Helping Children Thrive in Preschool – What Parents and Teachers Can Do (with Mr. Chazz)

Early childhood education specialist Mr. Chazz joins Janet to discuss the common challenges children face in preschool. Chazz is the current Educational Supervisor of nine preschools, a passionate teacher who has interacted with thousands of children, and an inspiring coach for both parents and teachers. He shares strategies for effectively addressing behavior issues and offer insights for parents and teachers to create nurturing learning environments that will set our kids up for success.

Transcript of “Helping Children Thrive in Preschool – What Parents and Teachers Can Do (with Mr. Chazz)”

Hi. This is Janet Lansbury. Welcome to Unruffled. Today, I have the great pleasure of speaking with Mr. Chazz. He is an educational specialist currently overseeing nine preschools. He coaches teachers. He’s branched out into coaching parents as well. He’s been a supervisor, and a trainer, and a problem solver, and he refers to himself as CEO of teachers changing the world. He’s able to translate a child’s language in a way that adults can understand. He’s committed to helping parents and teachers assist children’s development in a way that is more enjoyable and effective for everyone.

Hi, Mr. Chazz.

Mr. Chazz:  Hello, Janet. How you doing?

Janet Lansbury:  I’m doing well. I’m so excited that you wanted to come on here and share with us. I had heard about you through the grapevine, the work that you’re doing, but you and I actually connected recently, and it was exciting to see how much we have in common. There’s a lot we don’t have in common, like I’m old enough be your mother, and you’re black and I’m white, we’re different genders, and you probably have a little more facial hair than me at this point.

Otherwise, we have so much in common: the way that you got into your work that you’re doing now so organically and with a passion and also with a steep learning curve, which I also had, with children’s behavior, figuring that out. Then you found that you actually have a gift for this and that you’ve been able to help other teachers, and parents and children to understand their behavior and develop relationships that are respectful, and positive and affirming.

Yeah, so I love that. Although we are very different in some ways, we have so much in common. As I said to you, you’re in this for the right reasons.

Mr. Chazz:  Yeah.

Janet Lansbury:  It’s just very refreshing. You are genuinely, humbly into this work and learning all that you can.

Mr. Chazz:  Yeah. I really do feel like this is my life’s purpose to help people enjoy the process of growth, really. That also includes myself, and so it was really important for me to do work that I enjoy doing but also to help other people enjoy what they’re doing, whether it’s teaching, whether it’s parenting. It is finding what their passion is. Yeah, this just very organically happened. When you know your why, no matter what happens.

Situations can change.  What changed for me and for everyone was the pandemic and the quarantine. Everyone went home. The teachers went home. The children went home, and the parents became the primary teachers with their children 24/7, and they really struggled and really didn’t know what to do. As I saw it, especially through social media because we were all home, I really saw an opportunity to help. It’s been really exciting, fulfilling and validating of my life’s purpose is to get messages every day, comments and messages saying that I have changed people’s lives and their relationships with their children. That’s what it’s all about. I really feel like that’s what I’m meant to do.

Janet Lansbury:  I’m so glad you’re out there doing this. You’re very much needed.

Well, I think, right now, some people have children that are in care centers and in preschool, and some people don’t, so there’s both out there, right? You said that your centers are open, have been open for a while.

Mr. Chazz:  Yes. All of the centers in my district, nine schools, are open and have been open. There was one school that closed for a couple of weeks, but all the other schools have been open.

Janet Lansbury:  What I want to ask you about is a question that I receive often from parents: what do we do… what do you do and what can parents do when a child is having difficulty in these situations? Maybe they’re disruptive or they are not following directions, they’re not, quote, “listening,” they are having difficulty making friends and thriving socially in the classroom. What do you look at? What do you consider?  I get a lot of questions about this. Honestly, it’s probably every parent’s worst, or one of their worst, nightmares to hear feedback from the teachers or the people caring for your children that your child is having problems and they’re hitting or they’re being disruptive or they’re not following directions, they’re a problem in the group. What do you do when you come across this with a child? What do you look at?

