As an author, I've always had a healthy respect for the fact a title can make or break a book. Robert Fulghum's All I Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten is one that keeps popping into my head – whether I'm interacting with business leaders or working in my role as a pediatrician, educator or parent.
I recently caught the news about the Rutgers University basketball coach “behaving badly.” My immediate thought was perhaps he should take a few pages from said book. Maybe he'd missed some of these important early childhood lessons?
Videos of the incident can be summarized as a whole lot of yelling, kicking, shoving and name calling (in the form of homophobic slurs). The coach has since been reportedly instructed to get remedial sensitivity training.
I think it would serve him well to take a page from what I call the “Preschool Playbook.” What we teach children in early childhood is immensely important to their future success. It's not rocket science, but it is brain science.
The belief that what happens in preschool does NOT stay in preschool – but rather impacts children's social, emotional and cognitive competency for life – is supported by top brain scientists, academic institutions, the military, the juvenile justice system and the business community.
Here are a few “Preschool Playbook” lessons:
1. Keep your hands to yourself. Children aren't born with the ability to control their impulses. Predictably, this leads to hitting, biting, throwing, etc. But the ability to overcome these urges is so important for future success. Most children who get proper encouragement and teaching of this life skill can be expected to master the impulse to push, grab, throw and shove sometime around the age of three or four.
2. Use your words. Early childhood language development is about more than parental bragging rights. How many words a child has at their disposal helps them better communicate and interact with others. Every parent and child care provider knows the challenge of a toddler who knows what they want but can't quite communicate it. The result? A short fuse, frequent and unexplained temper tantrums and other behaviors that have long been referred to as “the terrible two's.” By age three, however, children should be able to follow instructions with 2 or 3 steps, carry on conversations using at least 2 to 3 word sentences, and talk well enough for strangers to understand them most of the time.
3. If you can't say something nice… The second part should go without saying. Preschool is when children are learning and testing out social dynamics. They may say some hurtful things, but usually this is to test them out and see what happens. When adults teach them what is and isn't socially acceptable, children soon learn skills like empathy and awareness of how what they say affects others. As the parent of a teenage athlete, I've often wondered if the “old school” (loosely translated = belittling) coaches perhaps missed this lesson completely or simply forgot it.
4. Use your indoor voice. Sure, this phrase is often applied in preschool with the goal keeping decibel levels low, but it's also important to remember when dealing with conflict and disagreement. Whenever I help parents or teachers learn to instruct children more effectively, I routinely remind them that no one – child, adult, or college basketball player for that matter – responds well to being screamed or yelled at.
While the Rutgers basketball coach happens to be the story of the day, I hope public interest in the topic isn't just a flash-in-the-pan. Unless we want to raise a generation of adults who push, shove, belittle others and can't control their reactions under stress, we need to permanently realize how important early childhood education is. Let's remember the importance of the preschool playbook.