Childcare: Who’s in charge here?

As midsummer inevitably arrives along with the back-to-school sales, thoughts turn to the classroom and whether or not the children are “ready” for school. Adults wonder about the many issues that can derail the process of “readiness.” Consider this example:

Grandma was staying with 4-year-old Theodore. When Grandma told him it was bedtime, his reaction was, “You are not the boss of me.” So the issue of family hierarchy intrudes into the blissful world of grand parenting. What relevance does the issue of “who’s in charge” have to do with helping children to be successful in school?

Over the years family therapists have learned that healthy families function best when the hierarchy is the usual one with the parents in charge and the grandparents in an advisory role.

Teachers also have found this hierarchy, with the teacher in charge, is the organization most likely to build a highly effective classroom environment. When the roles are reversed and children are “in charge,” most of us know all too well that soon children will be “out of control.”

Therapists know all too well how unhappy children are when they are “out of control.” In fact, research has shown that when this role reversal exists, it is difficult, if not impossible, for children to feel nurtured and secure.

Clear rules

Most of us can remember seeing children in a store throwing tantrums in order to get a toy or a treat, and that sinking feeling when the adult “gives in.” Likewise, imagine a classroom where behavioral expectations are neither clear, nor reinforced, and the teacher loses “control” of the class. Highly effective classrooms, like highly effective families, start with establishing “who’s in charge.” Establishing expectations, rules and routines, allow teachers, parents, and caregivers, to create healthy environments conducive to learning.

Let’s get back to the example of Theodore challenging the authority of his grandmother. One way to handle this situation might be to explain that “Yes, you’re right. Mommy and Daddy are the “boss.” But they told me that I am the “boss” while they’re gone, and you will tell me their rules and what you like to do at bedtime.” Typically, 4-year-olds love rules and are happy to tell you what they are!

As teachers return to classrooms, they hope to find children who can adjust to expectations that are conducive to learning. Generally, children who experience the hierarchy with parents and other caring adults in an executive role are better able to meet those expectations and more likely to feel successful in school.

Guest writers are Kay Kurz, a middle school teacher of 25 years and Phyllis Stien, author, “Psychological Trauma and the Developing Brain: Neurologically based interventions for troubled children.”

She has over 30 years of experience as a child and family therapist, infant mental health and child development specialist, consultant, and educator, presenting training courses on the psychology and biology of child development, behavior problems, childhood disorders, and childhood maltreatment.

Editor’s note: Grandparents Teach ,Too is a non profit organization of elementary and preschool teachers from Marquette, Michigan. Writers include: Jan Sabin, Mary Davis, Jean Hetrick, Cheryl Anderegg, Esther Macalady, Colleen Walker, Fran Darling, and Iris Katers.Their mission since 2009 is to help parents, grandparents, and other caregivers of young children provide fun activities to help prepare young children for school and a life long love of learning. They are supported by Great Start, Parent Awareness of Michigan (PAM), Upper Peninsula Association for the Education of Young Children (UPAEYC), Northern Michigan School of Education, U.P. Children’s Museum, and NMU Center for Economic Education.