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Behavior Management: A Continuing Challenge

Posted by on in Early Childhood
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angry teacher2

I taught preschool for thirty years, in a half-time preschool, full-day preschool, and full-time child care. If anyone understands this difficult but rewarding job, I do. Every year there were “good” children—no-stress children who listened, did what they were asked, and had a network of friends—and “bad” children—highly stressed and stressing children who got attention in the worst way. Yelling out of turn, throwing anything at hand, even hitting and kicking were ways a “bad” child got attention. If the teacher ignored them, they would ramp up their efforts, like a pitcher using his “slider” to get a batter OUT! You know this child?

There is much that teachers are still doing that make behavior worse. That much is clear. Do you still say, “Sit there and think about what you have done?” Do you give long-winded explanations to a barely verbal chld about why you are having that child closed from an activity (one source calls these commercials)? Do you complain to parents because you feel that they should be better at their job? Do these strategies work for you? If you feel like every day you are, like Sisyphus, pushing that boulder up the mountain, then stop. There are no “bad” or “good” kids. But when you are at the bottom of the mountain again, you start feeling that it’s true.

How do you cope? Don’t immediately think ADHD. That is where teachers, parents and others seem to land. The mother of a girl in my group asked me, after one conference, if her daughter had ADHD. The mom was surprised to hear me say that ADHD should be the last thing we would look at. A study recently came out explaining that children just about to enter kindergarten are increasingly diagnosed as having ADHD. This diagnosis and its subsequent medication happen 34% more often if they have August birthdays, these in states where the kindergarten cut-off date is September. The authors of the study believe that this is due to developmental issues, not medical ones. How obvious to me, to you. Children a year younger will be less attentive, more wiggly than those a year older. Why should they not be? Diagnosing and medicating them without looking at the bigger picture is medical malpractice.

Resources for you, as an Early Childhood Practitioner, are actually numerous. Social/emotional development (“social skills,” we used to say) are the hot topic even in state learning standards. One resource is the Center on the Social and Emotional Foundations for Early Learning (CSEFEL). There you will find tools for teaching social/emotional skills, and ideas for creating visual prompts that facilitate a child’s understanding of rules and routines.  You can read about the Pyramid Model, which is an educator’s visual for understanding that social/emotional learning is supported by layers of guidance, not by one-size-fits-all rules. You can read through the NAEYC Standards for Professional Preparation, which emphasize understanding child development, and find a training program that helps you to learn about this topic.

Rae Pica’s work on YouTube gives tips for behavior management through active learning. If young children are naturally active, and learn with their bodies as well as their brains, then you can get help by learning about movement-based teaching strategies. Browse the videos for tips on how to make learning developmentally appropriate, and fun! Rae has worked all of her professional life urging teachers and administrators to teach with development in mind. Why should we, as teachers, expect young children to learn while sitting still? I can hardly do that myself. Use her resources, including her internet radio shows.

Why do I hear that so many preschool teachers don’t sing? I have used sung directions, suggestions, responses so frequently that children departing our program comment that our singing was a highlight of their year! Of course children love to sing. To me, not singing is teacher malpractice. You do not need to be good at it, only to hold love and acceptance in your heart while you do it! Not only will it lift the spirit of everyone, yourself included, but it will put everyone in a better, and more effective, mood. Singing directions, singing “waiting songs,” singing up the stairs, singing down the stairs, and singing children’s names (names are the first way children begin reading) makes young children happy and more eager to participate. Yes, it makes some exuberant and full of energy, but you are not the type of teacher who, against all understanding of children, expects them to “sit still, damn it!” You (as my friend Rae says), understand chlld development. 

There are so many ways to connect to each child and “manage” their behavior (we want to teach them to manage their own behavior, ultimately) that the boulder you are pushing will turn into a small stone before you know it: that, or the mountain will be made plain. Children, and their parents, will be ever so grateful in the long run.

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Gail teaches Early Childhood Education as an Adjunct Associate Professor for Northern Virginia Community College, one of the largest community college systems in the country. She is a popular trainer in the DC area, leading workshops on such topics as Engaging, Arts-Based and Outdoor Learning, and Guiding Behavior. She is a member of the Virginia Community College Peer Group which collaborates with the Virginia Department of Social Services to train and license childcare professionals throughout the state. Her blog on BAM's EdWords is referenced in several arts websites, and is used in Early Childhood courses throughout Virginia. She is also a member of NAREA, the North American Reggio Emilia Alliance. You can contact her for more information about Professional Development opportunities. 


Gail lives and works in Northern Virginia. Her special interests include arts-integration, play, Reggio Emilia, music and yoga. 

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Guest Tuesday, 15 January 2019