I often advocate to staff and parents that we as adults set children up for their likes and dislikes by the way respond to their reactions. We can either feed their fears or extinguish them. We can help create children’s likes or guarantee their dislikes solely on how we react.
This summer I’ve been able to really observe this phenomenon in real time and document my belief that we feed or extinguish their fears. We have had a child, Nolan, in our program for well over a year now and since his arrival he’s gotten very emotional when the trains passed by. He had been in our little players room and I’d not had any day to day care for him but I had observed his emotional upsets as well as heard his cries from the other room. He made so much progress with drop offs and joining in play and then the stay home order hit and with Nolan’s return we had to start from square one again.
He has been transitioning to the preschool room this summer and as we’ve spent our days outside I’ve now had the opportunity to observe his behavior as well as the adult reactions to his fear. I want to say I know with all my being that as caring individuals our natural response to children’s upsets is to protect them and give them comfort. I want to share this so that we as nurturers and teachers can be aware of our actions and know the difference between protecting, feeding fears, and supporting self confidence.
Spending our days outside has forced us to be up close and personal with every single train that goes by our playground multiple times a day. Usually our first train of the day is the Amtrak that passes by about 9:03 every morning. Nolan knew when the trains were coming and would start his day crying as soon as he arrived and it took a really long time for him to calm enough to enjoy his day. We really thought his emotional upset was purely about separating from his mom but now I am beginning to wonder if it hasn’t been his fear of the trains all along.
As the summer went on Nolan was able to start his day outside with his sister and that was making the drop off’s a bit easier but then the train would come and Nolan would run for the hills. I began to notice the pattern and would start preparing him as soon as I heard the first whistle and the first ding ding ding of the safety gates. I would get excited and and run with Nolan to the fence. I’d give him people to look for and encourage him to wave to the people and wave to the train. As soon as I’d hear the train whistle I’d yell for him and we’d go run to the fence and wave hello to the train and the people. We’d did this several times a day and the days got easier.
One summer day a former care giver from his previous room joined us outside and she knew his fear of the trains. Out of her desire to protect him, as she heard the train, she scooped him up and put him on her lap and helped him cover his ears. It was instant fear again and tons of tears. I helped the adult know what I’d been doing and let her see how our excitement or protection had a defining roll in his reaction.
Summer is over, Nolan walks outside all on his own. Today he ran independently across the playground to greet the train. He now plays down by the fence waiting for the next train.
The next time you go to protect a child from their fears ask yourself are you protecting them from a harmful situation or feeding their fear?