Welcome back to the Challenging Behaviors in Preschool series. My previous post focused on how to handle tattling in the classroom. Today, I’d like to discuss how to encourage preschool children to make new friends.
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The book I’ll be referencing this go-around is Challenging Behavior in Young Children: Understanding, Preventing, and Responding Effectively by Barbara Kaiser and Judy Sklar Rasminsky. This book defines challenging behavior and delves into the risk factors involved with such behavior. There’s discussion of how children’s brains work, relationships with adults and peers, and how to prevent challenging behavior. Many real-life examples, as well as educational studies, are shared as the authors help guide teachers (and parents). The authors also have appropriate strategies for helping kids make new friends and preventing exclusion in the classroom.
How is this a challenging behavior?
At first, teaching kiddos to make new friends might not seem like a topic related to challenging behaviors. However, a lack of understanding in this area could lead to some of the following situations:
- One or two children being left out of small group play on a consistent basis.
- Children saying, “I don’t like you! You’re not my friend!”
- Pairs of students who will only play with each other, never branching out to work with other kids in the classroom.
- Students who refuse to try new activities unless their best bud also plays there.
- One child making all of the decisions for other kiddos.
This list is, by no means, exhaustive. When children aren’t sure how to interact with others many problems can arise. These problems can lead to tears, anger, resentment, isolation, and physical confrontations. All of these results lead to an imbalance in the classroom and take away from the positive learning environment.
Why do children act this way?
Just like older children and adults, young children have certain people they respond better to. They prefer playing with certain children, and they don’t care for others. This is a perfectly natural human response. In addition to that, other reasons kids might be “clique-ish” are as follows:
- They just don’t know how to interact with others. Some don’t know how to invite new friends into a group, while others are unsure of speaking up and approaching other children.
- If they’ve been with the same friends for a few years, they may not want to stray outside their comfort zones.
- Sometimes it’s about control. A child might like knowing she can make decisions for her friends or control who her friends talk to.
- Kids have different personalities, just like adults. Some are more outgoing, while others are more introverted.
- Kaiser and Rasminsky point out that a lack of empathy may also be part of the problem. Not all children can look at a situation from another’s perspective. They’re focused on what they want and don’t realize they’re hurting another child.
How to encourage kids to make new friends in preschool
I’d like to point out that I don’t expect my students to be friends with every other child in the classroom. That isn’t a realistic expectation to have, in my opinion. However, I do expect friendly and kind behavior. Even if they aren’t all friends, they can treat each other with respect. I also want to gently nudge my students out of their comfort zones – they might make new friends this way! Below are some ideas for doing just that:
- Challenging Behavior makes a point I agree with 100% – creating a classroom community at the beginning of the year is a must! Have adventures together, play games, and learn about each other. This will help reduce clique-ish behavior by showing the kiddos that the class is a special group of people.
- I think modeling is important here too. As a teacher, I have a responsibility to show children how to act in social situations. Using kind words with everyone, making my presence known in small groups and with individual children, and just listening to each child can go a long way.
- Role playing and class meetings can help with friendship concerns, too. Discussing how to approach a group that’s already playing a game can help the students feel empowered to do that later on in the day. Having children role play what to do and say when a friend wants to play gives them a safe place to practice social skills.
- Rasminksy and Kaiser also suggest teacher labeling of emotions. It helps kids understand their emotions, and it gives examples of what other children might be feeling.
- The authors also propose the idea of peer partners, chosen by the teacher. Asking pairs of students to work together (to deliver a note or water plants, for example) gives them the chance to work with new children. It also helps reduce exclusion in other social settings.
- I also think having high expectations for students’ behaviors is important. In the classroom, all of the children have a right to play and learn. The materials belong to me and the school, and every child is allowed to use them throughout the day. I try to have a set number of people at each each, which helps with responses of “you can’t play!’ If I say 3 people can be at the nature center, and only 2 are there, then a third child can come in no question.
Now that I have written so very much on this topic, I’d love to hear from YOU. Have you noticed clique-ish behavior in your classroom before? How have you attempted to correct and prevent this behavior? I love that we, as teachers, can learn from each other – and I’m always up for new ideas.
Summer Blog Book Study
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The next post will be from Pre-K Pages on Wednesday, July 16th!