I’d like to share a story with you which changed the way I taught at preschool and characterizes early childhood development.
One day, I was getting my preschool students ready to go to the park. One of my students, Ray, a three-year old boy, was having a challenging time transitioning outside.
He began pushing one of his friends. I walked over to Ray, told him that I was going to help his body, picked him up, and carried him into the other room. As soon as I put Ray down, he began kicking me. His kicks were powerful, but they weren’t causing any harm. If this was any other day, I would have stopped him from kicking and stepped back. But this day was different. I suddenly had one of the most peculiar thoughts come to me. “No Halimah, let Ray kick you. Just stand there, breathe for him, and send him love. Let Ray kick you.” The thought was so unusual because up until this point, I was trained to never allow a child to kick. But something inside me, told me to listen to myself, so I didn’t react and let Ray kick me.
Within ten seconds, Ray dropped to the floor and began to cry. I scooped him up, walked him quietly to a chair and sat him on my lap. I began rubbing his back while not saying a word. I allowed Ray to have his emotional experience. I didn’t interrupt him and I let him cry. After two minutes, Ray took a deep breath. I finally spoke and said, “Good Ray. That was a really good breath.” That is all I said. Something in me wanted to wait to speak with Ray about how he pushed his friend and kicked me. After all, this three-year old boy had just had a tantrum. He did not have the capacity to listen. I decided to check-in with Ray later in the day and sent him on his way to be with his friends. To my great surprise, when Ray returned from the park, he walked up to me and said, “Miss Halimah, I’m so sorry that I kicked you,” to which I responded, “Ray, thank you for checking in with me. It means so much to me. And love, I want you to know that you are three-years old. You’re a child. And you’re still learning how to control your body. I know you know that kicking is not okay. I see you and I love you.”
It was at this moment that the pedagogy of our preschool changed. What I learned from this moment is that we put a lot of pressure on children who are three and four-years old. We ask them to grow up faster and quicker than they actually have the capacity to do. And not only this, in making them grow up too fast, we are interrupting the natural development of how they process their emotions. We are interrupting a development of the very process that will guide them throughout their entire life and because we are interrupting this natural development while they are angry or sad, we are teaching them and training their nervous system how to interrupt a certain feeling when it arises. Or worse judge themselves negatively for that emotion.
What happens when we interrupt a child’s emotional process? How will that child behave when that feeling arises again? And, who will this child become?
Over my fifteen years in the preschool classroom, I was led to experiences which inspired me to look at early childhood development in a different light. I began to characterize early childhood development and the way in which we respond to children to how we are actually responding to our own innocence. So, this is my invitation: How gentle can we be with ourselves and our own innocence? How patient can we be with certain emotions when they arise? Next time, we feel a challenging emotion, it is my great hope that we will be inspired to be more gentle with ourselves and our children, because that is a wonderful and nurturing gift to ourselves and the future.
Image Credit: Halimah Harden