Connecting vs. Directing

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So what we're learning is that social interaction -- the building of the brain through relationships -- is an absolutely crucial, essential part of healthy development. Relationships are nutrients for the brain. We need to think of our natural habitat as relationship.

So what does that mean, how does that translate into teachers in the early years interacting with kids? Well, to me, one of the key things is that you think of relationship and connecting first.

When I, you know, visit places and think of my own parenting, I know I spend a whole lot of time correcting, and so, as we look at the social brain, we realize that when kids feel connected and trusting of their teachers, you have fewer behaviour problems.

They will follow along if you spend a whole lot more time saying, ‘Wow, that was a very nice thing you just did there with little Johnny. I really appreciate your help there,' rather than, ‘Oh! Don't hit that boy one more time!'

If you focus on the connection, the relationship, it's almost as if you've made the deposits in the emotional bank, that when you do need to make correction, even little ones as little as three, they can tell the difference between someone who's made a connection with them, and respond differently, than someone who's just coming in and bossing them around.

So, teachers, I think, really need to be focusing on, ‘What's the relational balance that I have with the kids that I'm looking after?' And if you find that it's correcting and redirecting, now is the time to say, ‘Whoa. These kids are going to thrive better if we start first with connection as our primary drive.'

There is a challenge that we face as we think about this relationship revolution, because really, that's what we want; we want a revolution...that people are recognizing that when you have social and emotional maturity and literacy, you thrive. But, you know, the thing that we keep coming up against is the legacy, the history of behaviourism, and so behaviourism has things like, ‘If you spare the rod, then you spoil the child.' That means you have to discipline and show who's boss.
Well, in fact, that has been shown not to be that effective...that, when you are approaching the child from a punitive punishment, what they're learning is that big people are mean, that I have no control over my environment, when I like something, if somebody else bigger than me wants it, I lose. So punishment really gives kids a negative perception, as well, takes completely away their sense of what we call efficacy, that is, ‘I can make a difference in my environment'.

The research really now much more focuses on how can we help kids develop internal discipline so that they are making decisions in a nurturing environment that are the right things to do, not because the teacher's gonna be mad at me, but because they are the right thing to do.

There're studies that show if you reward kids being generous, their generosity goes down. Why? Because they then start looking around to see who's watching me do this, rather than the spontaneous. If you say, ‘Oh, you're so smart,' or, ‘That's the best painting I've ever seen,' what happens? The kids don't try as hard. Even the kids with natural ability in painting and what have you, they do less. What motivates us, and what motivates kids is not so much the stickers and the punishment and the time-outs, but the relational, the sense of competency, the sense of, ‘I can make a difference, and I did that, and I can help somebody feel better.' They change the brain.