From CEED: Tip Sheets on Executive Function

Our new series of evidence-based Tip Sheets explore topics of relevance to early childhood professionals. Our latest Tip Sheets on Executive Function are now available!

Each topic has an Introducing It Tip Sheet and an Applying It Tip Sheet. The Introducing It Tip Sheet gives background information and current research about the topic. You can think of this as the “why” behind our recommendations. The Applying It Tip Sheet suggests ways to implement your new knowledge. This explores the “how” of each topic.

Download these free resources, and make sure to check out the other Tip Sheets in the series.

Statement of Support for Developmentally Appropriate Practice

L to R: Kathleen Thomas, Ann Bailey, Sheila Williams Ridge

As leaders in the Institute of Child Development (ICD), we unequivocally affirm our support for the principles of Developmentally Appropriate Practice (DAP). This foundational text published by the non-profit, non-partisan organization National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) is based on decades of developmental science research and is a critical component of ICD’s early childhood education programs. We stand with early childhood leaders across the country who have faced expulsion or scrutiny due to the use of the fourth edition of this text.

ICD’s conceptual framework for early childhood teacher education states, “Our academic programs are rooted in the science of child development, which tells us that high-quality early childhood education occurs in the context of positive relationships among teachers, children, and their families. We are committed to training educators who build strong relationships, embrace diversity, value full inclusion, and work to eliminate structural inequities that limit children’s educational opportunities.”

We know that all children need to have their identities affirmed and deserve to have their needs met. It is critical that early childhood educators be rooted in these principles and commit to improving the lives of all children and their families, particularly those who have been harmed by inequitable systems and systemic racism.

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”
King, M. L., Jr. (2018). Letter from Birmingham Jail. Penguin Classics.

Kathleen Thomas, PhD
Director, Institute of Child Development

Ann Bailey, PhD
Director, Center for Early Education and Development

Sheila Williams Ridge, MA
Director, Child Development Laboratory School

From CEED: Tip Sheets on Reflective Listening

Our new series of evidence-based Tip Sheets explore topics of relevance to early childhood professionals. Our latest Tip Sheets on Reflective Listening are now available!

Each topic has an Introducing It Tip Sheet and an Applying It Tip Sheet. The Introducing It Tip Sheet gives background information and current research about the topic, while the Applying It Tip Sheet suggests ways to implement your new knowledge.

Download these free resources, and make sure to check out the other Tip Sheets in the series.

Introvert? Extrovert? Or other?

By Anna Landes Benz

Happy National Introverts Week! If you’re an introvert, we celebrate you. If you know an introvert, this post might help you better understand them. If you’re an extrovert or an ambivert…well, they don’t have a national week of recognition for you yet. You might have to make your own!

My father loves to tell a story from my childhood that depicts the difference between me and my older brother. We’re on a plane going to visit our grandparents. My brother is around six years old and content to sit in his seat, not wanting his feet to touch the ground. I’m around three, and I’m on the floor, crawling around. I sneak out from our row and almost get run over by the beverage trolley as I try to crawl past the curtain separating first class from everyone else. 

As I grew older I identified a lot with my father, an extreme “people person.” I was a very outwardly expressive child. Enthusiastic. Energetic. Big feelings and emotions that I needed to share with everyone. Despite being small, I was loud with big opinions. I always assumed I was an extrovert, because I was boisterous, energetic, and enthusiastic about exploring the world around me.

And then the COVID-19 pandemic hit. I was surprised to find myself very content to be at home “hermiting,” as I call it. Get-togethers were canceled or moved online, where we were still able to connect with friends, but separately, from our respective homes. Professional responsibilities went virtual, and I spent less time both commuting and transitioning between events. All of this made me question how I saw myself. Had I changed over time? Had the pandemic changed me? Or was I never an extrovert to begin with? 

A young child covers her face with her hands.
Photo by Caleb Woods on Unsplash

The Introversion-Extroversion Spectrum

Marti Olsen Laney, Psy.D., describes introverts and extroverts this way in her book The Hidden Gifts of the Introverted Child:

Introverts generally prefer stimulation in small, manageable doses, whereas extroverts seek lots of action and excitement. An introvert may pursue topics in depth, while an extrovert would be more oriented toward breadth…. An introvert often needs time to “process” his emotions before responding; an extrovert is more likely to react in the moment. 

