Best Behaviour Management Strategies in Early Childhood

Behaviour management is an essential part of any education and care setting. But how do we manage challenging behaviour and support children to behave in appropriate ways? Here are my best behaviour management strategies..

IntroductionBehaviour Management Strategies

Behaviour management is often thought about in conjunction with terms such as ‘discipline’, ‘reward’ and ‘punishment’. In education and care services, managing children’s behaviour is essential for ensuring the health, safety and wellbeing of children and educators. Below, we explore the concept of behaviour management and detail particular strategies that are most effective for implementation with young children.

What is Behaviour management in early childhood?

Put simply, behaviour management is about how educators guide and support children to behave in ways that are considered appropriate. Behaviour management is no longer about punishing children for bad behaviour, as was the focus many years ago, which focused on negative reinforcement. Instead, behaviour management should be an embedded practice where educators support children to learn what is and isn’t appropriate and to help them make choices that are positive and safe.

 The role of an educator is to support learning whilst ensuring the health and safety of all children in their care. Behaving appropriately is part of the learning that happens in early childhood. Effective behaviour management strategies should be nurturing, kind and consistent and built upon the foundation of a strong and secure relationship between child and educator.

behaviour management strategies
A great way to get children involved in discussions about appropriate behaviour is to encourage them to be involved in formulating
relevant whole classroom rules

Why is Behaviour management important?

Education and care settings play an important role in supporting the healthy development of children holistically. Educators plan for learning so that all children can progress their physical, social and emotional development and be confident and engaged learners, in a safe and positive classroom.

Every child is an individual who comes with a unique culture, personality and prior experiences that have helped shape who they are becoming. Due to the diversity that exists in society, educators know that children come into care with very different understandings of what behaviours are considered appropriate and are still growing their ability to problem solve, socialise and self-regulate. With this in mind, it can be expected that there will be times when children behave in ways that are considered unsafe or inappropriate.

Implementing effective behaviour management strategies can help create a positive atmosphere where children understand expectations and are supported to behave in more appropriate ways. When behaviour management is done well and is positive and effective – children are able to feel safe, supported and ready to learn.

It’s also vitally important for teachers and families to maintain ongoing open communication regarding strategies, progress and outcomes to ensure consistency between home and the classroom for a better chance at positive outcomes and therefore effective teaching and learning.

What are Behaviour management strategies in childcare?

Over the years, there has been many studies conducted that have focused on child development. In today’s climate, research tells us that educators should take a positive and constructive approach towards behaviour rather than using authoritative discipline practices or punishments.

 As with most things, creating a plan can help us achieve our goals. In the same way, educators are able to plan for and utilise a range of strategies that will help them respond to children’s behaviour in a way that is helpful and nurturing. Fortunately, there are some tried and tested strategies that are proven effective for use in early childhood and some of these are detailed below.

behaviour management strategies
A strong, trusting, respectful relationship with children is the most important factor in managing children’s behaviour

What are the best behaviour management techniques or strategies in early childhood?

Children can certainly behave in some very challenging ways but seeking to understand what is behind the behaviour can help educators and parents respond in a positive way and with a supportive approach. When we shift our lens and move from seeing a behaviour in isolation to viewing behaviour as communication, we are able to look beyond the unpleasant aspects of the moment and identify what is going on for that child and then respond to whatever need is not being met at the time.

For example, we might see a child who has bitten another child, but when we look deeper, we might see that the child is teething and having some uncomfortable symptoms and sensations to deal with. This means that instead of punishing the child for the biting, the educator might respond by giving them something more appropriate to bite – such as a cold teething ring.

Behaviour management should always first begin with the building of positive and supportive relationships between the child, educators and family. When children feel safe, secure and supported, they are far more likely to listen, respond and behave in positive ways.

