Tips for Teaching the Model vs Boundaries to Preschoolers

Hi Brooke,

I teach preschool (3-5 year olds), and I spend all day every day navigating social emotional issues with my students. I am trying really hard to help teach kids the model in a developmentally appropriate way. Here’s a scenario that occurs daily: Kid 1 walks away from Kid 2 to play with Kid 3. Kid 2 starts crying, says “she doesn’t want to be my friend!” I go to Kid 2, and ask “What happened?” (C line). Kid 2 responds “she doesn’t want to be my friend.” I echo back to her, “oh, you think she doesn’t want to be your friend, because the circumstance happened (T line). How does that make you feel?” Kid 2: “Sad.” (F line). Me: “You’re feeling sad because you’re choosing to think that she doesn’t want to be your friend because she’s playing with someone else right now. That’s a choice you get to make. You could also think a different thought, like ‘She’s playing with someone else right now and that’s ok, I can play with other people too’ or ‘we can make a plan to play later; she can still be my friend even if we’re not playing together every minute of every day.'” Then I’d help Kid 2 figure out an action step (play somewhere else, ask someone else to play), the result proving her new thought. So far so good. Some of my preschoolers can manage this. I even have a few by then end of the year who could generate their own intentional thoughts (on a good day!).

Some of my students, however, are too caught up in the emotions to change their thoughts. For these students, I try to focus on helping them feel their feelings — recognizing where in their body they feel tense, how they are holding their arms, noticing their breath, etc.

When it comes to teaching boundary-issue conflicts, I go back and forth between trying to teach kids to set boundaries and helping them run through the model to figure out what to do next. Two daily scenarios: Kid 1 takes something from Kid 2, and Kid X knocks over something that Kid Y is building. I’m curious to know — would you approach those situations as setting boundaries with kids? Why or why not?