Better Behavior Toolkit: Emotional Literacy

Emotional Literacy or Emotional Intelligence is the ability to identify and express your feelings as well as identify and express the feelings of others. Just like walking and talking these skills are developmental and must be taught and practiced. This skill is also a prerequisite to emotional regulation, successful interpersonal skills and problem solving, thus one of the most important skills learned during the early years. (Denham, 1986)

This emotional development happens gradually and is usually linked closely to children’s language development. The desire to express thoughts, needs, and feelings with others motivates children to develop and use language.

The development of speech and language includes…

  • Receptive Language, which is the ability to comprehend language and includes listening to, recognizing, and understanding the communication of others, and is developed first.
  • Expressive Language is the ability to express wants, needs and feelings using words, phrases, or sentences. It also includes gestures and facial expressions.

Once children develop enough language for simple communication, they can simultaneously begin to build their emotional vocabulary. Learning feelings words are easy to teach because your facial expressions will go along with the words to aid in the connection in the brain. For example, when you say “happy” your face is smiling, laughing and your voice will sound light. This vocabulary can be taught directly in isolation or incidentally through play and activities.

As children develop vocabulary it is critical to introduce them to general emotion words (happy, sad, mad, etc) and then a variety of shades of meaning for emotions (excited, furious, embarrassed, etc). Labeling children’s emotions allow them to begin to identify their internal state, which is fundamental in them beginning to learn to regulate their emotions. Being aware and verbalizing that they are “angry” is an important step before teaching children to regulate themselves or calm down in place of throwing a tantrum.

It is also important for adults to empathize with the feelings of children. This is how they will eventually learn to empathize with the feelings of others. They can learn to read physical features and body language as well as the tone of voice to determine how someone is feeling. So when a child is sad, the adult can say things like “Your head is down and your mouth is frowning, do you feel sad? What made you feel sad?” This follow up reinforces that usually a feeling is created by a happening or situation, or person.

Older children can learn that they have a choice in how they react to situations to empower them to not let situations or other people determine their state, but that they can choose their feelings and emotional state regardless of what may be happening around them. What a gift THAT is!!! There are probably many adults who would benefit from learning that lesson as well! 🙂

According to Joseph & Strain (2002), for emotional vocabulary to effective adults must first spend the time necessary to build positive relationships with children. This is the foundation necessary to maximize influence to build emotional vocabulary…and ALL learning!

The Center on the Social and Emotional Foundations for Early Learning is a great place for parents and teachers to access strategies and materials. Among other useful resources, there is a book list for feelings, emotions and relationships. Click the link under the picture to get the free 6 page PDF list!

In conclusion, the importance of devoting planned attention to teaching emotional literacy cannot be overstated. Children do not come already wired with it. Denham (1986) finds that we may expect fewer challenging behaviors and more developmentally sophisticated and enjoyable peer relations. What a wonderful world this would be if everyone was socially and emotionally regulated! We have the power…one child at a time!!


Denham, S.A. (1986). Social cognition, prosocial behavior and emotions in preschoolers. Child Development 57 (pp 194-201)

Joseph, G.E. & Strain, P.S. (2002). Building positive relationships with young children. (Click HERE for the article)


Better Behavior Toolkit: The Circle of Security

A child exhibiting challenging behaviors is likely to be scolded, punished, and even ignored by adults and other children (since children take their cues from the adults) and unfortunately this reaction to the behavior will reap the exact opposite of what the adult desires, which is better behavior.

Building a secure, trusting relationship with the child can be a long exhausting process and can take much longer than patience allows for. But research proves that this very relationship can bring “strong and persistent” benefits including…

  • they like school more
  • they participate more actively
  • they perform better academically
  • they get along better with other children
  • they develop better social skills
  • they are able to exert more control over their emotions
  • for children at high risk, a close relationship diminishes aggressive behavior and boosts academic achievement

Wow, a positive relationship sounds a lot like a magic wand, wouldn’t you agree? And the best part is, it’s totally and completely free. All you need is the desire to do it and a boat load of determination!

Here is a diagram of the Circle of Repair. Mom/Dad can of course be substituted with any trusted adult!

The two videos below offer more explanation of this strategy and process. The first on is geared towards parents, and the second is geared more for teachers. But there is great information in both!

Research states that there are 2 critical factors of interactions: sensitivity and responsiveness. These factors require being aware of the child’s signals, interpreting them accurately, and responding to them appropriately. When adults respond empathically, listen carefully, keep promises, and accept (not condone) the negative emotions, it allows the child to believe that adults can be trusted to respond to their needs.

Doesn’t every child deserve to believe that?

I would say…absolutely!!!



Hamre & Pianta, 2001 Can instructional and emotional support…make a difference fro children at risk of school failure? Child Development.

Dombro, Jablon, & Stetson, 2011 Powerful Interactions.

