The recently released study by Yale University regarding the number of preschoolers expelled from daycare and early child educational programs across America is stunning and alarming. What's going on and how might we make certain such experiences by the most vulnerable members of society will end?

I wrote the book, Making it Better: Activities for Children Living in a Stress World, published by Redleaf Press back in 1996. I sense everyone in early child education would agree the world America's children live has not become less stressful since I fashioned that book. The premis upon which that book was developed is just as applicable today as it was ten years ago; Children haven't changed; childhood has.

The neurological citations offered a decade ago continue to be confirmed and validated by ongoing research, enhanced by electronic imaging. Many young children are making adaptations, albiet mal-adaptations, in order to survive in a world in which they sense adults cannot guarantee safety to children. Preschoolers require feeling secure in order to commit their energies and internal resources to their developmental tasks.
The continuous flow of neurological research offers all educators insights into the root causes of the behaviors that can cause classroom chaos and teacher frustration, as opposed to focusing on what actually are symptoms.; symptoms of stress and anxiety.

The Yale study on preschool expulsions reveals this crucial knowledge is not being integrated into teacher trainings or classroom practices.
When I conduct preschool inservices or AEYC workshops, I get feedback that what are actually presentations of stress behaviors are described and interpreted as misbehaviors; misbehaviors that require disciplinary action. Consider for a moment how differently one would react to behaviors we tell ourselves are misbehaviors as opposed to telling ourselves this child is presenting stress and fears.

What might be causing increased stress behaviors in today's preschoolers?

In the last few years, attachment issues have begun to be defined as attachment traumas. The critical effects of underdeveloped attachments are the changes in early brain development that result from it. The research by Allen N Schore [2003], reveals how profoundly important eye contact, touching, and soothing between newborns and their prime caregivers during the third and fourth month is to the attachment process and brain development.

During this time peroid, the prefrontal cortex is building the scaffolding upon which the child, the teen, will build their capacity for self-regulation, stress management, and empathy, according to Schore. Our national standards of four infants to one caregiver in daycare puts that process at risk. A single caregiver cannot optimally provide the essential contact-time for this essential process, despite the best of intentions.

This year, 2005, there are four year olds attending preschools who were infants the fall of 2001. Literature has declared for years that new mothers who are grieving and/or anxious will not be able to bond with their newborns consistant with their potential for engaging in this primal process. Consequently, there may be youngsters in preschools today who are unable to exercise self-control and effectively cope with new experiences or transitions, especially along our nation's east coast corridor. These preschoolers are not misbehaving but are presenting stress behaviors due to underdeveloped attachments over which neither they or their mothers had no choice.

The Loving Rituals [2000], by Dr. Becky Bailey offer early child educators compelling activities that can strengthen children's self-regulation and ability to connect with others, essential for preschoolers who were not afforded an opportunity to complete strong attachments.

The research by Bruce D. Perry, M.D., Ph. D., continues to offer valid insights into why young children who have experienced or witnessed frightening or scarry actions cannot deal with threats, perceived or real. The survival adaptations that prompt the alarm and stress response of these preschoolers causes them to be hyperactive, hypervigilant, and impulsive. When these already insecure youngsters sense that their teacher is losing control of herself/himself because they do not know how to stop an acting-out preschooler's extreme stress, all the children in that classroom sense their teacher is unable to be the source of their security, safety, and comfort.

Preschoolers who have experienced frightening episodes, private or national, cannot deal with a teacher's disciplinary actions in the way most adults desire or anticipate. When stressed and anxious children perceive a threat, which is how they interpret rejection and shame, their survival response is triggered. Unwittingly, uninformed teachers can contribute to children's explosions.

A terrific series of videos by Bruce D. Perry are now available for staff development. The are available through Magna Systems, [800-203-7060]. I would especially recommend video #3, "The Brain: Effects of Childhood Trauma" and video #4, "Identifying and Responding to Trauma inChildren Up to Five Years of Age"

Early child educators have a responsibility to integrate neurological understandings of stress behaviors into teacher preparation and staff development. We must find proactive ways to reach and teach today's children and reduce preschool expulsions.

* Bailey, Becky , "I Love You Rituals", HarperCollins Publisher,New York, N.Y. 2000
* Solomon, Marion, and Neborsky, Robert J.; "Healing Trauma", W.W.Norton Publications; New York, N.Y. 2001

Barbara Oehlberg


© 2005 Barbara Oehlberg
Site Designed by
Brady World Designs