Please recognize that we ALL display ALL of these behaviors SOME of the time. You can clearly think of a time that you wanted to gain attention, wanted control of a situation or person, acted in revenge for a wrong committed against us and had a lack of self-confidence in trying something new or speaking in front of others. What makes behaviors cross that line into “inappropriate” is due to the frequency and/or intensity in which they are displayed. For example, tapping on a desk in of itself is not inappropriate, but if it is done 100 times every few minutes, it becomes inappropriate. The frequency of that behavior has made it intolerable. On the other-hand, one violent temper tantrum is considered inappropriate, even dangerous, and needs to be dealt with immediately. The intensity of this behavior is what has made it intolerable.
What are the effects of these behaviors? These behaviors affect three groups within the classroom:
- For the teacher, inappropriate behaviors:
- Create stress and anxiety
- Can create negative feelings about the child or the child’s family
- May cause the teacher to respond with inappropriate behavior
- For the “problem” child:
- The reactions of the teacher or other students often aggravates the inappropriate behavior
- The interactions and responses may cause negative feelings about school, the teacher or the other classmates
- The interactions and responses may feed the child’s negative feelings about themselves
- For the other children, witnessing the behaviors and interactions/responses:
- Cause fear and anxiety
- Create stress and tension
- Can trigger their own inappropriate behaviors (modeling, retaliation, avoidance)
- Can cause children to withdrawal
- Often cause negative feelings about school, the teacher or the classmate
Understanding behaviors and their cycle helps us to determine solutions! Here is the cycle of most behaviors:
- Something triggers the behavior – not enough sleep, parent yelled at them on the way into school, they made a mistake. We may or may not have seen or know the trigger, but it happened.
- The behavior is displayed or acted out
- There is a response to the behavior – either from you the teacher or from fellow classmates. This response is the critical point in which we can change behavior for the responses will either escalate or deescalate the behavior
Now you are ready to create a plan. The plan should be made
up of five parts:
- Our goal – how do we want the behavior to change? Not just, “I don’t want them to hit anymore” but “They must keep their hands to themselves during circle time.”
- The environment and/or schedule – the easiest way to make changes is to look at the class environment and schedule. Are there too many transitions which some children have difficulty with? Have you alternated active and passive activities? Is the room too hot? Is there too much clutter? Are there enough materials so that the children don’t feel competitive or possessive? All of these factors can push some children into acting inappropriately.
- Our responses – our response to the behaviors is extremely important. Here are some questions you should ask yourself to know if you are on the right track:
- Am I consistent?
- Do I tell the children what to do rather than what not to do? (“Please walk”, instead of “Don’t run”)
- Do I react negatively when I see this behavior or this child?
- Do I dislike this child?
- Does my tone convey my feelings?
Remember that everything you say and do,
or don’t do, is a lesson!
4. Positive consequences – what positive ways can you
provide feedback to change this behavior?
c. Tokens or rewards
f. Your time
5. Negative consequences – what negative
consequences can I utilize to change this
a. Deny access to people or things
b. Take away privileges
c. Take away responsibility
d. Take away choice
Remember to “make the punishment fit the crime”! Use the negative consequences when you can’t gain results with positive consequences, not as the first choice. Many use “time-out” and, although it can be an effective form of a negative consequence, it should not be used for all inappropriate behaviors. If a child wants to control a situation and not get involved in an activity, what better way to accomplish this than to be “removed” for time-out? Do you want to make a child that already feels like a failure or worthless removed with the signal that they have failed and are not worth our investment of time and energy to help?
I once read a refrigerator magnet that has since become my motto for consequences, it went something like:
You break it – you fix it (even feelings I say)
You get it out – you put it away
You build it – you tear it down
You tear it down – you build it back up
You mess it up – you clean it up
You turn it on – you turn it off
And so on… it makes sense to me and it is a logical way to plan consequences. Now, I do not need to wonder what consequence should be used and this helps me to be consistent and impersonal. “Oh honey, I’m sorry that you knocked down his tower, you’ll have to tell him you’re sorry and then you need to spend some time building it back up.” As soon as that child rebuilds the tower, he then needs to walk away and play with something/someone else.
Just as in that example, having a plan for dealing with difficult behaviors is critical to handling them properly and effectively. Too often we react instead of act and this can make us vulnerable to making poor choices ourselves. If our emotions get involved, we may not be consistent or the behaviors we witness may tap into our anger, frustration, annoyance and fear. These are natural and expected feelings, but ones we should not act upon.
Another way to plan both positive and negative consequences is to think about what each behavior needs and then give it as a reward or take it away as a consequence. For example:
Attention seekers want attention. Rewards should be of attention; from the teacher or the class. “Look at how nicely Tanya is playing today!” The consequence is then the removal of attention through ignoring or physical presence from either the teacher or of classmates.
Some final points:
1. Stay calm
2. Always treat the child with respect and compassion
3. Listen to them
4. Give choices only when there really is a choice
5. Speak to them privately and eye-to-eye when possible
6. Give simple and clear directions
7. Always think, how would I want someone to treat my child if they did the same thing?
© Copyright by Marcy Hemminger and Primarily-Kids.
All rights reserved. 2005.
Permission is granted to reprint this article in your newsletter or magazine with the byline:
Marcy Hemminger is a speaker, author and creator of the
“Setting the Stage for Learning” curriculum system and a book entitled:
“Ugh, Assessment: Discovering your children through assessment”.
Send an e-mail to:
or call 540-882-3395
Mendler, Allen N. Just in Time: Powerful Strategies to Promote Positive Behavior. National Education Service, 2004.
Adams, Suzanne K., Joan Baronberg. Promoting Positive Behavior: Guidance Strategies for Early Childhood Settings. Prentice Hall, 2004.