During one of our Music days, I noticed a child was standing like a statue while we were singing. When we were finished singing, she had the same affect—standing like a statue. This was concerning to me because of the continued affect so I walked over and held/rubbed her hands. She immediately started singing at a place we were 30 seconds prior to taking her hands.
In our one and two year old play groups, children coming in for the first time will come in with a petrified look on their faces because they don’t know what to expect. In every instance, I walk over to the child, take their hands in mine and just hold/rub them firmly. Usually in a short time, the child will look me in the eyes and using a soft voice I will reassure them that everything’s o.k. Then, I’ll encourage them to take their time checking out things and people. If this child has been in a playgroup before, I start reminding them of people’s names and match child with parent while holding their hands.
When a child is starting to get their body and voice out of control or one who needs a reminder to follow the rules in our classroom, I will take their hands and hold on to them until they look me in the eyes. Once we have eye contact and still holding/rubbing hands, I remind him/her of the rules, people in this room follow the rules, and those who don’t get to sit in the corner.
The common actions in all of these situations are that I am holding a child’s hand, waiting for eye contact, and then communicating. There are many reasons I do this. Most importantly I do this to make a human connection with the child. Children will relax when they know they are loved, cared for, and protected. Once this happens, they are more willing to walk around the room and play. The other big reason I hold hands is because of the brain.
Information enters the brain through our senses. We have two sets of senses: far (touching, tasting, smelling, hearing, seeing) and near (interoceptive, vestibular, proprioceptive and tactile). The near senses have more to do with sensory integration and in turn, learning. When the brain can’t process information coming in through those senses, the child will react by screaming, crying, running/jumping around with no purpose, or simply standing still. Sensory integration is a brain behavior connection.
Out of all the near senses, I believe the proprioceptive sense (body awareness is space) is crucial. I believe when children are throwing full-blown hissy fits or are running into things (maybe on purpose, maybe not), or are just out of control, they have lost their edges, as Mary would say. Once this happens, the brain doesn’t know where the body is and confusion about what to do and how to act sets in. When I take the child’s hands, the brain has found one of those edges and it starts relaxing. (This is why you folks see me hopping your child from one place to another when they get a little mad or need redirecting.) I know their brain is relaxed when the child can look me in the eyes and connect with me. Now, I’m ready to talk.
My final reason is that when I’m holding their hands, the child can’t get away! Communicating with children is much like real estate—it all depends on location, location, location. When I’m within an arm’s distance or better yet holding hands, I have a much better chance of a child hearing and listening to what I’m saying. When I’m farther than that, my chances are slim to none of a child even recognizing the fact I am speaking to them.
Before ending, I must tell you between the ages of 9 and 20 months it’s all about the feet. Little babies love having their feet rubbed, “patty caked” or crossed. When I see a baby kicking their feet at me, I know they are ready for and wanting a conversation with me and as I’m talking I will rub, patty cake, and cross their feet. I believe this is the second most important point for information to enter the child’s brain. The most important point is through their mouth; they love to taste things!
I hope this helps. It sure has changed the way I think about communicating with young children. The piece that has helped me the most is getting an understanding of what the brain needs to develop. This information is shaping the things I do with children. When I recognize a brain-behavior connection, I have a better idea of what I need to do that will help the brain relax so the child can start listening and learning.