In addition to building strong relationships, here are some useful behaviour management techniques and strategies:

  • Clearly communicating expectations consistently. Visual aids can be very useful for helping young children understand routines and expectations.
  • Use eye contact – it helps to engage the child and communicate more effectively
  • Encourage the children to collaborate in formulating whole class rules – the children could draw pictures of these to put on display as reminders
  • Keep the rules simple, such as ‘be kind to others’ and ‘use safe hands and feet’.
  • Use positive words to guide behaviour. Instead of saying ‘Don’t do that’, you can say something like ‘Can you see that the sand you are throwing is bothering the other children?’
  • Role model appropriate and desirable behaviour. Educators and parents play a very important part in modelling the behaviours they want to see children engaging in.
  • Praise and acknowledge the behaviours you want to see – when children receive praise, they naturally want to engage in more of that behaviour for the positive reinforcement.
  • Reward positive behaviour, particularly if there has been increased challenging behaviours
  • Support social skills development through play experiences – games, turn taking and role play
  • Support children in conflict resolution strategies, such as learning to name their feelings and communicate problems with others appropriately, using words
  • Remind children they have choices to make every day – they can make smart choices, or poor choices. This helps them to understand they have control of their own behaviour and assists with self regulation.
  • Utilise natural and logical consequences. If a child smears paint all over the floor, give them a sponge to help clean it up.
  • Ensure an exciting, engaging, yet safe learning environment. Look at your lesson plans and think about your teaching ideas – children who are engaged and interested, learning new skills within their classroom are much less likely to display challenging behaviour!

The Australian Children’s Education and Care Quality Authority has produced a useful factsheet that details some additional information about supporting children to regulate their behaviour: QA5_Supporting_children_to_regulate_their_own_behaviour.pdf (acecqa.gov.au)

How does behaviour management affect learning?

Effective behaviour management practices are essential for optimal learning. In education and care settings, if educators are spending most of their time ineffectively managing undesirable behaviour, it means that they are not able to engage deeply with children in ways that foster and scaffold their learning. Similarly, if children are not being guided and supported to manage their emotions and behaviour appropriately, the child could feel angry, anxious, sad or frustrated – these emotions can certainly get in the way of learning experiences.

behaviour management strategies
When we assist children to identify and talk about their feelings and emotions, we help them to self regulate their emotions and therefore their behaviour

The Circle of Security program very clearly highlights the crucial link between secure relationships and effective learning. If you would like to learn more about Circle of Security, check out this website for expert advice: What is the Circle of Security – Circle of Security International

Do childcare centres have behaviour management policies?

Childcare centres are required to have a wide range of policies in place to meet the National Quality Standards under the Australian Children’s Education and Care Quality Authority. Standard 5.2 states that ‘each child is supported to build and maintain sensitive and responsive relationships with other children and adults’. To meet this standard, education and care services must have a detailed behaviour management policy or procedure in place.

A good behaviour management policy should show clear links to the centre’s philosophy and focus on National Quality Standard 5: Relationships with Children. The policy should also detail the strategies that the centre uses to manage behaviour and how to respond to challenging incidents. All staff, students and families that come into the centre should be provided with a copy of the behaviour management policy so that everyone has a good understanding of how educators are supporting children.

If you are interested in viewing a behaviour management policy, Goolwa Children’s Centre has a comprehensive policy that they prefer to call a ‘behaviour guidance policy’. You can find this policy here: goolwa-childrens-centre-behaviour-guidance-policy-2017.pdf (goolwacc.sa.edu.au)

Can parents and educators use the same behaviour management strategies?

Behaviour management strategies work best when they are used consistently and across multiple contexts. Children need consistent expectations and boundaries to feel safe and supported so using similar techniques at child care and home is certainly ideal. Many times, parents report to educators that they are feeling stressed or unsure about how to manage certain behaviours at home and educators are well-placed to support parents in growing their understandings of positive behaviour management strategies.

There have been many times as a Director and Early Childhood Teacher where we have scheduled parent/teacher meetings to discuss all aspects of a child’s development and progress, including identifying any behavioural issues, discussing practical ways we can manage this behaviour at home and in the early childhood setting, and then formulating a behaviour management plan to ensure a positive learning environment for that child, as well as some effective strategies that are positive and consistent.

behaviour management strategies
It’s important to have open, ongoing communication with families about children’s behaviour so that strategies can be consistent between home and the classroom

What is a behavioural management plan?

As educators want to do their very best to support children in their care, sometimes this means creating an individualised plan for effectively managing behaviour. A behaviour management plan contains strategies and processes to encourage positive behaviour and clear information about how to respond to challenging behaviours for a particular child. All educators that care for a child must be aware of and follow the behaviour management plan for it to be effective and if parents also follow the strategies in the plan at home, it is more likely to succeed.

kids first aid

This is why partnerships between educators and parents are essential for ensuring consistency of expectations and consequences for children so that they can learn to behave in appropriate ways at child care and at home.

