Misbehaviour – are you communicating with me?

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You will probably have come across the phrase ‘All behaviour is communication’ at some point in your life.  There are several different viewpoints and many scholars and theorists have debated this to be true or false depending on their stance.  We do know, however, that a high percentage of communication is non-verbal and therefore we are communicating how we feel and what we think by the way that we act, our stance and our gestures, regardless of whether we mean to or not.

I personally think that it is helpful to consider the behaviour of the children in our care as communication because it can encourage us to ask the following questions:

  • Is this child communicating something with us through the way they behave? (either consciously or not)
  • What is this child hoping to achieve through this behaviour?
  • Has this behaviour been triggered by anything?
  • What happened prior to this child behaving in this way?
  • Could this behaviour be evidence of a schema?
  • Has anything different happened at home?
  • Is the child hungry or tired?
  • Is this behaviour a result of a social interaction?
  • Can we try to unpick why this child has acted or reacted in this way?

You can probably think of more questions that would be helpful to ask.  We can use our observations of how children behave in the same way that we would use our observations of their learning.  Reflect upon what the behaviour is telling you and then plan future provision and interventions in the light of this behaviour.

It could be that, as a result of this behaviour, you decide to change an aspect of your practice, for example, if a child has been frequently running inside, can we move the furniture in such a way that it will discourage running?  You could choose to have an informal chat with the child’s carer to check that everything is OK at home.  For example, you may find that they have had a couple of really late nights which might explain the misbehaviour.  You may decide that you want to observe this child further to see when they behave in this way; can you notice any patterns in their behaviour which will help you to unpick what is going on?  Is the child bored or using a resource inappropriately?  Perhaps we need to role model how to engage appropriately with others or how to use a specific toy. Remember Alistair Bryce-Clegg’s idea of Thrill, Will, Skill: Without thrill there is no will to take part and without the will, how will children successfully acquire the skill?”

Our aim will always be to support the child in the best way that we can and to keep them and everyone around them safe.  Thus, we must ensure that we respond sensitively to all behaviours and set appropriate boundaries for the children in our care. It helps to be as consistent as possible when responding to challenging behaviour and to keep the dialogue open with home. Children need to feel safe and secure and having a clear message about appropriate ways to behave will help with this.  So make sure that your policies are clear about how you will respond to various behaviours.  I sometimes suggest that settings specify When a child… Adults will… within their policy as this positively sets out expectations for everyone to see.

Keep the child central to your discussions and planning – children have very little control over their lives – they are often told what to do from the moment they wake, what to wear, where they are going that day and what to eat etc. Therefore it can be really helpful to offer some of the responsibility for creating rules to the children.  Talk about rules and boundaries with them and, depending on their age and stage of development, you could create your own set of rules together. It is much easier to remember rules that you have thought of yourself!

Remain positive in the language that you use, remember the idea that the rule ‘Don’t run’ could lead to more running as children will hear the word ‘run’, whereas the rule ‘walk’ should remind children of the positive way to behave.  The same idea applies when we talk to the children – can we focus on using positive language and language which will calm children down, rather than approaching them in a way that will hype things up?

Above all, centre your provision around the needs and interests of the children – if they are engaged and motivated to learn there will be less time for poor behaviour! So make sure you are keeping those lines of communication open and listening and responding sensitively to their behaviour and what they do, just as you would listen and respond to what they say.

About the author

Tamsin GTamsin Grimmer photo2rimmer 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.

Tamsin has written two books – Observing and Developing Schematic Behaviour in Young Children and School Readiness and the Characteristics of Effective Learning.

You can contact Tamsin via Twitter @tamsingrimmer, her Facebook pagewebsite or email info@tamsingrimmer.co.uk

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