Mr. Chazz:  The very first thing is observe to really understand why the behavior is happening. A lot of people focus on just the behavior. You mentioned hitting. A lot of people will approach the situation like hitting is the problem. I’m here to tell you, and it’s going to shock a lot of people, that hitting is generally not the problem. There is an underlying lack of skill or a underlying social-emotional challenge, and the result of that is the hitting.

We have to, as the caregivers at home, at school, really observe, especially when these behaviors are happening, and take a lot of data: is there a certain time of the day that the behavior is happening? What are the patterns? What’s happening before, what’s happening during, what’s happening after? to really identify what that underlying problem or underlying challenge is that the child is having in these situations.

For hitting, a lot of times, the problem is lack of ability to express themselves or they don’t have the language to solve the problem. Maybe it’s over a toy. The child might be hitting because they want a toy, and the way that they know how to get things is through a physical means. It’s not their fault. A lot of times, we get so frustrated.

Like you say, none of our emotions, even as the adult, are wrong. Now, as adults, we have to, in these situations, manage our emotions during this time and respond thoughtfully so that we can be in a place where we can really help them, as opposed to making the situation worse. Because if we’re not able to manage our emotions, then how do we expect to teach the child to not just react emotionally when they have a problem that they can’t solve?

Most of the talking is going to happen not in the heat of the moment. Most of the learning is going to happen when you’re talking about it later. That’s something that parents and teachers can do: to tell the story of what happened prior and talk about different ways to handle the problem that they were having.

Now, the other thing, too, is developmentally-appropriate expectations. A lot of times, we’re expecting a two-year-old to share when they physiologically cannot do that. We’re expecting them to wait for long periods of time without getting antsy and moving around. Sometimes we don’t have developmentally-appropriate expectations.

It could also be the emotional climate in the room. Energy really does affect the emotions, which then affects the behavior. If a teacher is constantly saying, “No, no, no, no, no,” and is yelling at the children, that’s going to create a lot of stress in the room. Then, more likely, there’s going to be biting. There’s going to be hitting.

Now, a lot of what I’ve talked about, up to this point, has been things in the classroom. I know there’s parents out there like, “Okay. Well, what can I do about it?”

Janet Lansbury:  Well, this sounds like it’s the same situation for parents. Everything that you’re talking about applies to parents observing: when is this coming up for my child?  Being curious about what the symptom is connected to.

One blanket thing we can say is: my child’s uncomfortable. This child is uncomfortable, in some way, to some level. I think everything you’re talking about applies to parents: our own emotional regulation, having our own emotions involved when a child is acting in these ways that are challenging or disruptive. That usually comes from our fear that we’re losing control or that our child is going to be like this other person in our family who’s having a terrible time or all of those things.

Mr. Chazz:  Right. I always like to try to break things down for the adults, how children feel through adult situations. Us, as adults, we are not always the same in every environment. Our behavior isn’t the same when we’re around our family members, our immediate family, maybe not our family at Thanksgiving as opposed to when we’re at the mall, as opposed to when we’re just with our friends, as opposed to a work environment. No one even has to tell us to act different, but we just do. The environment impacts the way that we behave.

It’s the same thing in the classroom. Some teachers get frustrated by that response. Some teachers are like, “Well, there’s no way that they are not showing this behavior at home when we see it all of the time here.”

I’m like, “Well, if they’re hitting because of a toy and they’re an only child, all the toys in the house are theirs, so they don’t have that situation where they want a toy but they don’t know how to get it or they don’t know how to ask for it because, in their environment at home, they automatically have the toys.” A lot of times, it’s the environment that’s different that is triggering different behaviors.

Another thing about the environment, too, it could also be the dynamics in the classroom with different personalities. Some children very much value their own personal space, and then some children value other people’s personal space, meaning they want to be in it. Maybe, at home, personal space and boundaries isn’t really much of a conversation because mom and dad are okay if the two-year-old or three-year-old is climbing on them or playing with them, but the other two-year-old or three year old is not okay with you climbing all over them and might hit or push just to say, “Hey. Back up. Get off me. You’re in my space.” Then that might elicit another response from the other child. Because the environments are different, it’s likely to bring out different behaviors.