Ainsworth, Blehar, Waters, & Wall, 1978 Patterns of Attachment

Better Behavior Toolkit: Causes for Challenging Behavior

When examining childhood behavior, the age-old debate of nature vs. nurture may have finally reached a conclusion.  Experts in the field now assert that nature AND nurture are intertwined in ALL aspects of human development, including the exhibiting of challenging behavior. 

Whether you believe the cause for challenging behavior is nature (biological risk factors) or nurture (environmental risk factors) or maybe a combination of both, I think we can all agree that disruptive behaviors can have a powerful impact at home, in public, and/or at school.  The more we understand the reasons they may exist, the greater our chances for turning them around.  Read more here!

Let’s consider some possible causes for challenging behavior:

  • The behavior gets the child what they want

A child who is exhibiting challenging behavior likely learned at some point that the behavior works for them.  You don’t want to deal with the behavior, so you give them what they want in order to prevent them from flipping out.  It may take a while and lot of patience, but not giving in will teach the child that this is NOT a way to get what you want.  But you must also teach them HOW to get what they want appropriately.  Click here for tips to dealing with manipulative behavior.

  • The behavior meets a need  

If a child feels alone, neglected, dismissed or ignored they may believe the behavior will get your attention. And even negative attention to a child can sometimes feel better than no attention at all.  Have you ever heard or said, “She’s just looking for attention”?  Well the easy answer to that is…give it to them.  A child’s feeling of safety and security contributes to their self-image over time.   Positive relationships with key adults show them they are valued and builds their confidence as they learn about the world through others. Click here to read more about positive attention.

  • The behavior is a form of communication

If a child doesn’t have the ability to express their feelings or frustrations appropriately, or they have learned that if they do express their feelings it is often ignored, the negative behavior can be used to “tell” you what they are feeling.  HEAR them, then teach them how to communicate in more effective ways.  Sometimes it can be as simple as, “Don’t throw the toy, say ‘can you help me?'”  Teach them the words so they won’t need to use the behaviors.  Let them know we all get frustrated or angry and offer them other ways to deal with those big feelings. Click here for an article and free printable on managing big emotions.

Now, let’s consider some possible solutions

In order to interrupt this pattern of behavior, we must first accept that the behavior is meeting a very real need, and the child has learned that the behavior is serving them well.  The next step is to help the child meet that need in a more appropriate way.  This step however requires a level of empathy.  You need to show the child that you understand and respect what their needs are, and that you are willing to help them meet those needs in a more healthy way.

Feeling secure, stable, and seen can minimize the need for children to act out or respond in inappropriate ways.  Whether you are a parent, caregiver, or teacher you can be proactive in these areas as a way to minimize the impact of challenging behaviors at home and/or at school.  Is this a magic solution?  Of course not, and I don’t believe there is one.  But a little empathy and lot of determination can go a long way to turn around a child who needs your help.  Please remember, they are not giving you a hard time, they are having a hard time.  And they need you to help them through it.

You can do it!



Shonkoff & Phillips (2000) From neurons to neighborhoods: The science of early childhood development (Click here to read it)

How Labels Can Limit Children


At times we are quick to assign a label to the actions and behaviors of children. Whether the label is positive or negative it can have lasting effects on their future. Words like bossy, violent, mean, disruptive, out of control, or attention seeking are thrown around as easily as boy and girl without a thought of how that label could seep into the spirit of a child and create a self-fulfilling prophesy. The tendency then is to focus on the negative labels and begin to look for confirming evidence of it. This can prevent us from seeing any positive qualities in a child (which by the way they ALL have) and limit our expectations of them. I wonder how many CEOs may have been labeled bossy or activists labeled disruptive as children?

Even positive labels like smart, talented, confident or kind could also put children in box that may be difficult to live up to consistently because after all, they ARE children. As they grow and develop their personalities and characteristics may change and they may resent the label even if it is a positive one.

In some cases medical diagnoses are necessary to allow children the support and accommodations they need in order to achieve their best. Be clear, there is a difference between a diagnosis and a label. But in the same way, a diagnosis should not define a child- it’s not “who they are”. A diagnosis only details what is needed for them to achieve. It is the same as being near-sighted, which allows for glasses in order to make up for the medical deficit of blurry vision.

All children deserve the chance to develop into the amazing human being they were created to be. We MUST be careful with our words, labels, expectations, and the overall effect we have on them. Be careful with labels, and only when necessary, label the behavior or deficit…NOT THE CHILD.

Let’s make sure we aren’t killing the spirits of children before they ever get a chance to emerge. We don’t have the right to do that. So to be safe, let’s just not label. When we see a behavior that is counterproductive, let’s teach a skill or behavior to replace the unappealing behavior. That is our job anyway…isn’t it?

SEE the child, don’t stigmatize them!

