Teacher Creates Comforting Environment

Early Childhood Mental Health Support

Teacher Creates Comforting Environment

Alex used to become overwhelmed in his busy preschool classroom. He struggled to control and communicate his emotions. It wasn’t unusual for him to act out by kicking, screaming and writhing on the floor in protest to seemingly simple requests. Nearly every day he would experience these inconsolable outbursts. His teacher struggled to maintain classroom routine while attending to Alex’s needs, and often felt helpless in her efforts to console him.

Mental health issues are not uncommon for young children. A 2011-12 survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control reported 1 out of 7 U.S. children aged 2 to 8 years had a diagnosed mental, behavioral, or developmental disorder. Mental health issues prevent children from reaching developmental and emotional milestones, and learning healthy social skills and how to cope when there are problems.

Through a partnership with The Family Conservancy, Alex and his teacher were able to work with an early childhood mental health (ECMH) specialist. Over several weeks, the ECMH specialist observed Alex’s classroom behavior and reflected with his teacher about factors that could be influencing Alex’s outbursts. They exchanged ideas about what could be done to reduce and respond to these upsetting moments. After the observation, the ECMH specialist met with Alex’s teacher to discuss classroom changes that could reduce the challenging behaviors and provide training.

The calming exercise proved to be extremely successful for Alex and his teacher. Now, when he becomes stressed they go to a designated calming area. His teacher stays near him, reminds him in a soothing voice that he is safe, and models relaxing breathing techniques. Once Alex is calm, they use a set of dolls to help him recognize his feelings. The dolls are named after eight prominent emotions: happy, sad, angry, scared, anxious, disappointed, frustrated and calm. His teacher coaches him through selecting the buddy he most closely identifies with in that moment, based on facial expression and physical sensations.

In addition to supporting Alex’s teachers, the ECMH specialist was able to work with Alex’s parents and provide materials for use at home. They knew about the calming exercises he had been doing at school. “We like that the strategies our son learns at school can also be implemented at home to help him control and understand his emotions. He has responded well to breathing exercises … It’s helpful to have a team approach in helping our son and we appreciate the additional services.”

As a result of the collaboration between The Family Conservancy, Alex’s teachers, and his parents, Alex has fewer meltdowns in school because he is able to recognize when his emotions begin to escalate. He is able to go to his calming place, use the tools, and successfully return to the group. On the occasion that Alex does have an outburst, his teachers are able to maintain their own composure, and know how to support his return to a calm state.

Learn more about The Family Conservancy’s ECMH Services