Tag Archives: challenging behaviors

Challenging Behavior: How Can You Support Children?

challenging-behaviorIf there is one topic I have talked a lot about during my early childhood career it is that of challenging behavior. I have learned over the years that the more information that is known about the child, the family and the behavior, the more successful adults are in figuring out what supports to provide. There are many considerations to be mindful of when deciding how to handle challenging behavior. Understanding the causes behind behavior as identified by The Program for Infant and Toddler Care (PITC) can give insight on how to support children.

Developmental stage
Children are naturally curious and at each stage of development they work to master new skills as they realize the new things that their bodies are able to do. This can be seen when a child climbs onto a low table, gets into cabinets or tosses a toy across the floor.  Offer children a chance to practice these skills in safe and appropriate ways. If a child is climbing on furniture, bring a climber into the classroom. If children are throwing blocks, offer them soft toys and balls that are safe to throw. It is also  important to verbally explain what the expectations are: “Blocks are too hard to throw. You can throw this ball.” Children are in the process of learning and mastering various skills and adults need to remember, “This too shall pass.”

Individual differences
Each child in your program brings something special and unique to the classroom. Just because children are the same age does not mean all children act the same.  Understand and identify a child’s temperament  to get insight on how to help support them. Be flexible and find ways to individualize expectations based on the children that are currently in your care. If a child feels comfortable wearing a jacket in the classroom, allow them to wear it until they are ready to take it off.

The environment
It is important to bridge the gap between the home setting and the child care setting. Children will better understand what is expected of them and feel confident in their surroundings. Build relationships with families and share information back and forth. Any sudden changes at home are more likely to be communicated which can be helpful when children show signs of distress or challenging behavior. It is also appropriate to constantly reflect on expectations that caregivers/teachers have to make sure that they are developmentally appropriate and set children up for success.

Does not know but ready to learn
Consider a child who is new to a preschool classroom and hasn’t had access to many of the tools and materials that are available. They see a pair of scissors in the art area, pick them up and begin cutting on their shirt. The child knows that the scissors are for cutting but they may not know what is appropriate to cut. With the guidance of adults, children can learn what the expectations for using scissors. It is important to remember that children often times need reminders of those expectations. Stay calm, model appropriate behavior, explain what the expectations are and give reasons why the expectations have been put into place. Is it to keep them safe or to keep the materials safe? Whatever the reason trust that a child can learn to understand them and be a valuable member of the classroom community.

Unmet emotional need
This is a rare cause for challenging behavior and can be the most challenging. It may mean that additional support is needed for the adult and/or the child. PITC suggests “actively respond through deeds not words, [be] giving not withholding, [offer] support not punishment.” When a child is behaving to try to get a need met, it is even more important to meet the child’s needs with “quiet firmness and patience.”

These five causes of behavior can help adults decide how to plan and support children’s behavior. When adults observe, ask questions, build relationships and use responsive caregiving they in turn find ways to support children in their development. Children are able to learn from their mistakes, make corrections, problem solve and through this build their self-confidence.

The magic of learning about emotions

Children have the right to be able to understand why they are feeling they way they are feeling.

Children have the right to be able to understand why they are feeling they way they are feeling.

Last month I wrote about steps to end temper tantrums. In step number five, I mention that “When children know they are in a safe, loving environment, they will learn how to calm down. They will know you will be there for them. This is when the real magic will happen.” What do you think that real magic is? Is it enough for a child to know what emotion he or she is feeling? What do children do with the knowledge that they were angry or frustrated? How do we help them understand why that feeling occurred in the first place? The why behind the feeling is how we help children learn what they can do the next time a child might take their toy or react to a situation calmly and say, “I don’t want to join group time. I want to keep building with blocks.” Whether it’s a choice for that child to continue building or not, all children should feel safe and capable enough to express themselves through words.

As children learn about their emotions and the “why” behind them, they are more likely to gain confidence in their ability to express their feelings. They can learn how to negotiate and work with their peers to solve problems. They can also learn to know that if they are frustrated they can ask for help. If they are angry they will have the skills to use words or stomp their feet rather than hit or kick another person.

This doesn’t happen overnight. Children need A LOT of practice along with consistency, empathy and compassion from adults as they learn these new skills. This process starts from the earliest days of life. Teachers have to meet children where they are developmentally and support what they may need in that moment. Teachers can then scaffold their learning and help them to the next step in their social/emotional development. It is also important to remember that children need practice from situation to situation. Just because a child has learned how to say, “Give my toy back,” in the dramatic play area doesn’t mean they will know what to do or say if a child knocks over their block structure.

The true magic to supporting and helping children to calm down and learn about their feelings and emotions also includes helping them learn what to do with those feelings as they happen. Children have the right to be able to understand why they are feeling they way they are feeling. This support will help children learn how to become socially successful and emotionally secure.