These classifications have been around for quite a while. None other than Carl Jung, the pioneering psychiatrist, proposed the idea of introversion and extroversion way back in 1921. These days, we often classify people as introverts or extroverts based on what gives them energy or what allows them to recharge their battery. Introverts are often described as feeling drained after socializing and needing time alone to recharge. Extroverts are said to get energy from being around people. But things may not be as simple as that binary would suggest. As early as 1927, Edna Heidbreder published the results of a study conducted at the University of Minnesota which concluded that “Introverts and extroverts are not distinct types, but belong to a single mixed type of which introversion and extroversion are the extremes.” Most people fall somewhere in between on a spectrum. Maybe, instead of being purely an extrovert as I had always assumed, I was actually somewhere in the middle, like most people.

As for whether extroverts can become introverts or vice versa, there is debate in the psychology field about how much personality traits (like the “Big Five,” of which extroversion is one) change over the lifespan. There is some evidence that people mellow out as they age, and a recent study even found that the pandemic might have caused at least temporary changes in people’s personalities. Maybe my newfound enjoyment of “hermiting” was part of that shift.

Why does this matter? 

It remains to be seen whether I will return to my pre-pandemic level of extroversion. For now, my experience has made me more attuned to the needs of the introverts in my life. Whether we are stuck with our temperament from birth, our personalities adapt to our early environment, or our traits are fluid and change over time, it can be helpful to have words and language to better understand who we are and how to interact with those around us. This is especially true when we support the development of young children, who are still building their understanding of the world within and around them and learning how to communicate what they’re discovering and feeling. 

The Characteristics of an Introverted Child

Jenn Granneman, author of The Secret Lives of Introverts: Inside Our Hidden World, posits that introverted children share certain characteristics. Bearing in mind that every child is unique and that we exist on an introversion-extroversion spectrum, Granneman’s description of introverted children resonated with my experiences. According to Granneman, such children:

  • have rich inner lives
  • reflect on their life and experiences
  • are intent observers
  • are resistant to peer pressure
  • warm up slowly to new people and environments
  • may struggle in formal group settings like child care centers and schools
  • prefer to socialize with one other person or in small groups. 

Knowing all of this, what can we do to support children–whether at home or in our work–when they tend more towards introversion?

General tips for supporting introverted children

  • Create routines that help to settle the nervous system and give space for quiet after stimulating situations. This may be especially helpful at transition times like arriving home from school or getting ready for bed.
  • Make a plan and practice. If small talk or approaching a potential new friend is hard for a child, talk through their feelings in advance. Role-play initiating conversations. When the time comes for a child to introduce themself to a new friend, ask someone to play, or strike up a conversation, they can partner with a buddy who may already have these skills. Alternatively, their caregiver can act as a buddy and then slowly leave the interaction, letting the child continue the conversation on their own once they are comfortable. 

Supporting introverted children in a child care or school-based setting

  • Look at your classroom from multiple perspectives. Do you have a mix of spaces, activities, and ways of responding that allow all children to be themselves? 
  • Some children are quick to answer and raise their hands right away. Others never get the chance, because by the time they’ve collected their thoughts and composed their answers, the discussion has moved on. Those children may need a bit more time to build the courage to express themselves, especially in a group discussion. Be sure to leave thinking time.
  • Whether you are an introvert or an extrovert, try to make sure that your preferences aren’t unduly influencing how you set up, teach, and respond in your classroom.
  • Find picture books that depict all types of children being the hero in the story.
  • Talk as a class about differences and similarities within your classroom. Discuss how children feel in different situations, helping them articulate what they need to be their best.
  • Young children are still developing vocabulary and language skills, and some kids find using visuals easier when their emotions are heightened, so consider using visual cue cards. Cue cards can help with talking about emotions and identifying strategies for self-regulation. They can also be used to communicate when emotions are heightened and a child needs a break. Head Start has some great resources to get you started.  
  • Brainstorm ideas to support different children’s needs, and let young learners take some initiative in implementing their ideas. Maybe they want to create a quiet space within the classroom. Or maybe they want a way to remind one another when the volume in the classroom is getting too loud. 
  • Make individual plans with children who need quiet or alone time. Develop a secret hand signal they can give you when they need a break, or practice using the cue cards we talked about earlier. Make a plan for where they can go and what they can do during their break. 
  • Practice. Give children reminders. Help them recognize within themselves signals that they may need some quiet time.