Janet Lansbury:  Sometimes it can be just the amount of bodies, the noise level. The energy level in a room can set children off.

Mr. Chazz:  There are definitely classrooms that have varying energy levels. It’s different personalities depending on what’s happening. It’s not even always negative energy. Maybe a child’s super excited, so they run and they bump into someone. The child didn’t intend to knock another child over, but they were just excited, and so they just went to the physical way to express their energy because that’s the part of their brain that is developed, and that’s what their body’s telling them to do.

It can be very challenging in a classroom. Being attuned to the children in the room can be very challenging for teachers. Realistically, there might be some times where the teacher is on eye level, really engaged with one child, and so, on the other side of the room, there are two other children who are playing, and they start to get frustrated because they both want the same toy. The teacher may not be aware of that in the moment. It’s a constant almost balancing act to be attuned and to know who needs the attention, the time, what needs to happen in the room for all these different little humans with their individual needs, wants, desires, personalities, dynamics.

One child might just had a rough morning or a rough period because maybe dad’s gone away for a couple of weeks for work, and so now he’s bringing the stress of not being able to see dad and this inconsistency in his life into the classroom. That can affect another child too. Like I said, the energy does spread.

There are a lot of people who do… You mentioned observation, actually doing it. There are a lot of people who come in with degrees in early childhood and they have knowledge, but it’s different to actually acquire the skills to be in tune and know what children need and to really feel the energy in the room. That takes time. That takes experience.

From talking to parents, I know that it’s the same thing with parenthood and trying new strategies. Maybe you used to spank your child and you’ve decided that you no longer want to spank your child and you want to use other more positive ways to teach your child. It takes practice to learn something new to communicate with your child, to communicate how your child receives it.

Janet Lansbury:  Absolutely.

Well, let’s continue on with the example so we can give parents some specifics and teachers that are listening as well. Let’s say the child is hitting. You said you observe to find out why that’s happening. Then what would be the next step that you would take?

Mr. Chazz:  It would be dependent upon the reason that we identified that it’s happening. Let’s say that the child tends to get frustrated, overwhelmed in their emotions, and their response is hitting, sometimes biting. It’s more common in the toddler, two-year-old age group, but sometimes in threes too. Let’s say that’s the reason. Instead of just focusing on the hitting, we want to teach this child how to communicate and solve these problems when they’re in these situations.

That may be a little bit specific to the child and based off of the skills that the child already has, because if the child can’t talk, if the child isn’t using words yet, then what a lot of parents and teachers have a tendency to say is, “Use your words. Use your words,” but the child doesn’t know what words to use. Also, your child has an even harder time using their words when they’re overwhelmed in emotion, as us adults do as well. Right?

Janet Lansbury:  Right. That can feel very pressurizing, “Use your words. Use your words.” Yeah, I put myself in the shoes of young children very easily all the time. I hear someone saying that to me, and it’s like I might’ve had a word before that, but now I have absolutely none because there’s that, “Use your words. Use your words.”

Mr. Chazz:  Right. Let’s say child A is a child who we identified is hitting. They respond to problems by hitting. We observe that another child tends to try to take something from this child or they’re getting in their space. They’re doing something that they don’t like, even trying to play with the child when child A, who’s hitting, doesn’t want to play. I will teach that child if they have a little bit of language. I’ll teach them to say the word “stop.” It does two things. One, it lets the other child know, “Hey, you’re in my space.” It’s kind of like the warning shot, “Get away from me. I need my space.” It’s the communication. I also teach the other children in the room, when someone says, “Stop,” stop. That gets into this whole other conversation about consent.

