I will admit, I am not always the best at handling bad behaviors. I am human. Just like the little humans I work with, I get frustrated. What I try to remind myself is I can control my emotions better than they can. It is my job to help them work through their frustrations. Work through, not help them forget their feelings. All of their feelings should be valued; happiness is just as important as sadness and anger. Behavior issues will happen with all children, but there are ways we can use those behaviors to build competent, problem solving children.
Here are my 10 tips to handle troubling behaviors:
1. Pick Your Battles
Think, what is most important issue for you? Does the behavior bother another child? If it doesn’t is it worth addressing? This can be based on the safety of everyone, functionality of the room, and/or based on each child. I focus on safe choices in the room such as walking inside, sitting on their bottoms, and keeping toys out of the room. I also focus on treating toys and children with kindness.
2. Follow Through
To me, this is one of the most important tips to follow, especially early on. When you say “Walk please.” it is up to you, to make sure the child listens. If you ask them to walk and they ignore you, don’t let it go. That is how children test their boundaries. They figure out early on in life how much they can get away with from each adult in their life.
When they choose to run after you’ve asked them to walk you can remind them nicely to walk again or gently take them by the hand saying, “We’re going to try this together! We get to walk when we are inside. When we go outside, you get to run.” You then lead them so they walk. This won’t change the behavior instantly. But it shows the child you follow through with the consequence you give them.
3. Don’t Give Orders
Do you enjoy when your boss orders you around? Probably not. Think of how a child feels when they’re being told what to do all the time? Children love games. Instead of saying “Get your coat on.” Try to say, “I wonder you will get their coat on first?! I can’t wait to go outside!”
Try to make tasks more of a game instead of a task. “Who can get their coat on faster than me?” If a child is getting frustrated while building ask them how tall they can make their building. That gives them a purpose during their play as well as helps channel their frustration to a specific goal.
4. Give Choices
If you are like me, this is the best secret. Giving children a choice lets them feel responsible, like they are in control. Even though the choices come from you. You could ask, “What do you want to eat?” They could tell you a meal you weren’t wanting to cook. You tell them no and endure a tantrum because they aren’t getting what they want.Or you could ask, “Do you want apple sauce or fruit snacks?” Giving them the choice puts the responsibility on them.
When handling a difficult behavior I phrase my sentences so the choice is on them such as, “Can you do that on your own, or do I get to help?” Most children, especially preschoolers who are proving their independence LOVE to do things on their own to be “big kids”. After asking that, they get to choose if they really can do it on their own. I usually give them 5-10 seconds to make up their mind, then the choice is mine. I do hand-over-hand and help them through whatever I asked them to do. Once I do that once or twice, my kiddos insist on doing things on their own.
5. Be Present
This is more than just being in the room. This is positioning yourself in the room to help a child or all children. If you are focusing on helping one child’s behavior, play with them or put yourself in a close spot to be helpful when problems arise.If you have child who has trouble sharing, watch where they go when they’re playing. When they start playing with the same materials as another child, be around them. If issues start to arise, problem solve with them.
6. Say “Yes” Instead of “No”
If you’re like me, you don’t enjoy being told”no”. Children are the same way. Being told “no” all day gets tiring and can do some harm on how they view themselves and the world. Instead, find a way to say “Yes”! There are ways to say “yes” that turn into a “no” or “not yet.”
Here’s an example: You are reading a story to the group and one child, out of the blue says, “Can we go outside?” You could say “No, we’re reading right now.” or you could say, “Yes! As soon as we finish our story!” You win because you get to finish reading (and avoid a meltdown) and the child wins because they will get to go outside!
You can also read why I think we should say “Yes” more than “no” here!
7. Pay Attention to Positive Behaviors
This at times, can be the hardest. We try to correct the negative behavior becasue we try to socialize children and teach them how we are supposed to act in society. Just becasue someone makes bad choices doesn’t mean they are bad people.Let me repeat that. Just because a child makes a bad choice, does not make them a bad child.
They are just little people after all. Every child makes a bad choice, some more than others. But they are just children.This just takes a bit more energy on ignoring some of the minute negative behaviors to focus on the positive ones. It will be better to reinforce the positive behaviors instead of the negative ones.
8. Plan Ahead
When preparing for an activity, ask yourself who will need extra help to be successful. Who should and shouldn’t sit together? I actually think about this during meal times as some kiddos get a bit too silly while food is out. Silliness = spills so I just try to avoid it as much as possible. Also think about how long they can pay attention to the activity.Will it be a very engaging activity that holds their interest for a long time?
Our pom pom activity did that! Or will it be an activity that doesn’t hold their attention as well? The engagement can vary from day to day. Sometimes our pom pom activity last about an hour and other times only about 15-20 minutes.
9. Match Their Energy
Be excited about the activity! Children are really good with reading social ques and tone of voice. If you don’t sound excited about something, they won’t want to participate. Even if it is something you don’t really want to do, but has to be done such as diapering.
There are times when a child isn’t in a good mood, I will try to grab their attention by showing them a secret toy. Which is just a toy we haven’t had out in a while. They get to be the friend who takes out the toy to others. I get to redirect them so that they are engaging with toys and friends.
10. When Things Aren’t Going Well, Start With You
At the end of a long day, when I get home, I tell this to myself. My behavior and what I do can intensify the situation, making it harder on everyone. As I reflect at home I will jot down some major behaviors that happened, what happened before, how I handled it, as well as how it affected the behavior.
Did it change or make things worse.I also think about what is going on in the environment. If the behavior happens around certain toys, a specific time of day, with certain children, etc. All of these things can contribute to a negative behavior occurring.
These won’t fix everything in an instant. Guiding behaviors takes time. But these are some tricks I use to help guide behaviors to make the environment safe for everyone.
If you find this helpful please share with others! Thanks for reading!