It’s been well documented that there was an academic loss during the pandemic, but adults and teachers are also making up for a social learning loss among children too.
Too Much Time with Alexa?
Dear Dr. Debbie,
I teach three-year-olds. Some of my children seem to think I’m their servant, ordering me around without any “Please” or “Thank you”. It feels like they think I’m Alexa and all they have to do is say my name to get me to do what they want.
Is it too much to expect to be treated like a human being and not Artificial Intelligence?
Twelve Years’ Experience and a Master’s Degree
Considering that today’s child of three has mostly lived through a period of acute social challenges, things may be a little different in preschool classrooms for a while.
Life for these very young children has probably included very few social interactions outside of the home. In infancy and toddlerhood, even in the last months before birth, a child is exposed to the cadence of the language of the people around him. Oft-repeated exchanges become part of his memory bank for using language himself, once his nerves and muscles have sufficiently matured. He “knows” language well before he can use it himself.
Due to pandemic restrictions on being around other people, parents have not been exposing little ones to everyday conversations at the rate they might have been prior to March of 2020. If more verbal commands are given to machines than to people, this becomes what developing brains absorb as the proper way to communicate for having one’s needs satisfied.
In recent years, coincidentally, devices such as Alexa have become popular. A person can be gratified in requests for playing music, printing pictures, making phone calls, telling jokes, and computing sums simply by saying her name and stating the command. When we were limited in our interactions with humans, these devices filled some of that void – although in a very one-sided relationship. To your point, this kind of relationship may have been prevalent in your students’ early home lives and may persist in the present. In some homes young children are actually encouraged to use these devices by their parents.
Playing Catch Up with Social Learning Loss
“Learning Loss” became a buzzword in education during the pandemic. Mostly this refers to academic content that may only have been marginally absorbed with the glitchiness of online learning, or may have been missed altogether due to irregular attendance related to illness and quarantines. But even before being old enough to attend school, very young children were also experiencing gaps in learning.
As it is for language learning, the first few years are a critical time for social learning. An infant expands his social world from the significant relationships with primary nurturing figures, to interest in other babies, to trying to imitate other toddlers, to wanting to play with another preschooler. Adults outside the family play an important role, too. A child’s social world would normally include his parents’ friends, the family’s neighbors, and other regularly seen people in the community. Any one of these adults might help to hand him a dropped toy or help to button his jacket. These interactions pave the way for a child to likewise treat a teacher with trust and appreciation. If outside-the-family relationships weren’t readily available, it stands to reason that the normal timetable of learning how to make a request from an adult (or a classmate) would be delayed.
Be patient. We are all learning to make up for missed time with friends and (extended) family.
Teaching the P’s and Q’s – Minding Your Manners
With the understanding that your students’ behavior is a natural byproduct of being born into a bizarre time period, accept this as a learning opportunity. You can make gracious communication a priority in your curriculum.
Adults in the school should exaggerate their own Pleases and Thank You’s in earshot of the children. Embellish your behavior with such phrases as, “I’d be most pleased if you . .” and “I’m so grateful that you . . .” so the children are sure to catch on to these exchanges between their caregiving adults.
Social skills are learned and practiced when children play Family with dress ups and baby dolls. When your students are engaged in imaginative play, join in to model and reinforce how P’s and Q’s can be used for requests, even in make believe.
Add picture books that focus on characters’ use of their P’s and Q’s. Have lots of discussion during and after reading the stories together to drive home how important, and effective, it is to use nice words before and after someone does something for you.
Here are some examples:
- Spot Says Please (board book) by Eric Hill
- Please Say Please by Kyle T. Webster
- The Thank You Book by Danna Smith
- What Do You Say, Dear? by Sesyle Joslin
- Amanda Louise, Say Please by Whitney Pytlowany
- The Berenstain Bears Say Please and Thank You by Jan & Mike Berenstain
- Just Say Please by Gina and Mercer Mayer
- Time to Say, “Please”! by Mo Willems
- The Thank You book by Mo Willems
- Say Please, Louise, a Cautionary Tale by Cox P. Roxbee
Rather than reacting with annoyance, use yourself and others as great examples of how Please and Thank You work to help us get what we need.
Deborah Wood, Ph.D. is a child development specialist www.drdebbiewood.com and founding director of Chesapeake Children’s Museum www.theccm.org. She will be presenting a series of Zoom workshops for parents https://www.theccm.org/event-details/parenting-childcare-educator-workshops-2, on Mondays, 7-9 pm, through November 14..
The museum is open with online reservations https://www.theccm.org/event-details/plan-your-visit-today-2 or call: 410-990-1993.
Read more of Dr. Wood’s Good Parenting columns by clicking here.