I’ll teach a child to say, “Stop,” and teach the other children, “When someone says, ‘Stop,’ that means stop.” Now, that also lets me know, as the teacher or a parent in the room, when I hear the child say, “Stop,” even if I’m busy, I’m doing something else, maybe I’m talking to another child, maybe we’re doing an art project, whatever it is, I hear the word stop, my ears immediately perk up. I’m observing, I’m watching. I don’t necessarily just jump in and rescue the child from the situation. I kind of watch.

Me, hopefully being a teacher who is consistent in the classroom, I know both children and their personalities. I know the cues if child A or B is about to hit or not, but I’ll look. If the child walks away, I will reinforce it and putting words to what happened to develop the language. Because my overall goal is to give the child the language to solve problems, because that is the underlying issue here. I’ll reinforce that and say, “Wow, the other child tried to take the toy away from you, and you said, ‘Stop,’ and they stopped, and they found another toy to play.” That will help them process what happened. It’ll make it more likely, later when another child is doing something or similar, for them to use those words.

Now, what parents can do is-

Janet Lansbury:  I just want to say I love that you acknowledged and you kept the child focused on, “You did this,” instead of… Sometimes, if we say like, “Good job! You did it!”… we make a big deal out of it, then now it’s about: Oh, I pleased Mr. Chazz, and he likes me when I do this, instead of: Yeah, I did that, and that worked. So they can actually own it. I know sometimes people think we’re supposed to do these big praise things. You just demonstrated beautifully how that simple acknowledgement actually is what empowers the child to own it and keep owning what they’re doing.

Mr. Chazz:  Yeah.

Now, what parents can do is they can ask some of these questions about what’s happening. What’s happening before? What’s happening after? Is there a pattern? Is there a time of day? Is it happening right before lunch? Is the child just hungry, and do I need to just maybe give breakfast a little bit later and make sure that I am giving them a good breakfast? Just really partnering.

I can’t stress that enough. Parent-teacher partnership is so important when solving, especially, the big problems in the classroom. Sometimes people don’t feel comfortable letting the parent know, “Hey, this is what happened.” Part of it is because the teacher or the person who’s communicating it is communicating it in a way that’s, “Hey, your child did this. This is a bad thing your child did. You need to fix it.” That’s not helpful.

The way it should be communicated is like, “Hey, this is what we’re observing what’s happening. These are the things that we’re doing. Are you observing the same behavior at home? What are some things that you guys are doing? We just want to be on the same page so that we can work together and that we can do strategies together so that the child is getting consistency at home and at school.”

Then, once you have a plan — you identify what the actual underlying issue is — then it’s working on that. It’s working together, doing things together. The more consistent we are with any strategy, the more it’s going to be effective, the more it’s going to take and the more helpful it’s going to be for the child.

So I would build those relationships. It’s super hard during these COVID times because now, because of COVID, most parents aren’t even seeing the teacher, not even having that end-of-the-day or beginning-of-the-day short conversation that we used to have. Something that I’ve been doing is just trying to call in the middle of the day when it’s not so busy.

Janet Lansbury:  It seems, to me, when I hear from parents that they’re getting reports from a care situation that aren’t happening at home, there are two categories or a blend between these two categories. One is that the group situation… The child is sensitive to that. It may be too stimulating. They may not have the skills to deal with all the things that are coming up with all the children there and all the people there and the bodies. It could be that, that like you said, that the child isn’t experiencing at home.

It can also be that, for some reason, the child is having difficulty getting certain needs met at home around their feelings, feeling safe to share, maybe, angry feelings or feelings that are hard for us, as parents, to receive or to allow for. Therefore, there’s a buildup, and then it’s kind of exploding out of the child at their care situation.

It seems like those are the two categories. One, there’s a lot more that the parent can do. The other might be more about things that the school could do to help the child. I mean, there’s a blend between both of these, obviously.

Mr. Chazz:  Yeah. It’s important for us to recognize that children, like adults, they have bad days too. They have things that stress them out as well. Anyone who leads a team in the workplace knows that emotions and stressors at home can very much affect our performance at work and, for them, at school because there are a lot of expectations at school. Sometimes their capacity to handle those expectations is decreased when they’re stressed. That’s the same thing for us.

