Janae B. Weinhold
It is important to create social and emotional environments that foster positive mental health in children. They need stimulating activities, and consistent schedules that allow them to gently transition between activities. They also need protection from harm, particularly from other aggressive children, and firm but loving guidance that helps them develop optimally.
Children Need A Minimum of Caregivers
Children need the absolute minimum in the number of primary caregivers during the first three years of their lives. Children come wired to bond with one or two consistent adults who can help them build the best possible foundation during this critical period of development.
The more caregivers and the more rapid the turnover between caregivers, such as in a child care setting, the more difficulty children have in developing positive mental health. I can’t stress this enough!
The adults in children’s environments should be supportive and be psychologically and emotionally stable. They must be able to recognize when their own buttons are being pushed and disengage when this happens. They must implement pro-social programs that reinforce the positive behaviors they desire in children and model these behaviors themselves.
Adults must also have external support for themselves to help them process their own developmental traumas when they get triggered by children and to create a support system to provide them with respite from the stresses of parenting bright, active and sometimes problematic children.
Children Need Consistency & Predictability
Rules in the environment should be kept at a minimum and reinforced consistently. This consistency is critical in helping children develop the cause-and-effect thinking necessary for effective discipline. Young children need a maximum amount of physical contact in order to help them regulate their emotional states. Touch and skin-to-skin contact are critical forms of communication for preverbal children and continue during childhood as an important part of social interactions with safe adults.
Discipline should be designed to help children develop internal controls over their impulses and include lots of reinforcement for positive, pro-social behavior. Misbehavior should provide consequences that allow the child to have more adult contact.
Time-in vs. Time-out
Time-in provides this contact better than time-out, which actually isolates the child more. Time-in discipline requires the child to be in close proximity for a certain period of time, either being held, sitting nearby or talking with adults.
Adult-child interactions should include hugs, holding, touch, and eye-to-eye talking to emphasize the importance of connection and social relationships. Shaming, blaming and punitive discipline measures should be avoided at all costs.