Early Childhood Behavior Management Strategies

Early Childhood Behavior Management Strategies

We all know disruptive behavior in the classroom is a pain, but the effects of poorly behaved students have more serious consequences.

First, disruptions can create havoc that impede students’ learning. When students’ attention is diverted from the task at hand, it can seem like a Herculean feat to get everyone focused again. And one informal observation estimated that a typical student experiences around 15 interruptions throughout the course of a school day. Add that up over the course of a year, and that is a lot of wasted time.

Second, when you are constantly dealing with disruptive students, it increases your stress levels. Yes, disruption among toddlers is to be expected and might be dismissed as, “just part of the job.” However, we all know just how much you juggle when dealing with young children. This accumulation of stress can cause burnout, leading to increased turnover rates, which can be costly all the way around.

Third, understanding how to behave in social settings, such as the classroom, is an important step in a child’s developmental process. And good behavior at this time affects so many other areas, including forming and maintaining positive relationships (a skill that will carry them through the rest of their lives).

So, it goes without saying how important good behavior is in the classroom. Luckily, there are a number of early childhood behavior management strategies you can incorporate into your teaching to mitigate disruptive behavior.

Below are seven tips for behavior management in child care to help you create a more peaceful classroom environment that will benefit your kids AND you.

Create structure

Having a sense of structure in your classroom has a number of positive effects on student behavior.

First, structure helps students better understand limits and boundaries. These two elements, along with expectations and consequences, are critical for helping children understand how to behave.

Second, for toddlers, structure and routines create an environment of predictability, which they crave. Kids need predictability to feel safe and better understand how to master the world around them at this young age. Only when they begin to feel safe and comfortable can they begin to learn and develop.

While there are some things that might be out of your control when creating a structured classroom environment (like class size) there are simple things you CAN do.

For instance, follow the old adage, “everything has a place,” and stick to it. Physical organization goes hand-in-hand with a structure and is one of the easiest ways to reinforce this idea. Second, make sure you have a schedule and stick to it.

Remember, schedules and routines are your friend.

Add play to the schedule

Speaking of schedules, one of the best childhood behavior management strategies is to add play to your students’ routine.

Many times, student outbursts are a result of bottled-up energy or frustrations they cannot verbalize. Think about yourself: when you feel stressed, you likely go for a walk or run or to the gym to work out. Just like you, children need an outlet.

Not only will daily play for toddlers help reduce anxiety, stress, and irritability, it will also help boost joy and self-esteem. In addition to helping with behavior, play also encourages creativity and helps with dexterity, physical strength, cognitive ability and so much more.

So, what is not to like?

Also, don’t forget to join in on the fun. It is a great way to better connect with your students, and when they feel connected to you, they are more likely to listen to you.

Finally, it is a great way to rediscover your inner kid!

Plan transitions

Are your transitions smooth and easy or rushed and unorganized?

If the answer is the latter, then that’s one area you can immediately correct to help with potential behavioral issues.

We know students respond differently to uncertainty. However, one thing is true regardless of the child: toddlers often struggle stopping one activity to begin another one. Think about yourself; no one wants to be interrupted when they are right in the middle of something (especially something they are enjoying).

In order to minimize behavioral issues that arise as a result of transitions, there are several things you can do.

First, make sure all your transition times are the same length, every time. The consistency will help your students’ with their routines. Second, make sure you give them a verbal cue (or some other auditory signal like a chime). The last thing you want to do is surprise them without any notice; that is the fastest way to find yourself in the middle of a meltdown as you are getting ready to begin the next activity in your lesson plan. Finally, make transition time fun. You can do this by incorporating a fun song or some other interesting activity that your students will look forward to.

And when thinking about transitions, don’t forget this is a great time to work with your students on their social skills. For instance, by pairing up students during the transition, it might eliminate some of their anxiety while also promoting collaboration (work with a friend during clean up).

