional skills – such as how to use their mental brakes,” Briggs says. “All in all, I think this course will be an exciting addition to our professional development as Early Childhood Educators.”

Helping children to stay rational – make good choices – even while feeling frustrated, is a skill some children in the famous marshmallow experiment used. Kids potentially have this type of ability from about 4 years old. It is this skillset in children that we should be focusing on when it comes to helping young children learn self-control,” Hawton says.

“Not only does it build their capacity to handle themselves emotionally, but the children in the marshmallow studies who resisted the temptation (when single a marshmallow was put in front of them) did better academically later in life –  and it’s a skill that can be taught. Follow-up research on the grabbers from the marshmallow studies showed that children can be taught restraint skills.”

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