Dear Polly, There's a girl in my new class of fours who can't keep her hands to herself. I've had children like her before, but Carrie is an extreme case. What can I do? - Beth
Dear Beth, In what ways does Carrie use her hands that you don't consider appropriate? I can envision various examples, and wouldn't respond exactly the same to each.
Having one rigid rule (such as "No touching") to cover all situations prevents sensitive teaching. We probably agree that one key characteristic of a good teacher is the ability to quickly judge a situation and act according to what seems sensible - especially with regard to the child's intentions.
Chances are that Carrie is attempting to connect with other children. Because school has just started, she may be unfamiliar with you and the other children. Maybe Carrie feels out of it, ill at ease, a bit lonely. Perhaps she's literally reaching out for friendship. This may explain why she reaches out and touches everyone. If you think this explains her behavior, at least in part, try these suggestions:
Pair her with an appropriate partner as often as possible. Some children are more physical - and more eager for friendship - than others. Try connecting Carrie with children who might welcome her physical form of friendship seeking.
Broaden the rules to include this child. Try to think of all the times when touching is okay. For example, let children hold hands at group time, or invite Carrie to choose a person to walk with.
Is Carrie upsetting or displeasing children by touching them? If that's the problem, I'd suggest the following:
Be patient. School just started and Carrie's only four! Children without previous classroom experience aren't used to sharing space with so many people. Teach the importance of letting others have their own space. Try telling Carrie, "Pretend all the children have a circle around them. Stay out of their circles unless they invite you in."
Talk about it. Explain the issue to the group. Encourage children who have been bothered by Carrie's behavior to discuss their feelings and ideas, keeping the focus on how to solve the problem. Help Carrie feel confident about her ability to change the behavior. Tell her, "I know you want children to like you, and I know you can be a good friend, because you're a fun person to play with."
Two of the most wonderful ways teachers and parents can help children grow are to foster self-esteem and an awareness of others' feelings. These essentials are not taught through lectures and lessons but by taking time to strengthen and build them simultaneously.