What's with the Children Today?

There is a connection between an employee maintaining optimal health and her job performance.  Head Start programs care about their employees maintaining healthy habits because they spend so much time at work and young children require a great deal of attention.  Head Start health and human resource managers may use this learning activity to help staff  learn to better balance the demands made upon them.

children on a playground

Learning Activity 1
What's With the Children Today?

Purpose : This activity demonstrates the strong interplay between staff wellness and children's behavior, and recognizes the impressive work of Head Start staff.

For this activity you will need:

  • Name tags
  • Flip chart paper and markers
  • Writing materials
  • Handout A: Scripts for Teachers

Step 1 : Ask participants to form two groups—one group of three or four and a group of eight to 12. First group is composed of staff, second of children. Each group selects a recorder/observer. The groups will be acting out a scene at a Head Start program on a Monday morning.

Step 2: Staff group (smaller group): Each participant, except the observer, receives a script from Handout A: Scripts for Teachers. Option: staff could write their own scripts. Besides individual challenges, the Head Start program is undergoing significant expansion and must deal with lots of new families.

Step 3 : Children's group (larger group): Each participant takes the role of a child in the Head Start program. Tell the group: Each of you write your name on the name tag and choose an age from six months to five years. You represent the range of children in Head Start—think for a moment about the child you are.

Step 4 : Allow time for everyone to settle into their roles. Tell the "children" to open the scene by approaching staff with all of their normal needs on a Monday morning. The children may have to exaggerate their behavior a bit to create the needed effect.

Observers: Watch the interactions between the children and staff and take notes.

Step 5 : After five to 10-minutes, stop the group. Ask children: Are your needs being met? Answer will likely be no. Ask participants to continue for five more minutes, acting like children whose needs are not being met.

Step 6 : On a large sheet of flip chart paper, make four columns, two labeled "staff" and two "children." Under the "staff" column, write "do" and then "feel." Under the "children" column, write "feel" and then "do." Call the group together. Ask recorders to report on what they saw.

  • For staff group recorder: What did staff do? What feelings did you pick up?
  • For child group recorder: How did children feel? What did they do? Note responses on flip chart paper.

Step 7 : Ask the groups:

  • Do you have anything to add to what the recorders/observers presented?
  • How do staff cope with personal challenges in the face of children's needs?
  • What personal health issues posed the biggest obstacle to staff dealing well with the children?
  • How does this activity relate to your Head Start Center? How can you be better prepared to deal with the constant needs of the children in your care?

Points to Consider :

  • The challenge of facing a number of children with lots of needs is great. We recognize the skills and commitment of all Head Start and child care providers.
  • Children don't wait. Their needs are immediate. On the flip chart, we have noted that with children feelings come first, then they act.
  • Children need adults to help them to cope with day-to-day needs. They are not good at holding off their needs for a more convenient time. If not responded to, their demands escalate.
  • Staff learn to rise to the occasion—they often suppress their feelings so that they can get the job done. They also may feel that their own needs are not equally important—"this child needs me right now!" This is very helpful for the children—and the program—in the short run.

However, there are long-term consequences in terms of staff wellness. People who are under constant pressure without support eventually lash out at others or develop stress-related illnesses.

"What's with the Children Today?". Enhancing Health in the Head Start Workplace. DHHS/ACF/ACYF/HSB. 1996. English.

Last Reviewed: May 2009

Last Updated: August 31, 2015