Adult Role: Lending Our Prefrontal Lobes to Children
Our role is to be surrogate prefrontal lobes for our children. Prior to children developing one of the above skills, adults need to help compensate for the emerging skill by “lending” their prefrontal lobes and executive skills to the child. The adult must do this in a way that scaffolds skill development within the child, but does not build dependence upon the adult or impede skill development. We do this in three major ways:
- Coaching during teaching moments
- Structuring the environment
- Direct/explicit teaching
1: Coaching During Teaching Moments: Responding vs. Reacting
Conscious Discipline is based on utilizing the power of neuroplasticity to maximize brain development and organization for teachers and children. Neuroplasticity is the brain’s ability to reorganize itself by forming new neural connections throughout life. When processes in the brain are activated, we have the capacity to rewire a child’s brain through interventions. This is a double-edged sword: If a trauma occurs, the brain organization that results may be helpful for survival, but detrimental to thriving in a complex social society. The reverse is true when adults provide conscious responses at optimal times. A conscious response in context allows us to rewire a brain that was wired to survive so it becomes wired to thrive instead. This speaks to the power of Conscious Discipline. Adults consciously respond to children in ways that support higher levels of brain organization at the time when the brain processes are activated. Using conflicts as teaching moments becomes a brain smart intervention strategy that maximizes neuroplasticity and a change in behavior. Adult coaching during conflict moments may be the most powerful tool available for teachers in regard to classroom discipline.
Optimizing neuroplasticity ingredients, powerful teaching moments:
- Focused, mindful attention
- Attuned, responsive relationship
- Change the state first, the behavior second
- “Catch the brain in action”
Surrogate executive controls children need:
- Prompting: “Did you like it? Go tell ____.” “My job is to keep you safe.” “What could you do that is helpful?”
- Reminding: “Stand up and push in your chair so everyone is safe.”
- Visual Images/Checklists: “Let’s check and see what you will need to start the day.” (Finish math, help your friend, etc.)
- Preparation for Change: “In three minutes, the time it takes you to brush your teeth, we are going to lunch.”
- Review: “Circle time is over. Now it is time for ____.” Point to visuals to assist children in answering. “Yesterday we went over ____, today we will ____.”
- Rehearsal: “Who can show me what lining up safely looks like and sounds like.” Use lots of music and movement.
- Thinking Out Loud: “I’m going to calm myself down and then I will address the class.” “I am going to put on my coat and gloves to stay warm when we go outside.”
- Prioritizing: “We will take a deep breath, wish our friends well, and then stand up, push in our chairs and line up for lunch.”
- Modeling: Consciously model how to deal with difficult feelings, situations and people. Consciously model your expectations for children.
- Connecting and Coaching: Choose to connect instead of control children.
2: Structuring the Environment
The coaching skills needed to help children develop healthy executive skills are embedded in the School Family so children can utilize environmental structures as tools for social, emotional and academic success. Use visual charts and prompts when possible. Embed the rehearsal of expectations into literature, song and drama activities. Create a classroom based on the following:
- Conscious Discipline structures
- Conscious Discipline rituals
- Conscious Discipline routines
3: Direct/Explicit Teaching
Most social-emotional learning programs (social skills, character education, emotional intelligence) rely on direct teaching as the main means of teaching new skills. This is the least powerful of the tools available to the teacher; however, these types of lesson plans can support coaching and structuring the environment. Without coaching (using conflict as a teaching moment) and without structuring the environment (creating the School Family), direct teaching becomes meaningless and will not transfer from lesson plans into real-life skills.
Steps in the Lending Process
||Make environmental modifications as needed.
||Teach the skills needed.
||Notice and encourage the skill when being used.
||Model the skill and use the think out loud technique.
||Ask for willingness by helping children define and solve their problem.
The Executive Skill Lending Library
- Provide supervision: Notice or describe what you see instead of judging. Describing/noticing focuses attention. Judgment is about the worth of the person, moment or situation.
- Use attention signals such as hand movements, visual cues and songs.
- Show how long it will take and how long is left (visual depiction).
- Make the task interesting and fun.
Teens: Identify personal, societal or global relevance.
- Provide a predictable daily routine in pictures. Use them as a reference for child.
- Talk about how long it takes to do things (understanding time comes in 2nd grade). Example: In the amount of time it takes to brush your teeth, walk to the line at the door.
- Make picture calendars and schedules like a day timer for children.
- Create a picture routine book to organize tasks, like homework showing each step necessary to successfully complete the task.
- Role-play and practice transtitions.
- Adults involve children in the development of the systems.
- Use color to distinguish time instead of relying on clocks.
- Create patterns, auditory signals (signals for pre-stop, stopping, shifting and starting).
Teens: Use daily agenda or calendar.
- Play games that involve matching and grouping by category.
- Adults narrate how they organize, describing aloud. “I put the black pens in this container and the blue pens in this one.”
- Adults put system in place involving the child as much as possible.
