Briana runs in the door of her child care center, leaving behind her mother, who is still coming up the steps. She flings a hasty “Hi” at the teacher seated by the door, glances at the interesting “science” display set out to capture the interest of the arriving children, tosses her coat at a hook on the rack by the door, and runs into the classroom with her teacher on her heels.

“Whoa,” says her teacher good-naturedly. “Let’s go back and do that again.” She gently guides Briana back toward her coat on the floor, where her mother waits. Briana kisses her mother good-bye and then starts to take off again. Her teacher grabs her as she goes by. She patiently reminds her again to hang up her coat, which Briana does hastily. Then, released from the teacher’s grasp, the lively girl takes off again into the classroom at a fast clip. She heads straight for the art table, which is set up with wood scraps and glue. She elbows her way into a spot at the table, finds an interesting assortment of wood within reach, and begins applying glue to various pieces, which she stacks one on another. She works busily for quite a while, absorbed in what she is doing. After her flighty entrance, the focused attention is quite a contrast. At last she looks up from her project. Turning to a boy sitting next to her, she remarks, “I’m making a house.”

He answers, “I’m making a spaceship. See how it launches?” He waves his creation in the air several times. Briana ducks and then turns to the boy on the other side of her. “My mommy’s gonna have a baby, and I’m making her a bed,” says Briana. The boy ignores her, concentrating on his gluing. Briana goes back to work on her project, concentrating her whole attention on the wood in front of her.

“I need scissors,” says Briana to the teacher, who is seated at the end of the table. “I need to put something here,” she says, indicating a spot on her wood project. The teacher looks interested and says, “You know where the scissors are.”

Briana gets up with her creation in her hand and dances to a nearby table set up with scissors, crayons, various kinds of paper, hole punches, and tape. She sits down at the table and carefully chooses a piece of yellow paper. She painstakingly cuts the paper into an irregular shape, folds it in half, and glues it on a piece of wood sticking out at a right angle from the central core of her work. It takes her about 10 minutes to complete this task. She gets up to leave and then turns back to the table, picks up the paper scraps

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she left there, and hurriedly glues them on, too. Then she grabs a pencil, writes a B on the paper, then another B, and then a third. She then “flies” her sculpture over to the art table and passes it under the nose of her teacher, saying, “I wrote my name on my art.”

She gives her teacher a hug. The teacher hugs her back. “I see” is the response. Then, “If you’re finished, put your art in your cubby.”

Briana flies her sculpture to a row of lockers by the coat rack, pokes it inside one of them, and takes off running to the dramatic play area. She ignores the children al- ready there and pulls out a frilly smock from a box of clothes, puts it on, pats it down the front, looks in the mirror, and turns away satisfied. She flounces over to the little table, sits down, picks up a small empty teacup, and pretends to drink.

“You can’t play,” announces a girl already seated at the table. Briana ignores her and continues slurping noisily into the cup. Then she gets up and takes the cup and the pot with her to the sink, where she swishes them around in the soapy water she finds there. She stands there for a long time, relishing the sensory experience. “Let’s play house,” suggests a boy, thrusting his hands into the soapy water.

“OK,” agrees Briana. “I’ll be the mom,” she says. “I’m the mom,” says the girl who told her she couldn’t play. “Then I’ll be the other mom,” says Briana, squeezing a sponge out and carrying

it over to wipe off the table. “You’re my baby,” she announces to the boy, who im- mediately falls to the ground and clings to her foot, clawing at her legs and making a whimpering sound.

“Stop being bad!” Briana scolds him in a harsh voice. “Bad baby, bad, bad, bad!” she screams angrily. The boy cries louder. A teacher passing by smiles at them and continues on her way.

“Pretend I have to spank you,” Briana tells the boy. He responds by crying even louder.

She gives him a couple of dramatic whacks, which only connect lightly. He screams in agony. Then she gives him a third whack, which accidentally lands hard.

“Hey, stop that! You hurt me.” The boy jumps to his feet, and his voice becomes his own. He looks mad.

A quick look of surprise, a touch of fear, then remorse comes across Briana’s face. She hastily retreats to where four children are lying on cushions looking at books. She flings herself to the ground and takes a book out of the hand of the only child within reach.

“Don’t!” protests the child, reaching to grab it back. Briana holds up a hand as if to slap her, then slowly lowers it. She turns two pages of the book carefully and de- liberately, then tosses it back toward the waiting child, gets up, and leaves.

Seeing the door open, she runs toward it, snatching off the smock and dropping it on the floor as she runs. She stops, looking around to see whether a teacher has spot- ted the smock on the floor. No teacher is around. Briana hesitates. Then she goes back, picks up the smock, and takes it over to the box where she found it. She dumps it in and hurries back to the open door. She pauses in the doorway for a moment, glancing around. Then she shouts “Sarah!” joyfully and runs down the ramp into the play yard.