Supporting introverted children at home

  • Create a retreat or restorative niche. Often these are quiet, calm places with adjustable lighting. You might include some calming sensory experiences such as the smell of lavender or a soft toy or pillow to hug. Create this as a family so that everyone feels included. 
  • Find stories at your local library about kids handling overwhelming situations and environments. If you don’t know where to start, ask a librarian. They are superheroes of the library!
  • Make a list of calming actions to do alone or together when your child starts to feel overwhelmed:

Deep breathing
Taking a break 
Putting on noise-canceling headphones
Using a weighted blanket
Getting outside to observe and listen to nature
Doing something rhythmic and repetitive
Swinging on a swing
Bouncing a ball on a point
Jumping on a mini-trampoline
Hugging a pillow or stuffed animal
Listening to a piece of music to help reset
Making a cup of tea or a snack, focusing the brain on the process
Cuddling a pet (as long as the pet is okay with it!)

Whether you’re an infant, a toddler, a preschooler, a teen, or an adult, an introvert, an extrovert, or somewhere in between, it’s important that your individual differences are honored. When, as early childhood professionals, we are aware of the full spectrum of human desire for both social contact and quiet solitude, we are better able to meet children’s needs. 

All of us need time to recharge; recharging is directly related to improved mental and physical health. As parents or caregivers or in our professional lives, making this a part of our routine means that when we really need it, we automatically have several tools to use when we need them. 

Further resources: 

Susan Cain is the author of two popular books about introverts: Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking and Quiet Power: The Secret Strengths of Introverted Kids. If you are short on reading time, she also has a TED talk.

Brightly has a roundup of books with introverted characters that includes picture books as well as books for middle grade and young adult readers.

Creating the RIOS™ Guide: a Q & A with Christopher Watson and Deborah Ottman

The RIOS™ Guide for Reflective Supervision and Consultation in the Infant and Early Childhood Field was recently published by Zero to Three. The book is the culmination of more than a decade of work by CEED’s Christopher Watson, PhD, Alyssa Meuwissen, PhD, and colleagues. Professional Development Coordinator Deborah Ottman was directly involved in preparing the Guide for publication. In this Q & A, Watson and Ottman shed light on the origin of the RIOS and discuss how the Guide was designed with applicability in mind.

Christopher Watson
Christopher Watson, PhD

How did the RIOS itself come about?

CW: Twelve years ago, at a meeting of the Alliance for the Advancement of Infant Mental Health, a group of us did an activity to try to understand the structure of a reflective supervision session. We came up with a process where five groups of people watched video recordings of reflective supervision sessions. We talked about our responses to what we saw and heard in the recordings, asking questions like, “Can we agree on what we’re seeing in this recording? What do we call it?”

Deborah Ottman
Deborah Ottman

That initial meeting gave us a bunch of data, and for the next eight years or so, a smaller group of us met once a month online to try to further distill the data, operationalize it, and fill it out. Here at the University of Minnesota, we did the final structuring to make that data into a scale that could be used in empirical research.

So the RIOS was intended as a tool for researchers to document and measure the “active ingredients” of a reflective supervision session. But it ended up being useful for practitioners, too.

Image of the cover of the RIOS Guide for Reflective Supervision and Consultation in the Infant and Early Childhood Field

CW: People immediately grabbed onto it as a way to explain reflective supervision when training both supervisors and supervisees. And supervisors began using it both prior to a reflective supervision session to remind themselves of what they wanted to address in the session, as well as following a session to review what occurred and to determine what they wanted to pursue in future sessions. It became a natural outgrowth. We created a RIOS Manual to train researchers to use the scale for their studies. Later, we decided to adapt the manual to create a how-to guide for practitioners who were using the RIOS as an aid in sessions.

In reality, though, the Guide is completely different from the manual. The manual taught researchers how to code recordings of sessions, in other words, how to put numbers on what they hear or observe and make some meaning of that. The Guide is for practitioners–supervisors and supervisees both, but particularly supervisors and their trainers. The Guide was shaped by input from practitioners around the country, so in it, you’ll read about real-life situations and professional relationships, and about using the RIOS framework to understand what’s happening in those situations.