When designing a behaviour management plan, it’s a good idea to think about including sections for triggers (what happened before the undesired behaviour), what the surroundings were like and what happened right after this behaviour (consequences), as well as secondary behaviours.

You would include the behaviour management techniques or strategies that are being implemented and it’s also a good idea to have a section for evaluation and reflection where you would detail successes in terms of positive student behaviour or things that didn’t work, as well as ensuring all educators and the family are aware of what is included in the plan in terms of strategies. Here is an example of a behaviour management plan I personally designed and used in the early childhood setting where I worked.

behaviour management strategies
Sample Behaviour Management Plan page 1
behaviour management strategies
Sample Behaviour Management Plan page 2

Here is some more information about creating an effective behaviour management plan: Behaviour Management Plans In Childcare – Aussie Childcare Network

What is self regulation?

Self-regulation refers to an ability to understand and manage how we respond to situations. This includes being in control of our emotions and being able to respond appropriately rather than react at times when emotions run high.

Self-regulation is something that develops over time and is important for learning how to behave and get along with others. If young children don’t learn to self-regulate, they are at risk of becoming adults who can’t self-regulate and this can lead to significant issues with relationships, employment and life in general.

The best way for children to learn how to self-regulate, is by helping them understand their emotions by naming them from a very young age. Saying to a toddler ‘I can see that you are frustrated because the puzzle piece won’t fit’, will validate what they are feeling and help them feel safe and supported through that emotion. As the child grows older, they will be able to identify for themselves when they are feeling frustrated and will therefore be able to manage that emotion more appropriately.

You can find some more information about self regulation here: How Can We Help Kids With Emotional Self-Regulation? (childmind.org), or in the article I wrote here.

sharesight

How has behaviour management changed over the years, and have we become too ‘soft’?

Many of us have heard stories about discipline ‘back in the day’. My father has told me stories about being hit across his knuckles with a wooden stick at school for speaking out of turn and it really wasn’t that long ago that many families believed that children should be ‘seen and not heard’.

I still remember sitting in assembly at primary school and watching as the vice principal whipped 2 boys on the back of the legs in front of the whole school! These days, we have more information on Child Protection and how to prevent abuse such as this. At home, I was also smacked as a child and have written a different article about smacking, which you can read here. Fortunately, those practices are no longer considered appropriate and research has shown us far more effective ways of managing unwanted behaviour whilst building strong relationships that support emotional development as well as the physical.

It is still common to hear phrases such as ‘I was hit as a child and I turned out just fine’ – but this notion has been strongly challenged and evidence suggests that yes, it does do harm. Contrary to this, we are also living in an age where there are suggestions that children should be allowed to make all decisions for themselves and parents must give children whatever they want to make sure that they are kept happy.

Whilst both these views are at opposite ends of the spectrum, I really believe there needs to be a balance between our expectations and responses.

behaviour management strategies
It’s more important to find out what the child is trying to communicate through their behaviour, rather than looking at the behaviour alone

In the Circle of Security program, parents are taught to be ‘bigger, stronger, wiser and kind’. I really love this description and think it really hits the mark for finding the balance in parenting. Whilst we certainly want to be respectful and kind, there are times when a parent must make decisions for their child’s health and safety because they are bigger, stronger and wiser. I highly recommend this program so once again, here is the link to find out more about Circle of Security: What is the Circle of Security – Circle of Security International

Conclusion Behaviour Management Strategies

In education and care services, behaviour management practices and strategies should be carefully considered. Developing or reviewing a behaviour management policy in consultation with all key stakeholders at the centre will provide an opportunity to audit current practice and identify areas for improvement.

It’s important to remember that often, challenging behaviour or disruptive behaviour can lead educators to feel overwhelmed and frustrated if they are not receiving support or guidance. It is so important to remember that educators are human beings who realistically get tired, frustrated and sometimes, at a loss for how to manage certain challenging behaviours. Early childhood settings that place value and importance on educator mental health (are they getting their lunch break??), as well as positive learning outcomes for children, will create an environment that is supportive, positive and healthy for all stakeholders.

The ultimate goal is for children to be safe and their healthy development supported, so understanding effective behaviour management strategies is essential. Thankfully, gone are the days of harsh discipline and punishing students, and with a greater focus on relationships, inclusive education and learning – there’s a bright future ahead for our generations to come. 

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