I am an early childhood educator and executive director of the Maine Association for the Education of Young Children. We strongly support state Sen. Cathy Breen’s “Act To Promote Social and Emotional Learning and Development in Early Childhood.”

Breen’s bill will help us solve one of the challenges we are facing in Maine. The Social and Emotional Learning and Development Project facilitated a survey of early learning teachers about their experiences with children displaying challenging behavior: a repeated pattern of behavior that interferes with a child’s ability to play, learn and get along with others.

As early childhood educators, we put our hearts into caring for children. We want to meet their needs, help them learn and see them thrive in our classrooms and programs. The types of challenging behavior addressed by the survey affect the child who is struggling, the other children in the room, the families and the teacher trying to support them.

The survey of Maine’s early care and education teachers shows that they commonly encounter young children with serious challenging behavior. As a result, young children in Maine are sometimes removed from early care and education settings. A 2005 study of state prekindergarten programs showed that Maine has one of the highest expulsion rates in the country. When a family or a program feels like a child’s needs are not being met, it is devastating for all those involved.

Early childhood educators can develop very close relationships with families and young children. We are in the best position to help when we have the right tools. Many teachers in Maine are looking for guidance on how to address challenging behaviors and the emotions behind those behaviors. Social and emotional development is critical for academic success, and we need policies that support young children, their families and their teachers.

Tara Williams