Ms. Gillam began her presentation by describing the Circle of Security. This behavioral model and corresponding graphic provide the best ways of interacting with a child while attending to his needs.
As the responsible adult at a Read-Aloud, a volunteer is essentially a child’s caregiver for that period of time. Kids need the volunteers to provide a safe haven and secure base where they can feel safe, comfortable and appreciated. The Circle of Security graphic above shows some specific ways in which volunteers can help kids feel safe and secure so the kids can eventually explore and learn new things. Over time, with such support, kids can work through their feelings.
Next, Ms. Gillam described the physiological effects of homelessness and poverty on developing children and the ways in which children's behavior can be affected. When under stress, the body floods the brain with adrenalin and the body and brain go into fight-or-flight mode. Kids growing up in stressful conditions find their bodies persistently in crisis mode.
Lacking a sense of control and safety in their everyday lives, children living in homelessness and poverty may exhibit changes in their behavior. Ms. Gillam pointed out various triggers and common responses from children under stress. Some examples are:
- loss of security: she may become hyper-vigilant or emotional
- loss of control: he may try to take control or act out for a limit to be set
- loss of attachment from someone: she may become clingy or avoid contact
- shaken self-concept: he may become withdrawn or look for a role in a group
- anxiety from adults: she will carefully assess adult enthusiasm versus tension
Because the bodies and brains of Read-Aloud kids are likely in an emotionally-charged fight-or-flight mode, it is important to connect with them emotionally and help them feel safe. Volunteers first need to build a relationship with the child before directing or correcting their behavior. According to Ms. Gillam, the best method is to "Connect, then correct.”
While working with kids under stress may seem daunting, the good news is that positive experiences make a difference in the brain. Experiences that strengthen connections
- are frequent, regular and predictable,
- occur in the context of a warm, supportive relationship,
- are associated with positive emotions (fun, excitement, humor, comfort),
- involve several senses and
- are responsive to the child’s interests or initiative.
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