How can teachers help young children learn expected behaviors?
Page 1: Preventing Challenging Behavior in Young Children
Early childhood teachers* identify children’s challenging behaviors as one of the most difficult aspects of their jobs. In fact, this is the number one area for which early childhood teachers report feeling the least prepared. To be successful, teachers must be able to prevent and respond to challenging behaviors. Often, these behaviors can be prevented through universal teaching practices or preventive practices that are designed to benefit all children in the classroom. One powerful preventive practice is establishing clear behavior expectations and rules and systematically teaching and encouraging children to follow them. This preventive practice can have a significant impact on children’s behavior and help classrooms to function more smoothly. It creates a common ground for how children and adults are expected to treat each other. The use of this practice also builds a strong classroom community, promotes physical and emotional safety, and helps children develop confidence and competence as they grow.
Listen as Mary Louise Hemmeter talks about what teachers can do to prevent challenging behaviors in young children (time: 1:26).
Mary Louise Hemmeter, PhD
Nicholas Hobbs Chair
in Special Education and Human Development
Transcript: Mary Louise Hemmeter, PhD
So the first thing we tell teachers about challenging behavior is to make sure that they are doing everything they can to prevent problem behavior. And so with really young children, with preschool-age children, most of their problem behavior can be prevented either by how we design their environments, how we teach them routines, how we teach them expectations, how we provide predictability and consistency in their day, or through teaching them social skills and emotional competencies that they can use to get their needs met in place of using problem behavior to get their needs met. Most of the time, challenging behavior in young children is related to not following directions or not doing what people want you to do, teachers or parents. We think by having behavior expectations that tell children what you expect them to do, you’re being proactive about teaching them the expectations, reinforcing those expectations, rather than telling them what not to do when they engage in a problem behavior. We really see behavior expectations as a way to promote the skills you want to see, and by doing that you automatically prevent some of the problem behavior.
Most educators recognize that rules offer children more predictability in the classroom and should be incorporated into a good management plan. Formal expectations, including rules, should be routinely taught, posted, reviewed, and practiced.
(Van Acker, 2007)
*In this module, the term “teacher” refers to any adult who works with children in a classroom or childcare setting.