Preschool Behavior Management
As usual, your preschool classroom is buzzing with activity. One group is playing with blocks in a corner, one girl is quietly looking at a book at a table, and another group is finger painting in the center of the room. As you survey the room, you lock eyes with the kids in the middle and watch in horror as one child smears blue paint onto another’s face.
In seconds, your room has erupted with screams and streaks of flying paint. You spend the next twenty minutes wiping away tears and spilled paint while trying to keep the paint flinger from inflicting any more damage. How did the classroom get so chaotic so quickly?
You can’t predict when your students will misbehave, but you can come up with preschool behavior management strategies to help you figure out how to deal with difficult preschoolers in the classroom.
How do you know you’re managing preschool behavior in your classroom effectively? Start by understanding that although they’re all around the same age, your kids are growing and developing at different rates. You’ve likely already encountered temper tantrums, separation anxiety, and bathroom issues amongst the students in your classroom, so you know kids deal with these difficulties at their own pace.
To manage unpredictable preschool behavior in your classroom, try to determine why some of your kids act out instead of focusing on their behavior. Although preschool kids can find it hard to control their emotions at times, know that your kids are trying to communicate with you in some way – even when they’re acting up. They’re still learning to use their words, so use yours to get to the bottom of what’s really going on. Observation is key, so keep an eye on what triggers the child’s difficult preschool behavior. Does the child need more structure than others? Do transitions make the child uneasy? Does the child find the classroom environment overwhelming? Ask yourself these questions (and others as they occur to you) as you figure out how to deal with difficult preschoolers in the classroom.
Another key to effective preschool behavior management involves discerning the difference between an emotional outburst and acting out. Children’s emotions should always be respected, even when it results in bad preschool behavior. Make sure that you validate your little ones’ emotions by providing support and comfort. If necessary, you should also communicate with the child’s parents to figure out if the behavior stems from a traumatic incident like a divorce or death in the family.
Once you’ve discovered the possible causes of a child’s difficult behavior, you can use preschool behavior management strategies to help you navigate how to deal with difficult preschoolers in the classroom. Positive reinforcement goes a long way here: Instead of shouting “No!” or “Don’t!,” use your words to communicate and model how your kids should behave. Instead of saying, “Don’t throw that paint!” try saying, “Please try to share the paint so everyone can make beautiful pictures.” The key is to make sure the child learns what’s right instead of pointing out what’s wrong. As a teacher, learning how to deal with difficult preschoolers in the classroom means learning what will help a child remember how to behave properly.
Below are eight preschool behavior management strategies you can incorporate into your classroom:
- Set clear expectations for good behavior. You can do this verbally or with a visual aid, like a list of classroom rules on the door. You can also engage parents to help reinforce these rules. Make sure you also set clear consequences for bad behavior. Remember to explain what bad behaviors caused the consequences so the child understands – and make sure you’re consistent with those expectations at all times.
- Reinforce good behavior with positive feedback. A high-five is nice, but remember that you’re trying to teach your little ones how to behave, so be clear about what they did correctly. Try saying things like, “thank you for raising your hand during story time” or “I appreciate the way you helped clean up that paint spill.” Being specific helps children remember what the good behavior was instead of simply knowing they did something right.
- Turn your classroom into a democracy. Give your kids a say in what happens in your classroom from time to time. Let them decide what they want to do and they’ll feel safer to explore and learn on their own. Do they want to learn about dinosaurs today? Do they want to watch a movie? Would they rather play word games instead of having story time? Letting the kids have a vote teaches them more about collaboration and reinforces their own interests, which fosters learning. When kids are engaged, they behave better.
- Plan out transitions. Moving from one activity to another tends to throw children off-balance, which can lead to acting out. Anticipating your kids’ reactions is a key aspect of preschool behavior management, so make sure you let the children know that a transition is coming in advance so they can mentally prepare themselves. You can play a song that acts as a cue to start the transition, or speak more softly than usual to grab their attention. You can also get your little ones to help you set up or decorate your classroom for the next activity. No matter what you do, keep them engaged and busy.
- Use posters that model good behavior. Children respond well to visual aids, so posters can help you with preschool behavior management. We’ve already discussed posting class rules, but you can post photos demonstrating good behavior throughout the room to reinforce what following rules looks like. You can also use posters that demonstrate other behaviors like sharing, washing hands, or book handling.
- Make your classroom a great place to learn. Try separating your room into sections – storytime, playtime, mealtime, and the like – and set up rules for each area. Keep quiet areas away from the activity-centered ones so your kids don’t get uneasy. When kids know how to behave in these specific areas, preschool behavior management becomes much easier.
- Let your kids burn off excess energy. Set up an exercise or play area so your kids can get rid of the extra energy that can easily turn your classroom into chaos. Try incorporating active lessons into your lesson plans; for example, a game like alphabet yoga teaches children simple poses that correspond to each letter. You can also take advantage of recess and/or playtime to help your students calm down.
- Become a safe space for your kids. Sometimes, kids just need support. Use positive reinforcement and calming body language to let your kids know they can come to you if they’re upset. Kids know who makes them feel safe and secure, so become that person for them.
Learning how to deal with difficult preschoolers in the classroom isn’t hard to do, but you might have to get creative with your preschool behavior management strategies. The key is to understand why your students act out and make sure they learn how to behave properly. If you give your students a safe place to explore their own interests, they will settle down and become productive little learners.
If you’re interested in learning more about these topics, ChildCare Education Institute offers courses on classroom management, conflict resolution, the foundations of positive guidance, and more designed to facilitate successful preschool behavior management. With a little help (and some positive reinforcement), you can figure out how to deal with difficult preschoolers in the classroom with ease.