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The Angle, March 2018 – Promoting Desirable Behavior

This past January, Child360 was honored to present at the inaugural West Coast Young Child Expo & Conference. The New York-based Expo brings together a broad range of influencers such as teachers, social workers, occupational therapists, psychologists, pediatricians, and academics. Everyone involved shares the same desire: to improve the lives of America’s children.
At the event, Child360 had the privilege of presenting on the topic of “Promoting Desirable Behavior”, but with the twist of “how to be one-step ahead of misbehavior”.
The topic transcended teachers, social workers, academics, parents – all audience attendees, so it was only fitting that we revisit this topic for our readers. We sat down with Senior Quality Services Specialist, Carolina Valdovinos, for further insight. “These strategies have just as much significance for parents and caregivers as for the ECE professionals who have attended Child360’s trainings on the topic.”
Before we get to the quick-tips and strategies to remember, there is a key methodology that will serve as the framework for all: Be proactive rather than reactive; plan ahead; know what you expect of the children, and set the expectations. “Think about some of the proactive ways of supporting positive behavior instead of being reactive, meaning waiting until a misbehavior occurs. Be intentional about your own preparation. Give children clear instructions so they know what is expected of them and how to demonstrate it. Lastly, staff must be consistent with rules and expectations; this advice is equally valuable in the home setting.”

How do I stay one-step ahead of misbehavior?

  • Stay engaged with the kids. You can do this by moving about the room, making sure to learn each child’s unique temperament, and setting up the environment with the goal of successful learning.
  • Seek to understand the social-emotional expectations and limitation for children at each age.  “The [developmental stage] of children… [will dictate] what kind of materials are set out, how inviting the environment is to support their learning, and what the interactions look like; such as, how are the teachers responding to and/or guiding the children’s behavior.”
  • Redirection is key. Positive discipline can come in the form of redirection. Young children respond much better to clear instructions and specific explanations. An ineffective statement such as “Be nice” or “Good job” is better replaced with, “We are going to use kind words when we talk to each other” or “Thank you for picking up the blocks and putting them away.”
  • Praise the child as much as disciplined. Effective redirection “focuses not only on negative behaviors, but acknowledging positive behaviors the children are engaging in.”
  • Monkey-see-monkey-do. When children default to desirable behaviors, it may be because they’ve had them positively modeled and encouraged—it’s more constructive (and harmonious) than the discipline necessary to counter negative behavior.
Because we’ve all been there before, we conjured up some scenarios to help you visualize these tactics:
  • How do I manage transition time? Eg. transitioning from a high-energy activity (such as outdoor play) to a calmer setting, like story time. There’s a training video Child360 uses to illustrate the concept, showing how the teacher plans ahead to calm the children and encourage focus. She first leads them in a clapping exercise that helps disperse energy, then gives clear instructions about what’s going to happen next, and what the expectations are for their behavior. The key is being highly communicative, at their age-appropriate level. This can include subtle, nonverbal cues that let children know what they should be doing: lights off to signal clean-up time, or lightly touching a child on the shoulder to signal they need to settle down.
  • How do I teach children to use an inside voice? Parents, caregivers, and other family members have an equivalent role as behavior models. For example, Patrick A. Coleman, writing in Fatherly about using parental modeling, stresses the importance of taking children out and about in order to show them social norms in different settings. He calls this the “Volume Tour.” Developmental experts at Child360 support this strategy, adding that it’s equally important for parents to self-regulate their reactions to inappropriate loudness or other negative behavior: Use calm language to express “sadness” or “disappointment,” but also be on the lookout to praise appropriate noise levels with positive reinforcement.
  • I’m a parent – how do I adopt these methods at home? 
– Set clear expectations, and be consistent in reinforcing them.
– Build calm and focus, which encourages positive behavior. Many adults will recognize these strategies from yoga or meditation practice: Press your feet into the ground. Place one hand on your stomach to feel your breathing. Tighten all your muscles, then release. Even by doing the exercises together, and looking into your child’s eyes, you’re practicing the technique of redirection.
The advantages of proactive versus reactive strategies are evident in classroom productivity and individual success. Children know what is expected of them, and are encouraged to take ownership for their own behaviors. Building autonomy helps with development of social-emotional skills, and children have a higher overall level of engagement. Proactive strategies prevent and limit misbehavior, creating a more positive atmosphere.
**An additional note: Observing how well a teacher employs these strategies can help parents to judge relative quality when choosing a preschool provider.