Published Date: 12/02/19
When you’re managing 20 (or more!) children in a preschool classroom, it is critical that you have effective behavior management strategies in place. Doing so will help keep the peace and allow you to lead your class effectively, teach your lesson plans, and most importantly, help the children with their social and emotional skills that are so important for later success.
Challenging behavior among preschoolers is always an attempt to communicate something and therefore you should always consider the ‘why’ of the behavior, not just the ‘what’. Preschool teachers need to observe and make changes accordingly.
The environment can also be a strong contributing factor to a child’s challenging behavior in preschool. Are there certain objects or toys that instigate particular behaviors in some children? Is the environment too stimulating? Not stimulating enough? Pay attention to how children interact with their environment to see if there are triggers for challenging behavior.
Most importantly, remember that emotions and behavior are not the same thing. A child should never be disciplined for having emotions, even if you believe they are simply trying to get attention. A child’s feelings are completely valid and should be acknowledged as such.
What are behavior management strategies?
Behavior management involves the use of certain educational strategies and practices to prevent and manage challenging or inappropriate behavior in the classroom, thus promoting the teaching and learning process.
For many educators, one key method has proven very effective in the promotion of positive behavior, student learning, and collaboration in the classroom: the use of democratic participatory decision making as opposed to coercion or demanding cooperation from the students.
Additionally, young children who often display disruptive behavior have been found to reduce those behaviors when teachers spend extra time with them and play individually with them. This is according to a 2017 study by the University of Virginia published in the journal of Child Development.
Implementing behavior management strategies
Children are attuned to both verbal and nonverbal communication. As a preschool teacher, you need to ensure that your nonverbal communication is as strong as your verbal. Effective body language can go a long way in helping you maintain a calm atmosphere in the classroom and in creating a positive learning environment. There are several ways you can convey positivity through your body language in preschool, which includes getting down to a child’s level, smiling (yes, it’s hard sometimes, but it’s important), making eye contact, and using warm facial expressions. Your verbal communication should be positive, and strong. Children should know you’re in charge but should also feel safe and cared for. Neither yelling at children in preschool nor shaming them is appropriate.
1. Children should know what’s expected of them
Well-drafted rules have been proven to reduce behavioral difficulties in the classroom by more than 50%. When you set classroom rules, you formalize the expectations in your class. Involving the children in creating the rules will help them understand why they’re important and make them more apt to follow them. Keep the number of rules to a minimum and be realistic with your expectations. They should also be framed in a positive way. Rules such as “Use hands for helping” are good, and you can ask the children what it means to use hands for helping. Rules such as “No hitting” are less likely to be followed because they’re negative.
2. Document the rules
It’s not enough to create a set of rules and move on. You need to make sure that those mutually respected guidelines are not forgotten. Once you’ve created a list of rules, hang them in a highly visible spot in the classroom. Since preschool children cannot yet read, use visuals they can understand. You can even make a class project out of making the poster. Keeping them involved will help promote the right mindset.
3. Encourage involvement
Studies show that children learn best through play and preschool should be hands-on fun. Promote active participation by listening to their interests and tailoring the activities to suit them. That doesn’t mean that children rule the roost, but if the class has a particular interest in dinosaurs and your lesson plan involves coloring butterflies, see if there’s a way to switch it up and include a T-Rex. Consider borrowing from the Reggio Emilia approach to ECE, in which students are active participants in directing their learning and are encouraged to ask questions and develop critical thinking skills.
4. Stimulate learning
Children are eager learners and challenging behavior often arises when they are bored. Keep your lesson plans play-based and engaging. Pose open-ended questions to children and encourage them to ask questions. Preschool children should also have ample time for unstructured play, as it’s critical to their social and emotional development and they’re learning through it as well.
5. Acknowledge good behavior
Catch kids doing something good! Acknowledging and praising good behavior motivates children to display more of it. And, not only is positive feedback an effective tool to help you manage behavior in preschool, it also helps build self-esteem in children. Ditch the sticker charts and tangible rewards, and instead commend children when appropriate. At pick up, give positive reports to parents when their child displayed good behavior, who will then often give additional praise, further encouraging the desired behavior.
6. Avoid punishments
Plain and simple, punishments don’t work. They don’t teach accountability, they don’t teach morality, and they shame children when they’re carried out publicly. Instead, focus on positive discipline and modeling good behavior.
