Just Between Us

“We can keep this just between us, ok?”

Seems innocent enough, right? Sneaking a cookie before dinner, a cartoon on a school day. No one needs to know, right? 

Sometimes adults unintentionally reenforce children’s dishonesty by initiating sweet, playful secrets. “Ok, but just this once, and don’t tell your mom.”

As adults, this may feel like a special bonding moment, or may simply come from pure exhaustion engaging in power struggles with children want something very intensely. However, it undermines the routines and boundaries we work so hard to set for our young little ones. While adults may have a clear sense when to deviate from expectations or when a decision off course is harmless. Children lack the ability to distinguish when it’s ok to omit a detail or make an exception to a rule.

Here are the additional risks this can pose for children when we encourage little white lies or omissions: 

  • Develops their ability to manipulate and deceive.
  • Robs them of developing integrity and decision making skills.
  • Builds mistrust in their relationships.
  • Results in children withholding big or essential information.
  • Reduces children’s self-trust and trust in others.
  • Avoids accountability and responsibility. 

When adults whom children trust model and reinforce lying, children also learn this as an acceptable and often favored act in social relationships. 

Here’s what we can do instead:

  • Be honest. 
  • Own your mistakes.
  • Explain when you make exceptions.
  • Include children in decision making.
  • Apologize when you model an unhealthy habit like lying or omitting. 
  • Acknowledge when children display exercising integrity.
  • Encourage other adults in their lives to avoid the common pitfall of “just between us”.

While a moment may seem harmless, there are no little lies. When children are learning how to tell little lies, they are also learning how to tell big lies. In order to foster healthy relationships based on integrity and trust, it is necessary to examine our modeling and interactions as adults to ensure our actions truly match our hopes and expectations for children.

It’s also important to recognize that children are still developing their understanding of pretend and reality. They are still navigating when to say what they hope for and what actually occurred. For that reason, when children say something untrue, depending on their age and development, it may not be cause for concern.

More resources on responding to lying and dishonesty in early childhood:

https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/lying-and-stealing

https://raisingchildren.net.au/preschoolers/behaviour/common-concerns/lies

https://www.aacap.org/AACAP/Families_and_Youth/Facts_for_Families/FFF-Guide/Children-And-Lying-044.aspx

https://www.goodtherapy.org/blog/why-do-children-lie-normal-compulsive-pathological-lying-in-kids-0107197

You can’t play with them!

I’m guessing many parents reach a point in their child’s life when a playmate they have selected doesn’t vibe with the parent’s views or hopes for their child. This might be because of the way the other child plays, the words or tone they use, the clothes they were, and so on.

What do you do when your child plays or want to play with someone you don’t like? 

Because social relationships are lifelong skills, in your conversations with your child, try to focusing more on developing character and judgement rather than “banning” a particular person. 

Discussion points with your child might be:
Do you notice that sometimes other people makes choices that are dangerous or hurtful? 
What choices do you make when someone else makes a choice that’s not ok? 
Do you feel comfortable telling them when something they are doing isn’t ok or makes you feel uncomfortable? 
How would you feel if you got in trouble for something someone else did? 
How can I help you practice safe/helpful choices vs unsafe/hurtful choices? 


Periodically telling your own stories about when you had to make a difficult decision spending time with someone you liked but who also made unsafe/unkind choices (make it up if you have to). This might be as simple as choosing not drive with a friend who drives too fast, avoiding seeing certain friends on weeknights because you tend to stay out too late with them and feel tired at work the next day, or someone you avoid at work because they gossip about others. Your child hearing how you navigate tricky relationships will help empower them to do the right thing in a difficult situation.


If children continue to spend time with someone whose actions don’t match your family values you might have to say things like: 
“I notice after you spend time with  ____, you use a disrespectful tone/unkind words/etc.”
“I want to remind you that I’m our home, that’s not ok. If you want to continue to spend time with that person, you need to remember our expectations for your behavior.”

 
Additionally, when addressing your child’s behavior and friendships explicitly approach everything with love. 
“We want to talk to you about something tricky. Because we love you and we are here to help.”
“We love you and it’s our job to help you grow up and that means helping you with tricky stuff like friendships.”
“We know we’re asking you to do something hard but we love you and know you can do it.”

