How many times have you heard this cry? Children have a real sense of justice, injustice, fairness and rules, regardless of whether or not they keep the rules themselves!
The EYFS states that ‘Providers are responsible for managing children’s behaviour in an appropriate way’ (Statutory Framework, p. 26). However, we are not given any guidance about what this means, apart from not threatening corporal punishment or any punishment which could ‘adversely affect a child’s wellbeing.’
Thinking about punishment is a very negative way of approaching behaviour. I believe that we should actively promote positive behaviour in our settings through the way we interact, act, speak and through having developmentally appropriate expectations of children’s behaviour.
In order to respond appropriately, we need to do everything we can to understand the child and the context that they find themselves in. Therefore, observation is key. Get to know your children well, work out what motivates and fascinates them as well as what upsets and frustrates them. Use this information to plan engaging, exciting and developmentally appropriate activities and there will be less time for challenging behaviour. Work closely with parents and carers and try to establish some consistency between home and setting.
Positive responses to behaviour
There are many ways that our daily practice can help to promote positive behaviour. I have listed a few for you and I hope you will find it useful!
Responding positively to children
- Get down on child’s level or lower as this is less intimidating and more respectful for the child
- Use a calm voice, normal volume and tone, positive language and calm body language
- Gently remind children of rules or point out behaviour to give them a chance to stop
- If you would like a child to stop a particular behaviour, use a count down, not up i.e. 5, 4, 3, 2, 1
- Use the child’s name first to gain attention and eye contact to maintain it
- Describe the action not the child i.e. “It is unkind to hit” rather than “You are unkind”
- Label the praise and be specific when praising children, e.g. “Fantastic sitting, George” rather than “Good boy”
- Model respectful ways of interacting with others and using materials
- Respect and acknowledge children’s ideas, concerns and feelings
- Accept behavioural differences – look out for schemas (schemas are not misbehaviour)
- Ensure that your expectations are developmentally appropriate i.e. do not expect all 2-year-olds to share
- If needed, allow the child time and space to calm down, away from the other children
Creating an enabling environment which promotes positive behaviour
- Provide enough space, variety of materials and warnings of closures i.e. “We’ll have to tidy soon…”
- Establish a consistent, balanced routine with clear, developmentally appropriate limits and expectations for children’s behaviour – consistency between staff and rooms
- Support children’s choices and interests
- Plan and allow extra time for transitions – change timetable or routine if needed so that time constraints are not a factor
- Have clear ground rules, reinforced regularly, which set limits and boundaries and are explained to the children in language they understand using pictures/symbols
- Minimise unnecessary periods of sitting still or waiting – ensure carpet times are interactive (puppets, songs, games, actions, story props, instruments etc.)
- Ensure that your behaviour policy is written positively, shared with all and adhered to
- Consider the way you lay out your room e.g. large open space inside will encourage children to run; smaller clustered areas will encourage sustained engagement
- Provide feelings areas and activities and resources to support emotional development.
When I used to cry, “It’s not fair!” my Dad used to respond, “Life’s not fair!” which sounds a little harsh, however true it may be. But we need to acknowledge that for some children, life really isn’t fair and we need to do everything in our power to change the world for these children. So let’s remain positive and ensure that our settings are as fair as they can be, as we keep calm and carry on!
About the author
Tamsin Grimmer is an experienced early years consultant and trainer and parent who is passionate about young children’s learning and development. She believes that all children deserve practitioners who are inspiring, dynamic, reflective and committed to improving on their current best. Tamsin particularly enjoys planning and delivering training and supporting early years practitioners and teachers to improve outcomes for young children.