Hitting and Screaming OR Problem Solving and Smiling – YOU Decide the Outcome!! By Sharon Doubet


Sharon Doubet, Ph.D., is an Assistant Professor at Illinois State University in the Department of Special Education. Her research interests include the social and emotional development of young children, early childhood assessment, families, and professional development.

 I want to talk with you today about the VERY important role you play in supporting young children’s healthy social emotional development. The story below is very common in early childhood classrooms, and it could end up with both children hitting and screaming. You are the teacher…..

Today during Center Work Time, Jack is at the science center sorting shells. You see Macy approach the area and begin to pick up shells. You hold your breath and watch as Macy starts to move the shells that Jack has organized. He tells her to stop messing up the shells, but she continues.  Anticipating a blow up (hitting and/or screaming) from either, or both children, you walk toward the children, but suddenly you stop. Jack very clearly states that this is making him sad because he worked so hard on the sorting the shells. He sounds confident and has no problem communicating his feelings and emotions. He gives clear directions to Macy as to how to put the shells back, but at the same time he listens to her ideas and together they solve the problem. They decide that one of them will sort shells and the other one will count them. You keep your distance, glad that you did not swoop in and take over when this interaction began. As you watch this scene, you wonder how do some children know how to manage their emotions, problem solve, and relate to peers and adults, and others do not. How do we teach children these valuable skills?                                                                

As a classroom teacher of young children, you might observe a child in your room who, like Jack, is confident, has good relationships, can concentrate on challenging tasks, can communicate their emotions appropriately, can listen to directions, and can solve social problems. Maybe you have a classroom full of children with these same skills! Awesome! However, the reality is that more than likely you have some children who have these skills and some who have not yet developed these skills. Unfortunately, when children do not have each of these skills they tend to exhibit challenging or disruptive behaviors – the hitting and screaming. This leaves you, the classroom teacher, seeking to teach the skills needed while at the same time addressing the challenging behaviors.


We Must Focus On Teaching the Skills

The Pyramid Model has been proposed for promoting the social and emotional development and addressing challenging behavior of young children. The pyramid model follows 4 levels of support that adults need to provide for young children including: 1) developing positive relationships with children, families and colleagues, 2) creating supportive environments, 3) teaching friendship skills, emotional literacy, anger and impulse control and problem solving skills, and 4) developing individual behavior support plans for children who have challenging behaviors.

Today I want to talk to you about Level 1. On another date, I can share more teaching strategies related to the other levels. More information about supporting young children’s social emotional development can be found at The Center on the Social and Emotional Foundations for Early Learning (CSEFEL) and the Technical Assistance Center on Social Emotional Intervention for Young Children (TACSEI) websites.



Level 1: Building Relationships, an Essential Place to Begin!

Relationships with children, families and co-workers are fundamental to the development of social and emotional skills. Some important concepts that are developed through positive relationships include:

  • Helping each child feel accepted.
  • Assisting children in learning to communicate and get along with others.
  • Encouraging feelings of empathy and mutual respect among children and adults.
  • Providing a supportive environment in which children can learn and practice appropriate and acceptable behaviors as individuals and as a group.

This list includes a variety of strategies used to build relationships in early childhood classrooms.

  • Greet every child and parent at the door, by name.
  • Post children’s creations around the room and in the hall.
  • Have a “star” of the week, who brings in special things from home and gets to share them during circle time.
  • Call a child’s parent in front of them to say what a great day she is having or send home positive notes.
  • Call a child (or send a note) after a difficult day and say, “I’m sorry we had a tough day today. I know tomorrow is going to be better!”
  • Give hugs, high fives and thumbs up upon accomplishing tasks.
  • When a child misses school tell him how much he was missed.
  • Read to individual children or a few children at a time.
  • Acknowledge children’s efforts
  • Find out what a child’s favorite book is and read it to the whole class.
  • Use descriptive, encouraging comments
  • Play alongside of or with children, follow their lead.
  • Let children make “All About Me” books and share them at Circle Time.

You can brainstorm a list of strategies to develop relationships with families. Ideas could include asking parents to help in the classroom, having a family bulletin board were parents can post family pictures, and hosting a family pot-luck supper in your building or classroom. Soon you will ALL have teaching jobs 😉 and you will have co-workers you want to get to know. To help build positive relationships with your co-workers you could plan to acknowledge special events in your lives, and when a teacher has a tough day – let them know you care. Think about all of the things you can do to support each other!


ALL of these strategies to build supportive and positive relationships will help your young students develop healthy social emotional skills. We want to reduce the hitting and screaming and increase the problem solving and smiling in your classrooms;-)

As Center Work Time comes to an end, you observe that Macy and Jack are still organizing, sorting, comparing and counting the shells. They have been activity engaged   in this activity for 20 minutes. You smile to yourself and recognize that YOU have purposefully designed a classroom environment that values relationships and your young students are demonstrating their healthy social and emotional skills! Hooray for seashells, friendships, and problem solving skills!


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