Parenting is a delicate balance of feeling responsible for your child’s wellbeing and accepting that they are growing into their own person, separate from you. Developing autonomy and identity in children can often clash with a parent’s desire to help their child make safe, healthy, and wise choices. Be patient with them and yourselves as you navigate both your relationship with your child and supporting them in their relationships with others.

Leading in the time of COVID-19

The role of a child care program director is demanding, complex, and crucial for teachers, children and families to thrive in group care settings. Despite the required physical distancing in many communities right now, this role is no less crucial. In many ways there is an even greater need for child care administrators to show up and be leaders right now. Unprecedented change and uncertainty breed big feelings of fear, sadness, and even anger. As center directors, we don’t have any more answers than do the leaders in our state or medical communities, but we do have strategies we can implement to guide and support our staff and families.

Put feelings first

People are experiencing overwhelming feelings right now related to the fear of the spread of illness, stress over lack of resources, uncertainty about economic stability and job security. And so much more. These overwhelming feelings can have significant physical impacts and can take over our ability to think clearly and self-regulate our behaviors. Therefore, it is necessary that our work as leaders starts here with naming emotions, acknowledging that they are real, and helping our people take time to process them. This is an important practice with children, teachers, and parents alike.

Prioritize the needs of families and staff

There’s no one-size-fits-all for creating a task list right now. In many communities this looks like strategizing to safely provide group care for essential workers, redeploying staff to provide in-home care, coordinating supply distribution to families in under-resourced communities, developing systems for creating remote learning experiences, or applying for funding to sustain through economic impact of program closure. Your role right now is to determine what is needed for your program and your best opportunity for producing results. This might require time spent on an informal needs assessment. Consider: What does our program typically provide for staff and families that it does not right now? What is the biggest threat to my community right now – food scarcity? Limited supplies? Financial insecurity? Accessible childcare? What resources do I have access to that I could use to respond to need?

Communicate with clarity

Not having answers as a leader can lead to feeling incapable and unqualified. People look to leaders to know what’s next, make a plan, and execute it. Uncertainty can cause leaders to speak vaguely, withdraw, make unfounded promises, or pose worst-case scenarios. All of which produce fear, mis-interpretation of information, and can reduce trust in leadership. Instead, organize what you know and what you don’t know and communicate that with clarity. It is ok to simply say, “here’s what I know for certain.” And to acknowledge a question you can’t answer, “I have that question too and once there is a clear answer, I will share it with you.”

Build resilience through relationships

The pandemic in our country is going to produce complex trauma from the loss of loved ones, economic stress from lack of work, depression and anxiety, and potentially abuse and neglect. What we know from research on ACEs is that the impact is real and long-term but also that our best opportunity to repair and build resilience is through relationships. We can’t always take away the trauma, but we can continue to have a safe, supportive, consistent, and responsive presence in the lives of our children, teachers, and families.

Seek outside support

You don’t have to have all the answers or carry the entire burden of solving the complex problems you’re facing. Opportunities for support range from connecting with other professionals in roles similar to yours; collaborating with community resources agencies to supplement food, transportation, supplies, etc. for families and staff; and engaging social services to support staff and families in processing depression, anxiety, stress and death. Be aware and honest about your capacity to provide the support that is needed. Your energy may be best used in coordinating connections.

Anticipate a new normal

While it is tempting to fantasize about life returning to “normal”, consistent predictions from medical experts guide us to prepare for waves of fluctuations in virus outbreaks for the next year, maybe two. Expect physical distancing and economic struggle to fluctuate as well, challenging our familiar sense of relationships and our work. We must invite innovation, constantly make adjustments, and expect that the other side of this looks different.  It’s not just a matter of adjusting our actions, but also our expectations and helping our teachers and families do that too.

