MRI studies, longitudinal observational studies and input from tens of thousands of educators of young children have changed the way most view how one should appropriately interact with and guide very young children. Historical discipline has given way to strong guidance.
Some historical discipline approaches punish very young children for having problems they cannot solve. (Gartrell, 1995) They punish to extinguish bad behavior or reward children to get them to adopt adult/good standards of behavior. Historical discipline views children as mini-adults capable of better behavior and decisions if they just chose to do so. The assumption of this approach is that a child’s will is what prevents him from obediently sitting at a meeting for longer than 20 minutes or keeping his hands to his sides at a grocery store. His darker side causes him to run around the store touching things. In the past, there hasn’t been much questioning as to whether this approach is flawed or not. If the 3 or 4 year old child misbehaves, it has always been the child’s fault.
Punishment’s alternative, guidance, takes into account the child’s biological and developmental limits. MRI scans support this method by showing that a young child’s brain is structurally different from an adult’s brain. In practice, this means that 4 year old children can’t expected to sit still longer than 20 minutes. Given their biological need to touch and explore things, the method of guidance gives them plenty of opportunity to do so. Instead of having a child sit quietly in a grocery cart, for example, the children’s need to move and touch is channeled into having them push the cart.
Guidance takes the view that children often don’t know what to do and are constantly learning. Through language, ideas, limits and choices, guidance teaches children how to behave better and solve problems.
Gartrell, D. (2003). The power of guidance: Teaching social-emotional skills in
early childhood classrooms. U.S.: Thomson Delmar Learning.