Dear Polly, I have a 4-year-old in my class, Becky, who has never been in a group setting. She constantly wants my attention. She yells and insists that I attend to her, even when I'm busy with other children or if I'm in the middle of an activity. I've tried removing her from the group when this happens but that doesn't seem to work. How can I help Becky fit in?
I see this behavior, as well as others we consider unacceptable, as a matter of education, not punishment. In working with young children, particularly at the beginning of the year, a primary objective is to teach them how to get along with others and how to function appropriately in groups.
You've put your finger on the probable problem: Becky hasn't had the opportunity to learn how to be a part of a group without dominating her peers. Here are some ideas you can try to help remedy the situation. Keep in mind, however, that even if you do these things consistently, you shouldn't expect to see results for at least six weeks.
* At the beginning of every group meeting, discuss the fact that at group time everyone needs to listen to the person who's having a turn talking. Sometimes it's the teacher. Sometimes it's a child. Sometimes it's Becky (make eye contact and smile at her). Then hold up and describe your talking-turn stuffed animal. Explain, "Whoever is holding the little monkey (rabbit, bear) is having a turn to talk. Others listen." If Becky talks for too long when it's her turn, tell her she can say one more thing. Then the monkey is passed to another child.
* Every day during the first weeks of school, talk about using indoor voices. Ask the children to tell you if it's OK to shout and make loud noises outside. After collecting a number of answers, including an answer from Becky, assure the group that it's quite all right to be loud outside. Then talk about inside. Point out that the room is big, but ask if it's as big as outside is. Gather responses. Tell the children that it's important to use quiet voices inside. Help them practice quiet voices. Be sure to give Becky a chance to show everyone her quiet voice and compliment her.
* Working with the children's contributions, develop a signal for lowering voices and eliminating other loud noises such as those often involved in play. Let the children choose the signal so they feel some ownership of this kind of communication. Be sure Becky participates in this process. Role play walking over to someone you want to speak with rather than yelling to him across the room.
* Think of ways to give Becky extra attention, yet continue to set limits. Invite her onto your lap at story time and teach her not to interrupt when you're doing something with another child. Assist her in playing with a child, or in holding hands with a partner, instead of pulling on you.
Over time, with consistent follow-through, you should see some changes in Becky.