Misbehaviour – are you communicating with me?

Misbehaviour – are you communicating with me?

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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“It’s not fair!”

“It’s not fair!”

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 photo2Tamsin 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.

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



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