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Challenging Behavior

As early learning educators, it seems as if we are on a quest for the magic tool or technique to eliminate challenging behaviours in the classroom. I sadly must report that this tool does not exist. When managing challenging behaviours, your first line of defense is to change your attitude when a behaviour presents itself.

It’s time to become a detective and figure out the root of the behaviours. If you A) stop taking the behaviour personally and B) believe that the behaviour is an attempt to communicate something to you, you will be on your way to figure out why the behaviour is occurring.

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Every child in your care is a unique individual. This is the reason that a one-size-fits-all approach to behaviour management is not practical. Even though each child is unique, they all require that the same fundamental needs are met.

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When you have a misbehaving child, you should take a deep breath and ground yourself. Approaching the situation calmly and compassionately will initially help to diffuse the situation. Ask yourself or the child when they are calm, what it is that they need. The chances are good that the child will have a difficult time telling you what they want. Little people with big emotions are hard-pressed to explain their feelings because they don’t understand those feelings, to begin with.

Very young children are challenged when they are expected to self regulate. Children will act out when they don’t get what they want. They are impatient and demand immediate attention and gratification. Self-regulation is something that each of us must learn in order to grow into a responsible adult. Children with behavioural challenges in the early years will often become adolescents who skip school, consume alcohol or drugs and have run-ins with the law (Lipsey & Derzon, 1998.)

This is where your detective work becomes essential. Why is the behaviour happening? Look at the first level of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Is the child hungry? Is the child in pain?

At the second level, ask if the child is missing a parent who is away for work? Did the goldfish die? Are they in a new home, a new bed? Has the situation in the classroom changed? Is there a new teacher or has a good friend changed rooms, or left the program entirely?

On the third level, you might question if the child plays easily with others. Does this child know how to enter into play with other children? Does he/she know the words to use? Do they get the time they need with a loving and supportive adult? Are they included with all the other children, or are they singled out for their challenging behaviour? Have you ever said something like, “James, everyone here is waiting for you to sit quietly? We can’t start our story until you sit nicely.”

On the fourth level, is the child able to make choices throughout the day? Most children have few opportunities to make personal choices regularly. When we move the children from one activity to another (I like to refer to this as “herding” children), they are not allowed to decide for themselves which activities they want to immerse themselves into on that particular day. Are the children in your classroom acknowledged when they do something good, or when they are misbehaving? It’s challenging to switch your thoughts, but helpful when you start catching children being good. When everyone is recognized thoughtfully and honestly when they are good, other children will see how easy it is to get the teacher’s attention!

At the top level, children need the chance to create and to expand their knowledge. Providing open-ended learning opportunities does this and so much more. Crafts do not allow for creative opportunities. There will be children who will do the craft well, and others who will avoid the activity because they know that they can’t do as nice a job as their peers. Crafts are the opportunity for children to follow directions; there is nothing creative going on. If a child is misbehaving, ask yourself if they need the chance to explore or to do a deep dive into a subject that is interesting to them?

This detective process will take time, and you will make mistakes. That’s okay. Finding out what a child needs is the first of many steps you can take to manage challenging behaviours in your classroom. Next week, we will discuss motivation and how that impacts behaviour. You will also learn about a cool tool that can help you figure out what makes your children tick.

Until next week.

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