Supporting the child on their path to becoming confident communicators and active listeners I try to find key phrases they are able to use, often a long with a hand movement, to tell someone what they need or want. This started from the first day they were in my care as an infant. We signed milk at bottle time, 'change' for when it is time to go to the bathroom and even music when I would ask a baby if they wanted to sing a song.
Now that the children are toddlers, my phrases are adapting to toddler experiences. I try to come up with a simple phrase of 3 words or less with a hand motion that gets the point across. One of my most highly used phrase was “move back!” with what I think of a stop sign hand held up in front of their body. This is a very important phrase as there always comes that moment during the day, when two children come together and want to interact. Sometimes it goes smoothly with gentle touches, hugs, giving and taking of toys. Other times, one of the children isn't ready isn't ready for that gentle stroke of the hair or an exuberant good morning hug. What is important is giving the children the ways to respect each other's needs and be able to communicate them in a safe way.
What I began to notice about 'move back' was that the stop sign hand was turning into a pushing hand. This was definitely not a safe situation, so after thinking about it and being inspired by our movement teacher I began to introduce the idea of the bubble. This bubble is the safety cushion we all need around our bodies when we need space. I began to give this phrase to the children and test out it's effectiveness. One day we were in the bathroom and one child leaned over to pat another on the head. The child being touched reacted by pushing and crying. I quickly came over and said, “Oh! I hear S. He wants space. Look S, you can tell G that you need space like this. (I brought his fists together in front of his body, making a bubble) 'Space, G. I need space!'” We paused looking at G. He moved back. “It worked! You told him that you needed space and made a bubble and he stopped!”
Like any new thing or behavior there has been much practicing and repetition since I introduced it, but already I am noticing less pushing when two children need space from each other. I look forward to supporting everyone on this new path of respect and communication.