Imagine, at work, you may have a really big thing that is happening that requires more attention than usual. When you’re at your best, when you have a good night’s sleep, when your home life and your relationship with your spouse and everything’s going well, then you’re able to show up. Maybe it’s tough, but you can excel. When there are things going on at home and there are inconsistencies and stress at home, then when you’re going into work, like when children going to school, you’re not going to be at your best. That transition for that child, he might be more easily triggered because of the stress at home too.

Janet Lansbury:  Right.

Mr. Chazz:  Now, there’s something else that I want to mention. I feel like, if I didn’t say it, I wouldn’t be doing the people listening out there justice. When you’re looking for child care centers, I would ask about the philosophy of the center because, in a lot of traditional preschool settings, schools will put a lot of focus on what they think parents want to see more than what children need. That is, a lot of times, a really big disconnect for what happens in the classroom.

Sometimes parents do want what we call product work, which is work that is more focused on the product than the process. They want that little ducky to look like a ducky. But what children really need is to be given the materials, and to explore the materials, and to put now the eyes where they want to put the eyes, to put the glue where they want to put the glue. It’s okay if the eyeball is on the butt. It’s okay if the fishy doesn’t really look like a fishy. Really, I get a little concerned when I walk into a classroom and all the artwork looks the same, especially for younger children, because it tells me that –

Janet Lansbury:  It’s teacher art.

Mr. Chazz:  Yeah, that the teacher did it and they said, “Okay. I’m going to put the paint on your hand. I’m going to hold your wrist. I’m going to put it on like that. Oh, no, no, no, no. Don’t put the eye there. It goes there.” And that becomes… What could have been enjoyable-

Janet Lansbury:  Therapeutic.

Mr. Chazz:  Yeah, an expression of themselves that they can appreciate because it’s something that they did. That can be stressful and-

Janet Lansbury:  Teaches the child that you can’t do things, and you need other people to do them and-

Mr. Chazz:  And that their work is not valuable.

Janet Lansbury:  Right.

Mr. Chazz:  I say all that to say, when you’re putting your child in a facility, I would ask about the philosophy. While many children do well in traditional preschool settings that may focus more on product as opposed to process and they are expected to all sit down for long periods of time and all do the same thing together the same way, well, some do okay with that, I would just be very mindful.

Janet Lansbury:  Absolutely, yes. I would say, even if your child is thriving in those kinds of structured, more academic, product environments, just make sure there’s a balance at home, that you are not then giving them other lessons or taking them to classes, that you are letting them have that autonomy and creative exploration at home to balance that out, but yeah.

And I also recommend, if the school or care center will let you come actually observe, for me, that’s even better. Because, as a parent, I would hear about great philosophies that sounded really good coming from the director, but then when I went there and saw how it was implemented, the way they handled behavior and certain things was not what I was expecting. Most schools will let you observe. I’m not sure about care centers, if they do that, but most schools will let you come and sit for a couple hours and be a fly on the wall watching what’s going on. I recommend that because that’s where you learn everything about what it really is like.

I wanted to ask, because this will apply to so many parents at home as well, what kind of flow works for your day in the group care that could also translate to parents that have their children at home now? When you were talking about children needing that autonomous time where they can explore and feel free and not be constricted into product, there is a balance between the structure that children need us to provide with their behavior and then the big spaces for those freer times for children. They need that balance. I mean, really, they need the structure to be in place so that they can feel free. Can you give me an example of a schedule for the day that works in your centers?

Mr. Chazz:  Yes. The schedule varies depending on the classroom, but the academic day typically starts at nine o’clock, and that’s when our circle time is. That’s sometimes another conversation, and teachers will sometimes be frustrated because the child won’t sit for circle time. My suggestion is make your circle time engaging. Sometimes in our circle times, we’re expecting a two-year-old sit and watch us point to letters on the wall for 10, 15 minutes so that they learn letters, and that’s something that’s not developmentally appropriate. I think a lot of parents, when quarantine started, they tried to do similar style, and they learned, very quickly, that’s not effective or even helpful. So —

Janet Lansbury:  And the participatory part is what attracts them too, often, that they feel a part of it. They’re involved.