DO: There are a couple of other ways in which the Guide was specifically created for practitioners in the field. First, there was an effort made to embed principles of diversity, equity, and inclusion into the Guide. This was the result not only of collecting the real-world examples that Christopher mentioned, but also of our current cultural moment in the wake of George Floyd’s death and other tragic instances of racialized violence. We received guidance from Dr. Barbara Stroud who, as a contributing editor for the Guide, focused on these issues in particular. She helped us be more specific about issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion in reflective supervision.  

Also, the Guide includes a new tool to help practitioners who are using the RIOS as a job aid: a one-page Self Check form. It’s not an assessment; there’s no right or wrong. It’s a way for practitioners to track their growth and document what they tend to focus on in their sessions. 

The Guide is the only book that explains how practitioners can use the RIOS in their jobs.

CW: That’s right. There are other excellent books about reflective supervision, of course. But our goal with the RIOS tool and with this book was to place reflective supervision within a framework with which to understand the processes involved. 

DO: And to find ways to actively apply those processes, which are described in the RIOS as five Essential Elements and five Collaborative Tasks of reflective supervision. 

But the RIOS is not a checklist, correct? People can’t just go down the list and say, “We addressed all the Collaborative Tasks.”

CW: There’s actually a disclaimer in the book about not using it as a checklist. You don’t have to hit each Essential Element and each Collaborative Task within a session. A given session may focus on one Essential Element, and that would be just fine. Although it’s not a checklist, the RIOS does provide a way for practitioners to look longitudinally or in a big picture way at an ongoing reflective conversation. For example, if I were tracking our conversations over a period of six months, and we never discussed Holding the Baby in Mind, that might be a problem and something we want to look at. We might say, “Well, this time we talked all about the parents’ problems, so in the next session, let’s talk about the baby and their experience.” Even though it may have been really important to talk about the adults’ challenges this time, ultimately you want to get to: “What does this mean for the child?”

DO: You may not be able to get to the child’s perspective until you address some of the things that are happening within the family or things that are coming up for the practitioner. The book is not prescriptive. Guide” is the perfect word for it. It’s a roadmap that offers you a million different paths to the same destination: the child. And you can choose different paths on different days.

Do grown-ups play pretend?

By Alyssa Meuwissen, PhD

Alyssa Meuwissen

Mo Willems’ Elephant and Piggie books are favorites in our household. Willems has a knack for addressing both children and the adults who are reading to them. In I’m a Frog, Piggie teaches her friend Gerald about imaginative play. “You can just go out and pretend to be something you are not!?” Gerald asks in disbelief. Piggie replies, “Sure. Everyone pretends.” “Even grown-up people?” asks Gerald. Piggie’s answer: “All the time.”

Maybe Piggie is referring to imposter syndrome or the pressure that many adults feel to “fake it till we make it.” But given that we’re in a cultural moment where cosplay, live-action role playing (or LARPing), and Dungeons & Dragons are enjoying a surge in popularity, I also wonder about taking Piggie’s statement literally: we “grown-up people” really do enjoy playing pretend.

Maybe you’ve never been to a comic con, and you haven’t put on a costume since you gave up trick-or-treating. But I’d argue that the majority of what adults do for entertainment still engages our imagination. Think about the types of entertainment you enjoy. Do you look forward to a regular game night? Do you like to curl up with a good book? Which are your favorite movies and TV shows? Why do you like these forms of recreation? I asked friends and coworkers what they look for in a book, movie, or TV show. They answered:

  • To escape my day-to-day
  • To travel and have adventures
  • To watch people use skills I don’t have
  • To understand other people and why they are the way they are
  • To learn about how the world works
  • To laugh

Media fire our imagination and tap into humans’ connection to stories. A baking show allows us to try on the idea of being a baker, even if we rarely turn on the oven. A character-driven novel helps us empathize with people who are different from ourselves. A superhero movie gives us the chance to escape the mundane and experience feeling powerful. These are all strikingly similar to the reasons why children play.

A person wearing bracelets and a yellow sweater chooses a book from a row of books on a shelf
Photo by Christin Hume on Unsplash

Kenneth R. Ginsburg, MD, MSed, writes in the journal of the American Association of Pediatrics:

Play allows children to create and explore a world they can master, conquering their fears while practicing adult roles, sometimes in conjunction with other children or adult caregivers. As they master their world, play helps children develop new competencies that lead to enhanced confidence and the resiliency they will need to face future challenges.

I think that we adults turn to our favorite forms of entertainment for similar benefits.