Practice self-care

I know, I know, we talk about self-care all the time. You will be absorbing the stress and fear of the people that you lead. It’s like the timeless guidance of applying oxygen masks on airplanes, in order to provide for and support others, you must take care of yourself first. Set boundaries and stick to them. Set goals but be flexible with them. Organize what you can change and what you can’t change. Get fresh air, exercise, and eat well. Or don’t for a day if that’s what you need to feel balanced. Your self-care is going to be unique to you and what helps you reset from exhaustion.

Reflect

There’s no right answer for navigating this uncertain time. The practice of reflecting can help consider what is working and should be continued or what is not working and needs to be adjusted. Take time to celebrate and linger in the successes. You’ll need this feeling of accomplishment to believe you can tackle the next hard thing.

There’s no doubt this experience is hard on all of us. But we don’t have to go through it alone. We are stronger together.

“This is difficult. There are no simple answers. There is pain and fear that would be easy to unload on others – but that would be unfair and out of integrity. We will walk through this in a way that makes us feel proud. It will be hard, but we will do it together.”

(Brene Brown, Dare to Lead, p. 105).

Something new

The beginning of a new school year can bring a lot of big feelings for both children and adults. Adjusting to new routines, environments, relationships, and so much more can be both exciting and draining. As educators, we can bring with us our years of experiences and well-deserved self-trust that just like every year before, we and the children will adapt and thrive. Here are a few reminders of the tried and trusted practices that can aid in a successful new year:

Focus on relationships first. Successful learning is grounded in trust. Building a relationship with your children will ensure that learning is low stress, enjoyable, and collaborative.

Engage the parents and families. Families know their children best and can provide us with valuable insight for supporting children through the transition to a new care environment. When families trust us, children are more likely to trust us too.

Lean on your colleagues. And let them lean on you. Teaching is a beautiful and hard profession. Navigating the stresses and celebrating the successes doesn’t have to be done in isolation. We are stronger together.

Take exactly one day at a time. Transitions take time. Relationships take time. The effort you’re putting in now to create a strong foundation of trust and learning routines will have a big pay off in the long run. But for now, focus on just today.

Celebrate small wins. Set small goals for yourself and honor the unexpected successes. Remember that big growth and movement forward happens gradually not all at once.

Recognize that this newness is temporary. All the feelings that you and the children have right now are real and won’t last forever. Gradually, you and your children will adjust and what was once something new will be familiar, secure, and routine.

Centering these key ideas and embracing the joys and struggles of newness will create lasting connections and feelings of success for both you and your students.

Here are a few additional resources I recommend for helping your students, families, and you adjust to a new year:

https://www.scholastic.com/teachers/articles/teaching-content/top-tips-first-days-school-grades-1×965/

https://www.edutopia.org/blog/transition-resources-teachers-matt-davis

Just Start.

I’ve put off this first blog post for 10 months. 10 months. That’s how long this website has been in progress and the blog has been the last part I’ve worked on. Lots of people blog… crafts for kids, favorite recipes, DIY, the variety is endless. I’ve left this website content for last because I want it to mean something. I want to get it exactly right. For it to be a place educators come back to for ideas, inspiration, thought provocation, and vulnerability. It needs to be just right.

That’s a lot of pressure. Because I don’t know what “just right” is quite yet.

I am one week out from a new school year – the third school year impacted by the pandemic. I am the director at an early childhood program, currently at a reduced capacity of 125. I’m going into my second year of my PhD program. This is my 6th year teaching in higher education but I’m teaching a new class at a university new to me. And I have two children starting their new school years as well.

I want to get all of this just right. And I’m sure you do too. We are helpers and caregivers and if you’re like me, high-achieving perfectionists. We care a lot about getting it right.

In my life, I take a lot of inspiration from my Dad who, among other things, is a phenomenal writer. I’ll never forget the time I asked him what he does when he gets stuck, when the words don’t flow, or worse, he can’t even get started. And he said “Just start. Write until it is good and then delete the crap.”

This was a pivotal moment for me, not just in my writing but in how I approach all of my work. It doesn’t need to start perfect. I just need to start. From there, ideas transform, growth unfolds, and something really great emerges.

So here we are.
In our imperfection and desire to be something great that is truly just beginning to develop and unfold.

Let’s start together.