7. Let them move as needed
Children need to move – a lot. Some children are naturally better than others at sitting still for circle time or for table activities and others are more wiggly. Give them plenty of opportunity to get their energy out and run around. Give children who need to move more tools to help them – something as simple as a piece of string to keep their hands busy can help tremendously. Go off schedule, if needed. If you see that many children are not able to follow what you’re doing because of pent up energy, have an impromptu dance party to “shake their sillies out” and then try your lesson again.
8. Engage parents at drop-off and pick-up
Being aware of what a child’s home life is like can give you great insight into why certain behaviors appear. Even knowing something simple, like a child didn’t sleep well the night before or missed breakfast can help you know what to expect that day. If there are major changes in a child’s life will also help manage their behavior. A move, a new sibling, parents divorcing, or the loss of a pet or family member can all be an underlying cause for behavior changes.
Managing transitions in preschool
Transitions can set off disruptive behavior for many children, so help them by setting expectations and providing countdowns and cue prior to one.
1. Use cues for moving from one activity type to another, for example, from free play to organized activities. Great examples include strumming an instrument or singing a song. Inform children several minutes prior to a transition so they’re able to finish what they’re doing.
2. Prepare the environment adequately. For example, you can put a blanket on the floor and ask the children to sit around it. You can also designate private spaces by placing carpet pieces on the floor or writing each child’s name on a piece of cardboard and positioning it on the floor. Give kids the opportunity to decorate their cardboard, making them feel more connected to it.
3. Grab the children’s attention. There are various ways to do this:
• Decorate a box and place various props inside. When you use it every day, the kids will start looking forward to what you have brought that day.
• Gather boxes of various sizes, then place a clue item in the smallest box. Place that box inside the next smallest box, and so on until only the largest box is visible. As the kids open each box, their excitement for that planned activity will build up.
• Incorporate puppets in your sessions, where the puppet can introduce a particular planned activity.
What about destructive behavior?
Destructive behavior can negatively impact a classroom and must be dealt with. If you frame destructive behavior as connection-seeking rather than attention-seeking, it will impact how you handle it.
First, any physical altercations need to be addressed immediately. Firmly say, “No” then attend to the child who was attacked to ensure there are no injuries. Take the aggressor aside and remind him or her why the behavior was inappropriate. Use phrases like, “Hands are for helping” to reiterate the positive, expected behavior.
If a child is intentionally making a mess, ensure that they are responsible for cleaning it up as a natural consequence of their actions.
Once the disruptive behavior is addressed, here are a few things you can do:
• Evaluate what led up to the behavior. Is there a pattern you can learn from?
• If the same child always acts out, try to find triggers by looking at what led to their behavior and where they were when it happened. Then, take the appropriate measures to curb that behavior.
• Keep parents informed when destructive behavior becomes a pattern. You should discuss how your tools to curb the behavior can be implemented and reinforced at home.
When do disruptive behaviors become causes for concern?
Noncompliance, temper tantrums and some aggression are all pretty normal and common among preschoolers. However, sometimes, these issues can reach problematic level, and they may be signs of something more serious.
It is important to identify such cases as soon as possible because early intervention can be crucial to behavioral improvement.
Recurring disruptive behavior disorders frequently fall within two categories: oppositional defiant disorder (ODD), and conduct disorder (CD). Common symptoms in children for both of these disorders include defiance of adults and authority figures, angry outbursts, and antisocial behaviors like lying and stealing. Normally, ODD progresses into CD if left untreated as the child grows.
A child with ODD will display four or more of the following symptoms:
• Loses temper often
• Argues with adults often
• Actively defies set rules or requests
• Deliberately annoys people
• Blames others for their behavior
• Easily gets annoyed by others
• Is often angry and resentful
• Displays spiteful, vindictive behavior
A child with CD is characterized by persistent display of the following behaviors:
• Bullying, threatening or intimidating others
• Initiating physical fights
• Physical cruelty to others
• Physical cruelty to animals
• Deliberate destruction of others’ property
• Frequent lying (more than other same-age children) to avoid obligations
• Stealing nontrivial items
Managing behavior in preschool can prove challenging for even the most seasoned teacher or director. Setting clear expectations, addressing behaviors immediately in a non-punitive way, and preparing children for transitions all go a long way in keeping the peace within the classroom. Additionally, identifying destructive behaviors that indicate oppositional defiance disorder or conduct disorder can assist parents in getting early intervention, which is a key long-term strategy to improvement.
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