An article from Ruth Edensor, Parenta Consultant:

In Early Years settings you often come across unwanted behaviour from children and can see clearly that some children are getting along better with the other children, behaving well and thriving in their surroundings.  I am sure you agree that it is usually the same children misbehaving and the same ones who are sitting nicely and eager to learn.

But why is that so?

While working within childcare for 30 years I became intrigued as to why children behaved the way they did. I wanted to understand more and work out how I could help every child to have the chance to shine, be confident and reach their full potential in my nursery.   While studying this subject I found some fascinating information and the answers became clear.

A Child’s behaviour is a direct result of how they feel!

How a child feels is a direct result of what they are thinking!


Let me explain more. Like our own, a child’s mind has tens of thousands of thoughts a day, which come from what others have said to them and from what they say to themselves.  These thoughts include short statements, or sentences that go over and over in their mind.  A child’s thoughts have a direct effect on how a child feels and how a child feels affects their behaviour.

The more positive the thoughts the more positive the behaviour will be.  For example a young child starting nursery, who goes into class feeling miserable and shy and is thinking to himself that he hasn’t got any friends and he wants to go home, is far less likely to attract some friends because he may be sitting alone and not wanting to go and play with the others.

Without realising it a child who misbehaves will have negative thoughts in their mind like an old record on a tape recorder, playing over and over, saying things like, “I’m naughty, no one likes me”, “I don’t want to” and so on. Likewise a child who behaves well will have more positive thoughts in their mind and a better outlook on life.  They will say things to themselves such as “I can do this”, “This is fun”, “I can help”, “I have nice friends” and “I am good”.

How can practitioners help children to think better thoughts?

  • Say positive things

As a practitioner you can teach children to say positive things to themselves that will help them to be in a positive frame of mind which will improve their behaviour.  You can help by ensuring that you make a positive environment and use positive affirmations throughout the day to help the children feel good.  Just by having a positive vocabulary you can encourage the children to have the same outlook.  If you are going throughout the day saying things like, “This is good”, “This is fun” and “You are good children” then you will definitely see the benefits.

  • Use descriptive praise

You can use descriptive praise to help the children in your setting feel good and be in a better mind-set.  When you use descriptive praise as a general rule you need to say them at least 5-10 times more than you would reprimand a child.  This will make the reprimand more powerful and you won’t damage the child’s self-esteem and make their behaviour worse. Being descriptive is telling them what they have done well, for example “Thanks Michelle you have cleared the sand pit really well”, or “Well done Tom you tried really hard with your painting”.

What a child will think from your positive vocabulary and descriptive praise.

People like me √

I am a good boy√

I am a good listener√

My teachers like me√

I have good ideas√

I am very creative√

I feel happy√

I can do it!

These positive thoughts are bound to make a child feel better and consequently behave better. So remember if you are having trouble with a child’s behaviour or the whole class seems to be disruptive that day then put some positivity into the children’s minds and see their behaviour improve.

Next time I will have more tips that you can easily use to improve children’s behaviour in your setting.  In the meantime if you would like some more information please visit my website or email me for details on training days at your nursery!

Ruth Edensor BSc Honours Psychology

Child Behaviour Specialist



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