Analyzing Initiative in a Four-Year-Old Let’s examine that scene in terms of initiative. Can you see it? If you were watching this scene with a parent, could you explain what’s good about Briana’s behavior? Suppose the parent is comparing what she is watching with her own experience as a child in school. She might be quite critical of what she sees in this scene. Here are some ways

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Sharing Views of Initiative with Families 75

to explain that scene in terms of de- velopmental appropriateness. Though Briana and the other children are learning, this is preschool, not school. It is appropriate for four-year-olds. The environment is set up for free choice, and Briana knows how to take advan- tage of that. She finds lots of things to do—hands-on kinds of activities, sensory experiences, and ways to use her imagination. She is able to move around, socialize, and finally choose to go outdoors and hook up with her friend. The teacher is facilitating learn- ing rather than structuring learning. There will be a group time later in the morning, but even that looks different from either kindergarten or the pri- mary grades.

Let’s focus on Briana’s initiative. Because Briana is four years old, she is able to use her fertile imagination quite effectively, and she can solve problems. She is also becoming increasingly more competent in her physical abilities and communication skills. Her attention span has lengthened, and she can spend long periods in concentrated focus. She’s active, curi- ous, and energetic. A phrase that describes Briana is get-up-and-go. She’s got it!

What does she do with all this energy and newly developed ability? She uses it to make decisions about what she wants to do. She is so interested in everything that you could almost describe her as in an “attack mode.” It’s not a negative kind of attacking but a thrusting kind of energy that propels her toward activities and ma- terials that draw her. Briana needs no motivation from her teachers to get involved. She has her own inner motivation.

Much of what Briana undertakes is spontaneous, but that doesn’t mean that she is incapable of planning and executing a plan. For example, she had something defi- nite in mind when she asked the teacher for scissors at the wood-gluing table. The teacher, seeing creativity as part of initiative, responded in a positive way instead of restricting Briana to what was available on the table for that particular project. Briana also had something definite in mind when she scanned the play yard, found Sarah, and headed over to play with her.

Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) It’s important to note that some children are as active as Briana but lack her abil- ity to focus attention and concentrate on any one thing. They don’t plan out what they want to do but impulsively rush from one thing to another, perhaps destroy- ing things in their path. These children may not yet have learned to channel their energy. Or perhaps they are overstimulated by too many choices or too much go- ing on around them. Because these children are displaying a different kind of high energy, some adults may think of them as hyperactive. Indeed the word hyper is now

In a preschool environment, the teacher is facilitating learning, rather than structuring learning

commonly used for children who move a good deal and have trouble being still. There is a condition known as an attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD for short). There is a lot of information on this disorder on the website of the National Institute of Mental Health. Although this is a diagnosable disorder, there is some controversy over diagnosing and treating children as young as three or four.

Julie and ADHD Julie is a seven-year-old who has just been diagnosed as having an attention deficit/ hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). In a way, her mother, Shannon, is glad to get the diag- nosis because it confirms her idea that Julie is not “bad.” She has been worried about her for a long time. It seems as though Julie was born kicking. She was an irritable baby who cried a lot. She seemed to sleep very little. She was in constant motion and she hasn’t slowed down yet. Once she got on her feet, life got even harder, if that was possible. Julie was into everything. She never sat still for a minute. Shannon compared her with a neigh- bor child, Hannah, and saw that Julie was very different. By age four, Hannah would sit for periods of time looking at books or drawing with crayons. Julie never did that. When she looked at a book, she flipped through at a rapid rate, threw the book down, grabbed another one, threw it down, and was off to something else in the space of less than a minute. In fact, none of Julie’s activities lasted more than a minute. What was wrong?

Shannon decided to send Julie to preschool, but that didn’t help much. Although it gave Shannon a few hours of peace each day, the reports from school kept her in a constant state of tension. Every week it was something new. “What can we do about Julie’s behavior?” the teachers kept asking. “She’s so impulsive that she constantly makes decisions that result in unfortunate consequences. But she doesn’t seem to learn from her mistakes. She just keeps jumping into things and making rash decisions.” Shannon felt discouraged that they called her in for her ideas and opinions. Why didn’t they know how to handle Julie? They were the trained experts!

When the school called a meeting and the teachers and Shannon sat down and did some brainstorming, things improved. They all shared ideas and information about what worked best at home and what worked best at school for Julie. One of the problems was that preschool was so stimulating. There was just so much to do that Julie was over- whelmed with the number of choices. She ended up constantly running around and not doing anything. Also, the room tended to be noisy and sometimes a little chaotic when all the children were inside. Julie reacted to the high energy level of the classroom by los- ing what little control she had. At home two things captured her attention: television, sometimes, and video games, almost always.

Things didn’t improve by kindergarten, and first grade was a nightmare. When the school finally suggested that testing Julie might be in order, Shannon felt relieved. When she got the results, she felt even more relieved. She is now involved with a team of ex- perts who are creating an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) for Julie. (To learn more about IEPs, visit the website for the Center for Parent Information Resources.) Shannon is pleased to see that she is a full member of the team. They listen to what she has to say, so she also listens to what they have to say. One of the decisions Shannon is faced with is whether to medicate Julie. That’s where she is right now. She has joined a parent support group and is discussing the pending decision. She has discovered that there are lots of arguments on either side of the decision.