Food for thought, now you do the dishes! 🙂


The Power of Social Stories!

Social stories are a very effective way to teach and reinforce routines and expected behaviors in the classroom and at home. Children love to read, retell, and listen to stories which makes this an ideal method to teach routines, expectations, and social skills. The story format disarms children since you are not correcting or scolding them, and they can be more receptive to seeing the characters in the stories make mistakes and solve problems. Children can identify with the feelings and behaviors of those characters and are introduced to a new way of responding and reacting in similar situations.

The site below is a great one-stop shop for social stories and explains why, when, and how to use them. The also have TONS of examples of free social stories. Even better, they have an abundance of images you can use to create your own indivualized stories!! Click the link below the picture to check it out!! 



Student Agency vs. Reading Instruction — Making Good Humans

It is no secret that this year I have been trying to create a classroom culture that respects and supports’ my students’ agency in their journey as learners. One of my biggest challenges this year has been figuring out how traditional approaches to reading instruction can fit within a model designed to help students take back ownership […]

via Student Agency vs. Reading Instruction — Making Good Humans

Reading is Supposed to be Quiet, Right? Wrong! — Sweet Tea and a Live Oak Tree

In our classroom, I utilize a reading workshop model. A mini-lesson followed by independent reading and guided reading. I’ve always wondered how I could make independent reading more robust. I love the “why” of independent reading but there were always a few students who weren’t totally into it. Given that so much time is spent independent reading […]

via Reading is Supposed to be Quiet, Right? Wrong! — Sweet Tea and a Live Oak Tree

12 Tips for Powerful Guided Reading Teaching!

By Irene Fountas, Center for Reading Recovery and Literacy Collaborative Director/Author/Professor The following are some guiding principles from Irene Fountas that may help you get more power in your teaching: Notice the student’s precise reading behaviors. Eliminate ineffective behaviors and help the reader do what proficient readers do. Select a text on which the reader […]

Screen Shot 2017-05-19 at 2.24.26 PMvia Twelve Tips for Powerful Teaching in Guided Reading Lessons — Lesley University Center for Reading Recovery and Literacy Collaborative

Guided Reading Self-Assessment: Test yourself!!

Imagem-blog-Geopi-CamilaΟ  I use an assessment to determine the levels of my students (Assessing Reading Progress: Setting Goals & Monitoring, The most important focus for guided reading success, )

Ο  I group my students based on their reading levels or needs (How to group students, How do I find out what my students need? The most valuable resource for literacy instruction)

Ο  My groups are made of less than 6 students (Teachers can respond to children’s reading more effectively. Amendum, et al., 2009)

Ο  I know the reading behaviors needed for my students to reach their next level (Guided Reading freebies!  The most valuable resource for literacy instruction)

Ο  I know the text characteristics for all the levels represented in my class (F & P Guided Reading Text Level Descriptions)

Ο  I select books based on appropriate text characteristics for each level (Find information for selecting appropriate texts here)

Ο  My students reread previous books for the first few minutes of the lesson (The Power of Rereading)

Îź   I use running records to assess my students’ growth or frustration once a week, per student (Running Records Resources, Running Records App)

Ο  I move students based on the results of the weekly running records (Assessing Reading Progress)

Ο  My book introduction allows students to access the text, but leaves them work to do (How to Craft Strong Book Intros for Guided Reading)

Ο  I take anecdotal notes while students are reading and note strengths and weaknesses (Observing and Noting Reading Behaviors)

Ο  I engage groups in conversations about the text

  • Literacy develops best through social interaction and dialogue with others (Dowhower, 1999)
  • Teachers should make a shift from asking predetermined questions designed to ensure that the students arrive at the “right” meaning to facilitating conversations that encourage students’ exploratory talk as they arrive at a deeper meaning (Gavelek and Raphael, 1996)


Ο  I have a variety of appropriate independent, shared, or project-based activities for the remainder of the class that keep them engaged while I am working with my groups (What does research say about literacy centers?,  Powerful resource for small group instruction)

Ο   There are no interruptions during my guided reading lessons from the remainder of my class (How do I organize my classroom for small group instruction?, 3 ways to ensure success at small group and center time, Powerful resource for small group instruction)

Ο  I make sure when my groups leave the table they are applying what we practiced during guided reading (Critical component for guided reading success)

How’d you do?


10 Best Practices for Brain Compatible Teaching!

  1.  Learners need to feel safe

  2. Learners need to have structureScreen Shot 2017-05-04 at 3.10.31 PM

  3. Learners need novel activities

  4. Require frequent responses

  5. Allow appropriate wait time

  6. Combine content with music or movement

  7. Provide water every 10 to 45 minutes

  8. Offer fresh or dried fruits

  9. Create a relaxing atmosphere that feels “homey”

  10. Allow students to make choices