- Supervise the children.
- If parents are organizationally challenged, start small and help them with picture books to provide lunch or organize backpacks.
Teens: Make planning and reflection notes.
- Give directions to tasks in steps. Have children say the steps aloud.
- “Let’s make a plan!” Write (photograph) steps with the child.
- Involve the child as much as possible, “What do we need to do first?”
- “You can _____ when _____ is done.”
- Teach planning and prioritization with things they love to do before planning to clean their rooms.
- Give simple one or two step commands. “We will stand up and walk safely to the door. It looks like this.” (Demonstrate)
- Role-play and add contrast.
Teens: Break projects down into smaller, more manageable parts. Create a list of steps.
- Make eye contact before giving instructions.
- Play Memory Game. Lay pairs of cards face down, take turns turning two cards over to find pairs.
- Keep external distractions to a minimum (turn off music).
- Create picture reminders of what to do.
- Have child repeat back what you said. Call and response. Make a chant.
- Rehearse with the child right before the action. “When we buy the ticket to the zoo, you will 1 _____, 2 _____. Let’s practice.” “Let’s think of some words we could use to encourage our friends. Let’s practice them now.”
- Come up with fun ways to remember things.
- Sing a lot. Call and response prompts: “My job is to keep you _____.”
- Reminders: “Remember to push in your chairs so your friends are safe.”
Teens: Refer to daily agenda or calendar.
Impulse Control / Emotional Regulation
- Teach routines and display them in pictures.
- “What Bugs Me” book (know triggers). Download worksheet page at ConsciousDiscipline.com.
- Teach stress reduction strategies for Safe Place. Help them be conscious of emotional outcomes (anger = hit) and change them (anger = calm down, ask for what you want).
- Teach script for problem-solving (Time Machine).
- Read stories where characters display behaviors you want them to learn (Shubert books).
- Regulate the environment as needed so the child is not over stimulated.
- Stop and start games (Freeze dance, dancing as fast as you can or as slow as you can, etc.).
- Face to face (I Love You Rituals).
- Notice “You did it. It took a lot to control your frustration.” “You ___ so ___. That was helpful.”
- Loud and soft games.
- “Do What I Just Did” game
- “Clap 1, 2, 3” game, “Brain” game
- Simon Says
- Composure Lap process
Teens: Role-play, discuss scenarios to practice safe and helpful responses. Study the Conscious Discipline Brain Model and share findings with younger students.
- Reduce novelty by introducing one thing at a time.
- Provide advance warning for what’s coming up next (pictures if possible).
- Give the child a script for handling anxiety. (I’m safe, keep breathing, I can handle this.)
- Break down tasks one step at a time.
- Give choices.
- Create social stories.
- Create a “What To Do When Your Brain Gets Stuck” book.
- Walk them through the anxiety producing situation—take pictures of steps.
- What Could It Be Game. Here is a spoon how could it be used?
- Move from A to B Game. Move in a different way (tip toes, crawl, etc.).
Teens: Same as above.
- Notice faces of children and speak for them until they learn their own voice. “His face is going like this. It is saying, ‘OUCH, hitting hurts touch me like this.’”
- Notice, describe and label instead of judge. “Marcus scooted over so Latisha had more space. That was helpful.”
- During upset notice body, reflect feelings and then reflect desires of the child.
- Implement games and processes that involve children in identifying facial expressions and feelings.
- Discuss the feelings of characters in literature.
Teens: Same as above.
- Constantly ask the child how he feels about effort, accomplishments, working with friends, etc. “How does it feel to have worked all day on your project and now it’s finished?” “How does it feel to have two Ds on your report card? Is that alright with you?”
- Ask them to reflect on their work or play. “How do you think you did in the play?” “What was one of your favorite/hardest parts?” “Would you do something like this again?” “Would you change anything?”
- Have pictures of what clean, finished, etc. look like.
- Teach children questions to ask themselves. “Do I have enough space at circle?” “Do my friends have enough space?” “What would help me pay attention better?”
- Think out loud: “I’ll put the book I am going to read at Circle Up next to my chair so I am prepared.” “I’m going to take a deep breath and calm myself down.”
Teens: Provide time in class for reflections; write and share them with a partner or in small groups.
Goal Persistence / Achievement
- Child states what she wants to achieve. Make commitments.
- Encourage the child every step of the way at first, then back off. “That’s it. Look at you. You’re doing it. You are _____.”
- Provide positive feedback in regards to effort, time and progress. “You stuck with your project and you are half-way through!” “Days ago you had an idea started. Now you will finish by tomorrow. Good for you.”
- Gradually build up the time needed to reach goals. Start with goals reachable within a few minutes or less than an hour.
- Make a visual chart to show progress.
- Celebrate achievements.
Teens: Same as above.
- Help the child develop his or her options, and then choose one to start with.
- Verbalize the beginning of the project to build awareness. “You chose to _____.” “You began with _____.” “You listened to the story and now you’ve chosen to _____.”