The benefits of play

We know a lot about the importance of play in childhood. Fred Rogers said, “Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning. But for children, play is serious learning.” I remember reading about the various functions of play in my undergraduate textbook. At the time, I was skeptical; I couldn’t remember engaging in play as a child that specifically addressed social-emotional needs. But as an adult, I’ve often thought back to those functions of play as I watched the children around me. Having fun is certainly part of play. But play offers other important benefits, including: 

  • Helping children master anxieties and conflicts;
  • Allowing children to practice skills like saying “hi” and making friends
  • Giving children a chance to be “in charge”; they may pretend to be a parent, a doctor, a teacher, etc.

The psychologist Lev Vygotsky said, “In play a child is always above his average age, above his daily behavior; in play it is as though he were a head taller than himself.” When my nephew was little, his family’s apartment was near their building’s dumpsters. The noisy weekly process of emptying the dumpsters scared my nephew. His response? Become the garbage collector. My nephew played “garbage truck” exclusively for months, constructing neighborhoods where his toy truck could empty bins over and over, and ultimately, conquering his fears.

An acquaintance described an experience in which she turned to pop culture to allay her fears, just as my nephew turned to imaginative play. Nervous about giving birth to her first child, my acquaintance decided to try and channel one of her favorite cultural icons, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, to prepare mentally for the experience of labor. A study done here at the University of Minnesota’s Institute of Child Development attests to the effectiveness of this strategy. Researchers Rachel E. White, PhD, and Emily O. Prager, PhD, described what they called the “Batman effect”: children persevered at a task longer when they pretended to be a heroic character. My acquaintance, too, took advantage of the “Buffy effect.”

Psychological distance in play

A key aspect of the Batman effect is that pretending to be someone else allows us to psychologically distance ourselves from a situation. Psychological distance means we’re less emotionally involved and more able to use our executive function skills–like working towards a goal or controlling our impulses. Recently, my 2-year-old daughter was playing with her toy puppies. She pretended that the puppies were fighting over which would go into the swimming pool first. My 4-year-old daughter pretended to be the puppies’ mom and said, “Let’s think about a way that we could work this out for both of you.” Would my daughter have taken this calm, logical approach in a real disagreement with her sister? Probably not! Her psychological distance from the puppies’ disagreement opened up the opportunity to practice her conflict resolution skills in a way that was “a head taller” than her typical behavior in her own life.

Similarly, adults may favor content that they can maintain at least some psychological distance from. I’ve heard from a number of parents that since having children, they avoid books and movies whose plots include threats to children. These are too close to home, too emotionally activating. Certainly, narratives are most engrossing when we care about the characters and situations presented, but we don’t want to care too much.

Experiencing mastery through imagination

I’m struck by the fact that two of the most enduring fiction genres are romance and mystery. These stories can be repetitive: the couple always gets together, the detective always catches the bad guy. Maybe these classic genres are so appealing because they address some of the biggest life challenges that adults face in the modern world: creating connection and acceptance, and conquering the threat of living in a society with other people. Yet romances and mysteries explore these challenges in ways that preserve our psychological distance by being very different from our actual situations, and their endings resolve the messiness of interpersonal relationships. While children may want to read the exact same picture book ten times in a day, the adult version of mastery through repetition may look like consistently engaging with familiar genres.

All of us–adults and children alike–are looking for mastery and control over our lives. My spouse has a demanding job as a hospital physical therapist. He is also a parent to two young children with lots of their own opinions. In short, his daily life involves a lot of interactions where he doesn’t have control over the other person’s emotions or reactions. Even after a long week, he likes to relax by playing complex strategy games like Everdell, Wingspan, Pandemic, or Scythe. These games offer the opportunity to make decisions that have a direct and immediate effect on the outcome of the game. Win or lose, you control the imaginary world of the game. Table-top games may also offer escape from unpredictable social interactions, or even the opportunity to practice social skills and process experiences. In a recent Wired article about the therapeutic use of table-top role-playing games, one mental health practitioner touted the “life-magic of narrative social play.” 

Play is part of the work of growing up. It helps children practice skills and experience a sense of mastery that builds confidence. Is the same true for adults? I wonder how we might benefit from prioritizing play and imagination in our lives, whether it be at work or at home with our families and friends. How can you use your entertainment and leisure time intentionally to provide fulfilling self-care? What do you do to play? How will you use your imagination today?