Puppets help to still the anger

21st September 2001 at 01:00
David Henderson reports from the 2001 early years and primary exhibition supported by The TES Scotland

FAILURE to tackle toddlers' tantrums early on can store up trouble for primary teachers and derail learning. But puppets and dolls are one way of helping to defuse anger, according to Joan Pennycook, a consultant and trainer.

"The younger we can start working with children in developing emotional literacy the better. If we do not start at the beginning, we have left it too late by the time they are five," Mrs Pennycook told a seminar at the 2001 early years and primary exhibition in Glasgow last weekend.

Dolls and puppets could be introduced at story time to represent a third personality when leaders wanted to raise sensitive subjects. "Children can express themselves through a third party," she said.

Neutral characters could talk through a story or argument, point out different views and ask children to express feelings they might want to bottle up. "We need to teach children the vocabulary of feelings. They need the words to express themselves and we need to help them do that," she said.

Young children who lashed out were often angry and frustrated, and such feelings had to be acknowledged. They also had to understand the consequences of their actions and be given strategies to cope. However, teachers and leaders must accept that children behaved the way they were brought up at home. Challenging their home behaviour could dent self-esteem.

"We know that children can behave differently in different settings if the circumstances are right. They can have two different languages between home and school," Mrs Pennycook said.

Aggressive children were often given time-outs to ponder their reaction. "This is a very misleading action to take because I think children shut down," Mrs Pennycook said. "They are feeling angry about something that has not been acknowledged. If a child has to be withdrawn, it is important an adult is withdrawn with them and talks to the child about what has happened and listens to them. But when a child hits another child, we need to be careful we do not home in on the child who is the aggressor and forget the other child because the message we are giving out is that this is a means of getting attention."

Mrs Pennycook believed many young children from single-parent families in large housing schemes were being set a poor example by the adults around them. "Who is the male role model? The adolescent boys who are out on the streets, dealing with their own testosterone and angst about being an adolescent. On the children's panel we saw behaviour that in the 1980s would have been typical of a 12 to 14-year-old was now becoming typical of a nine to 10-year-old."

Mrs Pennycook praised work in nurseries and primaries such as golden time and circle time which helped express emotions. Yet what worked one day for one child might not work the next.

KEEPING THE PEACE

* Don't label children and listen keenly to what they are saying.

* Change from talking about emotions into how emotions or events may have triggered them.

* Look for things that could reward success, including self-praise and aim to find three good things to talk about for every two bad.

* Avoid saying "don't do" and turn it into "do do".

* Be empathetic and let the child know that you recognise the pain and strain they are feeling.

* Ask "how?" questions not "why?" * Avoid thinking of behaviour as attention-seeking.

PITFALLS OF PUNISHMENT

* Strong punishment produces undesirable aggressive behaviour and emotional reaction such as crying and fearfulness, which can interfere with desirable behaviour.

* Punishment does not establish new behaviour, it only suppresses old behaviour. It teaches only what not to do.

* Children imitate adults. If adults punish them too much they will punish others.

* Punishment becomes addictive and can be used to criticise, or ridicule inadequate behaviour.

* Introverted children may not need such severe punishment as extroverted children. A sensitive child may cry if told "no".

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