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Developmental Conflicts Let’s look at Briana again. With all the energy and activity that this stage of initiative brings with it, Briana is bound to run into trouble—at least occasionally. How she handles adult guidance and corrections has to do with her stage of development.

As a toddler, Briana learned about getting into trouble. In her constant search for autonomy, two-year-old Briana got into trouble all the time. She learned to look for one of her parents or her family child care provider when she did something she knew was wrong. She responded to their reactions by showing shame for what she had done. If they weren’t watching, however, and she didn’t get caught, she didn’t show signs of remorse.

Erikson (1963) defines the major task for toddlerhood as working out the con- flict between autonomy and shame or doubt. (See Figure 4.1.) Briana has done that and come out with a sense of what she can do that is not greatly overshadowed by a sense of shame. She has managed a positive resolution for this dilemma.

Briana has now, at four, moved into Erikson’s next stage, which signifies a new dilemma—that of initiative versus guilt. She’s a big girl with a beginning sense of responsibility and a budding conscience. She has taken the watchful eye of her par- ents and teachers inside herself and can now begin to judge her own behavior. She can feel the kind of guilt whose nagging warns her when she’s about to violate some behavior standard and gives her a sense of remorse when she carries out the action anyway. Her guilt is useful because it helps keep her in control sometimes. It guides her toward positive and acceptable behavior.

Briana now has an internal government that dictates the ideals and standards of behavior that are requirements of society. Her government is a benevolent one. Her guilt serves as a little warning sign when her parents or teachers aren’t present. She needed reminding to hang up her coat, but she knew not to leave the smock lying on the floor. She stopped herself from hitting the child who was trying to grab the book back.

Briana’s guilt is not expected to always control her actions. She still needs adults close by to help her control herself when she can’t manage. They do this without making too big a fuss, knowing that Briana has the beginning of control within her.

Briana’s guilt is only a small sign—a signaling device. It’s not a battering ram hitting her over the head or an acid eating away her insides.

Not all children are as fortunate as Briana. Some are governed by an inner tyr- anny. Daniel Siegel (2011), a pioneer in what is called interpersonal neurobiology, integrates brain research with psychotherapy. He describes in his book Mindsight what can happen to adults who judge themselves so harshly to enforce the stan- dards of those around them that they lose their initiative. They’re afraid to act. Their

energy is sapped by the overkill methods of their inner government. Not all of his patients’ struggles stem from Erikson’s conflict between initiative and guilt, but some do.

This situation of guilt squashing initiative can happen when adults go overboard and use heavy-handed punishment, accusations, threats, or tor- ments on young children. Children who grow up in this atmosphere may develop an exaggerated sense of guilt, and they torture themselves even for trivial offenses. One of the benefits of being a family-centered program where teachers (or other professionals) and parents get to know each other and spend time together is that parents who use inappropriate discipline can learn gentler, healthier ways of managing their children’s behavior. Although it may be tempting to just tell them—and lay a guilt trip on them— there are more effective ways. Modeling has been mentioned throughout this chapter and in the previous ones. When families see strategies working, they may begin to use them themselves. Also, when they begin to understand the stages of development children go through, that can help, too. Some parents

learn best by reading—and the program should have a parent lending library. A DVD library is a good idea as well. Some parents learn best by discussion with other parents as well as teachers. Observation is a good learning tool for parents and teachers alike.

Imagination and Fantasy What’s perhaps most notable about the stage of initiative is the way children work their imaginations and how they use fantasy. By the preschool years, pretend play has become far more complex than the simple imitation of infancy (Jones & Cooper, 2006; Jones & Reynolds, 2011; Van Hoorn, Nourot, Scales, & Alward, 2015). The toddler

shows the beginnings of the complexity by using objects to stand for other objects (a plastic banana or block for a telephone). By age four, the imagination soars! What was Briana doing when she was playing house? She was doing just what adults do with dreams and daydreams. She was experiencing hopes and fears by dealing with the past symbolically and re- hearsing for the future. She tried on roles and feelings in the same way she tried on dress-up clothes. Fantasy play gives Briana practice in interacting with others while in these roles. She also uses fantasy play to express fears and anger and to discover

What’s perhaps most notable about the stage of initiative is the way children work their imaginations and use fantasy

This situation of guilt squashing initiative can happen when adults go overboard and use heavy-handed punish- ment, accusations, threats, or torments on young children. Children who grow up in this atmosphere may develop an exaggerated sense of guilt, and they torture themselves even for trivial offenses.

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ways to adjust to painful situations. If parents observe fantasy play, you can discuss together what the child is getting out of it. With the parents’ knowl- edge of what goes on in the rest of the child’s life, he or she can give you ideas about what you’re seeing that you couldn’t get otherwise.

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