- Prompt the child if help is needed, “You could begin by _____,” or offer choices, “You could begin your homework by starting with math or by starting with reading.”
- Follow the child’s successful start with encouragement in the form of “You did it,” or “Good for you.”
Teens: Ask, “What might be your first step?” “What resources could you access that might be helpful?”
- Respond to upset using the D.N.A. process.
- Offer positive intent to children.
- Purchase and utilize the Feeling Buddies Self-Regulation Curriculum.
- Teach in small group or one-on-one how to use the Safe Place. Have children role-play the use of the Safe Place.
- Download calm during the day when the child is calm.
- Teach how to belly breathe and practice often when calm so they can access automatically when upset is triggered.
- Have them teach others how to calm when upset.
- Help the children learn their triggers.
- Change the environment to help children manage their triggers more effectively.
Common Developmental Tasks that Require Executive Skills
We are our children’s surrogate frontal lobes.
Discipline in education and parenting requires: Adults “lend” their frontal lobes, or executive skills, to the child. We are not supposed to be their frontal lobes forever; we must gradually teach, prompt and turn over the skills when appropriate. This happens in two ways: Prompt and teach using the following as these skills begin to come online: (This requires supervision and is labor-intensive.) Composure, encouragement, assertiveness, choices, positive intent, empathy and consequences. Structure the environment to compensate for underdeveloped skills and promote the internalization of skills in the future through: Visuals Limits such as gating toddlers to limit falling down steps, gating adolescents to limit access to drugs/alcohol/weapons as best we can. The following are developmental tasks that adults commonly expect of children. The age grouping of the tasks is an approximate guideline. The point is to determine children’s level of executive skill in relation to these developmental tasks. The assessment can help adults pinpoint the adjustments in frontal lobe support that the child requires for success. The list also sets the stage for determining the next set of skills to teach and how we can shape these executive skills through our actions.
- Follows simple commands. (“Get your shoes from the bedroom.”)
- Cleans up with lots of assistance.
- Performs simple chores and self-help tasks with reminders. (Get dressed, brush teeth, wash hands.)
- Inhibits behavior. (Don’t touch, run into street, grab toys, hit, bite, push.)
- Follows simple commands. (Up to a three-step process.)
- Cleans up with little assistance.
- Performs simple chores, may need reminders.
- Brings papers to and from school with help.
- Completes homework assignments. (20 minutes maximum.)
- Decides how to spend money.
- Inhibits behaviors. (Follows safety rules, doesn’t swear, raises hand before speaking, keeps hands to self, doesn’t hurt others.)
- Runs errands and follows commands. (May involve time delay or greater distance, “When we return from lunch, we will continue with math.”)
- Cleans up.
- Performs chores that take 15-30 minutes.
- Brings books, papers, assignments to and from school.
- Keeps track of belongings when away from home.
- Completes homework assignments. (One hour maximum.)
- Plans simple school projects such as book reports. (Select/read book, write report, hand it in.)
- Keeps track of changing daily schedule. (Different activities after school.)
- Saves money for desired object, plans how to earn money.
- Inhibits/self-regulates. (Behaves when teacher is out of the classroom, refrains from comments, temper tantrums or bad manners.)
Grades 6 - 8th
- Helps out with daily responsibilities around the house that take 60-90 minutes to complete, takes responsibility for occasional tasks. (Rake leaves, shovel snow, mow grass.)
- Babysits young children for pay.
- Uses a system for organizing schoolwork, including assignments, notebooks, etc.
- Follows complex school schedule involving changing teachers and subjects.
- Plans and carries out long-term projects, including tasks to be accomplished and creating a reasonable timeline, may plan multiple large projects simultaneously.
- Plans time, including after school activities, homework, family responsibilities.
- Estimates how long it takes to complete an individual task and adjusts schedule to fit.
- Inhibits rule-breaking in absence of visible authority.
- Manages school work effectively on a day-to-day basis, including completing homework on time, studying for test, creating and following timelines.
- Makes adjustments in quality of work based on grades or feedback from teacher.
- Establishes and refines long-term goal and makes plans to meet that goal. If goal is college: makes appropriate grades, selects appropriate coursework, signs up for SAT. If no plans for college: pursues vocation or coursework for employment after high school.
- Makes good use of leisure time, including obtaining employment, extracurricular activities and recreational activities in the summer.
- Inhibits reckless and dangerous behavior. (Excessive speeding, drugs, alcohol, sexual acting out, shoplifting, vandalism.)
When children are not meeting these developmental tasks as expected, we must step in to provide the frontal lobe skills required as we encourage the children to develop the skills themselves. The following three adjustments are often needed for children to be successful:
- First modify our perceptions and expectations of the child. (Seven Powers)
- Add structure, supervision and guidance to help the child be successful. (Seven Skills)
- Provide environmental supports that may be added or withdrawn. (Structures)