Make Your Feet Match Mine

One of the key skills that we want to help preschoolers develop is the capacity to modulate their behavior.   The ability to modulate behavior means that the child is able to control the intensity, the speed or the volume of their actions. We have all met children whose foot seems to be stuck on the gas pedal. Everything they do is fast and loud. They dart around the room at top speed.

We had a little boy in our program this year who moved at top speed all of the time. One day he was pushing the doll carriage around the room like a bull in a China shop. I knelt down beside him to get his attention and explained that babies are frightened when we run with the carriage and bump into things. Then I suggested that we take the baby for a walk in the park together. He readily agreed to the idea. While we walked around the room I told him to make his feet match mine. Whenever his speed began to quicken I would remind him to look at my feet.

“Make your feet match mine,” has become a common strategy in our setting. We use it with the child who wants to run ahead of the group when coming in from outdoor play or with the child who runs full steam ahead to get to water table first.

In the first years of life in the process of typical development children use social referencing in situations where they are uncertain. It is how children learn what is safe and what is not safe. It is how they learn what is important and what is not important. For example, mom and baby are at the mall and an acquaintance approaches mom that she hasn’t seen for a while. The baby has never met her. As the woman approaches she smiles at the baby and attempts to engage him. The baby immediately looks at mom with a look of concern on his face. He is observing mom’s reaction to this woman to know whether or not this new person is safe or unsafe. Should he engage or not? When he sees mom smile and engage in friendly chatter his face relaxes and he turns to the woman and shyly smiles. He knows that she is safe because of mom’s demeanor.

Children who have a history of trauma often have not learned how to do this. There has been no consistent, safe primary attachment figure that they can look to for guidance. They are left to fend for themselves and they do what makes sense to them at the moment.

We want children to learn that they can look to safe and caring adults in their lives to help them know what to do in any given situation. When we come to group time and a child is having difficulty knowing what to do with his hands and his body, we suggest that he make his hands and his body match Miss Joann or another adult sitting close by.

Helping children learn to follow the lead and take their cues from adults is an important skill for all children and especially for those who have a history of trauma.

Ideas for your classroom.

  1. Give every child two paper plates. Put on some music and dance with the plates. Tell the children to copy you and do what you do with the plates.
  2. Working one-on-one with a child, tell her that you are going to play “Shadow.” Sit facing the child. Put your hands in front of you with your arms outstretched. Palms are facing outward and fingers are pointing to the ceiling. Tell the child to copy you. Move your arms slowly in different configurations and tell the child to maker her hands match yours.
  3. Read “Caps for Sale” and talk about how the monkeys copied the salesman. Discuss times when it okay to copy people and when it is not.
  4. Play “follow the leader” and tell the children to make their body, their feet and their hands match yours.

Dr. Barbara Sorrels

Dr. Barbara Sorrels is Executive Director of The Institute for Childhood Education, a private professional development and consulting firm for those who live and work with children. Dr. Sorrels holds a doctorate in Early Childhood Education from Oklahoma State University, a master's degree in Christian Education from Southwestern Seminary and a B.A. in Early Childhood Education from the University of Maryland. She served for over 5 years on the faculty of Oklahoma State University teaching in the Early Childhood Education program.   Dr. Sorrels has had over 20 years of classroom experience teaching children of all ages in child care, kindergarten and elementary school classrooms, as well as over 5 years experience teaching graduate and undergraduate students at the university level. She also founded and directed early childhood centers located in Washington, D.C. and Fort Worth, Texas.