Four-year-old Charlie had a hard time focusing and sitting still. He had no friends, was falling behind in class and had kicking and screaming meltdowns any time he didn’t get his way. His behaviors were proving too much, even for Ms. Schaffer, a teacher who has worked with high-needs children for many years.
Enter Jessica Mostaffa, Early Childhood Mental Health & Home Visiting Specialist at TFC. Mostaffa is a Licensed Professional Counselor with a background in play therapy work with children … especially high-risk, high-needs children. She’s providing mental health consultation to preschool teachers so youngsters can work through social-emotional issues and enter kindergarten ready to learn.
Ms. Schaffer invited TFC to observe Charlie's behavior in her classroom. During circle time while she was reading a story to the class, Charlie would go off on his own. The more teachers would work to encourage Charlie to come back to the group, the more he would struggle, often taking 25-30 minutes to calm down. Additionally, transitions from one activity to another were difficult for Charlie, often setting him off emotionally.
Together, Jessica and Ms. Schaffer discovered Charlie was dealing with some difficult issues at home. To help him cope, Charlie was given figures to play with and a cozy, safe space (separate from other children) where he could calm down. He would use the figures to process difficult memories and feelings, which he desperately needed to do in order to focus on school activities.
To help with transitions, Jessica recommended giving Charlie extra time and multiple notifications when a change in the classroom was about to occur.
With Charlie's new structure, he was better able to process his feelings and was finally able to rejoin the group on his own, within a few minutes, rather than a half hour. The transition techniques helped him feel more secure and in control.
On the last day of his summer school program, Ms. Schaffer was involved in an Individualized Education Program (IEP) meeting so Charlie would be prepared to successfully move on to kindergarten with early intervention services. She stated after the meeting that she would now be able to let him go … knowing he would be receiving the help he so desperately needed all along. She was grateful to TFC, saying she felt both she and Charlie had built their strengths by being a part of the mental health consultation program.
Even wonderful, experienced teachers sometimes need help … to make sure children like Charlie don’t slip through the cracks.
Jessica, a new parent herself, loves the idea of giving teachers an extra tool in their toolkit to help kids. “They affect a class of 20 kids this year, and the next year and the next year,” Mostaffa said. “So giving them a better understanding of children’s development and their social and emotional needs and their role in a child’s life can build a child’s resilience and affect their whole future.”
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