Mr. Chazz:  Right, and songs. Man, songs are so powerful. That should be a majority of your circle time, and there are other things you can do of just exploring. I love to bring things. I’d have a gathering song that they knew, when I sang this song, they knew it was time for circle time, so I’m not having a bark orders that everyone, “Hey, sit for circle time.” I sing the song. They know. They’re excited. They’re ready. They want to see the special thing that I brought today. They’re excited to sing the songs that we sing, get up, move. Sometimes I make up songs.

Janet Lansbury: Parents don’t have to do this, by the way.

Mr. Chazz:  Right, correct, correct, but it never hurts to sing. I know a lot of parents are doing some homeschooling. If there is something that you do want to teach your child about, finding a song that goes along with it is a great way to get your child excited about something that you want to introduce to them that they don’t know much about.

In the beginning of the day, we do our circle time. We sing songs. Then, a lot of times, it’ll be art or it’ll be free play. A lot of times, we do free play because that circle time was a structured time, something I’m expecting everyone to do, but then it’s followed by an unstructured time where it’s free. It’s less constructing. You want to go up, down, up, down, something active then something not as active, something structured then something free that they can kind of do their own thing and they can make their free choice.

Now, after we do the art, there’s free time, free exploration. Then it gets into the outside time. After outside, it’s lunchtime. We do the whole bathrooming, and cleaning-up process, and all that jazz, nap, wake up, snack. Then it is either outside time, maybe something structured, maybe free play. The afternoon tends to vary a lot more because, after their snack, outside time, free play or maybe a structured activity, it’s pick-up time and children are going home. At the end of the day, it tends to be more unstructured.

Janet Lansbury: I think that’s true at home as well. Going outside after naps is the best. Spending those difficult hours between a nap and dinnertime outdoors, if possible, is a gift.

Mr. Chazz:  Yeah.

Janet Lansbury:  For the adults too, to be able to be outside.

Well, this has been a joy. Thank you so much, Mr. Chazz, again, for your time and all your wisdom that you’re sharing with us. I know that you’re on TikTok. You’re on Instagram. You have a Patreon. Where should we focus on finding you?

Mr. Chazz:  Find me www.patreon.com/mrchazz. Get one-on-one coaching with me, and you get so many other resources with that. Now, you can also find me on TikTok. MrChazz MrChazz is going to be my TikTok. You can find me on Instagram as @mrchazz and on Facebook as MrChazz MrChazz. That’s Chazz with two Zs, M-R-C-H-A-Z-Z.

I can’t wait to see you guys there. I have lots of content there to help you.

Janet Lansbury:  I recommend it. You’re just a breath of fresh air, so…

Mr. Chazz:  Same.

Janet Lansbury:  Thank you.

For more, both of my books are available in paperback at Amazon, Elevating Child Care, A Guide To Respectful Parenting and No Bad Kids, Toddler Discipline Without Shame.  You can get them in ebook at Amazon, Apple, Google Play, or barnesandnoble.com and in audio at audible.com. As a matter of fact, you can get a free audio copy of either book at Audible by following the LINK in the liner notes of this podcast.

Thank you so much for listening. We can do this.

1 Comment

Please share your comments and questions. I read them all and respond to as many as time will allow.

  1. avatar Danny Stone says:

    Hi Janet and Mr. Chazz,
    Another great topic covered, thx.
    How important is it for 5yo kids to arrive at school/centre on time? How does it affect the social dynamics between children when a child is ALWAYS arriving after all the rest of the kids.
    My 5yo child seems to get left out of social groups at “school”, and I wonder if this can be a factor. By all accounts she has no issues and is generally well liked. But she isn’t included and often feels left out.

    Peace,
    Danny

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