On Tilt

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On Tilt is a term of art, originally from the game of poker, that refers to a state of emotional or mental arousal that results in questionable decision making and adoption of less-than-optimal strategy. The term adapts nicely to the world of early learning and can be adopted in reference to both caregivers and children who are emotionally or mentally aroused to the point of making ineffective decisions.

Some examples:

  • One staff member to another: “Kevin is on tilt–Hunter knocked over his block tower. Can you check in with him before someone gets bitten?”
  • Staff member on phone to director: “I’m on tilt and have to get away from these kids for a few minutes. Can you relieve me for a bit while I get back to center?”
  • Father to staff member while dropping child off at preschool: “Samantha is probably going to be on tilt today. Grandma is picking her up for a trip to the zoo and she’s so excited.”
  • Staff member to another while on break: “Mitch has been on tilt all week–his car broke down, his girlfriend moved out, and his dog ran away to find her. He’s a mess. I better get back to the classroom.”
  • Coworker to another: “Bethany not showing up for work today really put me on tilt, but I shouldn’t be surprised. It is Friday and she does love a long weekend”

Note that, well the term often refers to ‘negative’ emotions like anger, it also refers to strong ‘positive’ emotions like Samantha’s excited anticipation of her zoo visit with Grandma.

The term on tilt is a useful verbal shorthand in early learning settings–often flooded in big emotions and mental arousal–since it concisely conveys a great deal of information about a person’s mood or state of being.

If anyone you know is frequently on tilt, our growing collection of self-care content may be worth a look.

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I'm an early learning speaker, podcaster, content creator, author, and founder of Playvolution HQ and Explorations Early Learning.