By giving yourself enough time for students to gradually transition from one activity to another, along with fair warning, you’ll avoid stressful situations and reduce behavioral issues among your students.

Develop clear, specific rules

One of the most crucial early childhood behavior management strategies is setting expectations from the get go and sticking to them.

Sit down and create a list of classroom guidelines, keeping each one short, simple and easy to understand and remember.

For example, just about every early childhood education classroom has rules (or variations of) such as, “be kind,” “we listen,” “look with eyes” and “quiet voices.” Also, when developing your rules, steer clear of negative language. More on that below.

Once you’ve got your list of classroom guidelines, make sure you review each rule one-by-one with your students so everyone understands them. And when you review, make sure you’re being very specific so there’s no ambiguity.

Don’t be afraid to revisit the rules every morning, and throughout the day, to remind your students what is expected of them in the classroom.

Finally, make sure you are consistently enforcing the rules and in the same manner. As you know, toddlers pick up on things we might not expect them to. If they sense rules aren’t being enforced consistently and uniformly, they may begin ignoring them.

Accentuate the positive

When a child is not doing what you would like them to, your first inclination might be to scold them or use negative language. And while that is entirely understandable, it is not always the healthiest approach to remedy behavioral issues.

Instead of focusing on the negative, try to use positive language and feedback to encourage good behavior. Point out what children CAN do, instead of what they should not be doing.

Also, always be on the lookout for children exhibiting good behavior (like sharing a toy) and make sure to encourage and reward that behavior. Other kids will take notice. Finally, always be specific when offering praise versus keeping it general.

When you use positive language and acknowledge good behavior, you will help build a child’s confidence which works wonders for their mood and disposition, which helps reduce behavioral issues. Additionally, they will be more willing to please you in the future.

A picture’s worth a thousand words

It’s true, a picture is worth a thousand words when it comes to toddlers. They are wonderful visual learners (especially since their vocabulary is likely limited to just a handful of words or simple phrases), and visual supports complement verbal information and directions you give them.

Visual aids are great for behavior management in child care for a number of reasons. First and foremost, they turn abstract ideas into something more concrete a child can understand, which in turn increases the student’s comprehension and their independence (and who doesn’t want more self-sufficient toddlers?).  For example, use images of children demonstrating good behavior to help them understand what’s expected of them.

There are a variety of visual types that can help support toddler learning, including choice boards, emotion symbols, first/then statements, task sequences and so much more.

Additionally, you can use visuals to demonstrate proper student activity throughout the day.  For instance, hang a sign above the sink that shows proper hand washing technique. We know children will mirror what they see, so this is a wonderful way to empower them to mimic what they observe.

And don’t forget, visual aids are great to incorporate into your transition routines.

Engage parents

Family engagement is critical to so many aspects of a child’s success, including when it comes to early childhood behavior management strategies.

For starters, it’s helpful to understand what a child is dealing with outside the classroom walls. Perhaps they didn’t sleep well the night before or something that happened at home has carried over into the next day.

As a teacher, you need to understand what’s happening in a toddler’s world and take that into account when addressing challenging behaviors that might arise during the school day.

You also want to make sure you have a solid relationship with your students’ parents so you can have open and honest discussions about any problematic behavior that you’ve witnessed, so they can be on the lookout for the same behaviors at home. These aren’t the easiest conversations to have, but they become a lot easier when you’ve established a relationship with your students’ parents.

Are you interested in learning more about behavior management in child care and early childhood behavior management strategies? If so, CCEI offers GUI101: Classroom Management Strategies, a two-hour beginner course that provides a range of strategies and practices for promoting appropriate behavior, positive social and emotional development and a productive, effective learning environment. Course participants will learn to define mutual interaction as it pertains to children’s behavior in the classroom, identify aspects of effective praise and encouragement and demonstrate an understanding of the importance of routines for early childhood development.

Click HERE to learn more about our early childhood behavior management strategies course and sign up today!