Southwest Ohio ECE providers, do you need support in learning how to teach children about their emotions? Check out these upcoming 4C for Children workshops:

Sometimes peer pressure isn’t all bad

Imagine if you could remove all threat of peer pressure from the life of a child. Teaching would be a lot easier. Parenting would be a lot easier. Or would it? In fact, without peer pressure your job might become surprisingly harder.

There can be a positive outcome to peer pressure!

Picture the scene at your early childhood center: A group of preschoolers have invented a game. They have become pretend fire fighters. They leap from the climber and race towards the slide. Caught up in the action, all five of them zip down the slide –even the child who ordinarily won’t go near one on family outings at the park or a typical day on the playground. He’s astonished to discover that slides are actually fun after all.

Or picture this sandbox confrontation: “If you run your truck into my tower one more time, I won’t invite you to my birthday party.” Never mind that the party isn’t for another ten months, wielding threats about birthday parties is the ultimate in preschool peer pressure. The perpetrator, truck in hand, considers the threat and makes a wide detour around the tower and, just to be safe, around a half-constructed ice cream store as well. Lesson learned.

At times peer pressure can coincide neatly with exactly what parents are working on at home. For example, healthy peer pressure can encourage a child to develop new interests, a hope of many teachers and parents alike. The young truck driver in the sand box decides to try building towers instead of following his current interest in knocking them down. The child who was fearful of slides finds himself enjoying a fast ride on one. In much the same way, a toddler in diapers steps right up to the toilet to be like his potty-trained friends and a child who prefers wrestling to reading, heads toward the book corner because that’s where the other kids are.

Many teachers and parents hope that their children will somehow learn to “fit in” in the larger world.  The child who was warned not to ram his truck into another child’s sand tower learned a valuable lesson in fitting in. He found out there are certain behaviors other children won’t put up with. And that kind of peer pressure sends a stronger message than all the adult admonitions in the world.

What if all these new interests and feelings of fitting in also involve some less desirable behaviors? What if the new tower builder learns to throw sand? The child on the slide finds out about pushing? The toddler discovers the delights of flushing socks down the toilet? Such things happen, of course. Fortunately, over the years your child’s desire to be like you will turn out to be the stronger force. Episodes of peer pressure are temporary, while your love and concern as a teacher or parent are ongoing.

No one can eliminate peer pressure from a child’s life, though perhaps one would want to.  Certainly it will make you uneasy at times and will call for your intervention at others.  If you find yourself worrying about peer pressure, remind yourself of its advantages:  It can expand a child’s interests, help him or her learn to fit in, and even support early attempts at independence.

Why does a child react negatively to change?

When I am talking to adults about children and their experiences, I typically try to think of ideas on how to connect the “adult life” to the child. I want adults to think of their own experiences and feelings and realize that children go through the same process.

Sometimes children react negatively to the slightest change in the classroom. What's a teacher to do?

For example, I recently finished 6 weeks of radiation therapy. Every Monday I would have to see the doctor after my treatment. There is a group of nurses that work in the department, so I could have 1 of 3 people take care of me. The first time I went Amy, the nurse, took my vitals, walked me to the exam room, and prepped me for the doctor. After that visit, I was always a little aggravated if Amy wasn’t the one going to take care of me. Even though we had only met once, she was “my person”. She was the one who started off my relationship with the doctor. She set the tone for the whole appointment. If I didn’t get to see her, the visit wasn’t as comfortable. Don’t get me wrong, the other nurses were completely competent. They were nice and friendly. They just weren’t Amy.

As I thought about that it really hit me that as an adult, I had a choice. I could choose my attitude during my visits. I could choose to be happy about the care I was receiving. I always received quality care, regardless of the nurse. Or, I could choose to be mad that Amy wasn’t available for me.

Compare this to a young child. Can a young child choose to make the best out of any situation? My belief is no, they can’t. Young children are still learning how to self-regulate. Think about the young child who has a primary caregiver. Every day this caregiver is with the child–feeding, diapering/toileting, talking. Then one day the caregiver isn’t there. What is done to help this child adjust? Is the absence of the caregiver explained to the child? Is the child prepped for the caregiver’s absence? What do the adults do to respect the relationship between the child and the caregiver?

Can some young children self-regulate? Of course, some children have a temperament that is easy going and they just go with the flow. Other children, however, have a harder time regulating their emotions, regardless of their age. I believe as adults, we should prepare children for changes and transitions regardless of temperament and age. When the school-age teacher is leaving for the day and another teacher is coming in, the children should be informed of that change. When the toddler teacher is going on lunch break, the children should be told the teacher is leaving and if the teacher will be back. This is just respectful. The children rely on the adult for security. That security means that the children can interact and learn throughout the day. Without security, learning won’t happen.



More Than Just a Biter

Many years ago when I was a young and naive preschool teacher, I met with the parents of a child who would soon be entering my classroom. Aaron was an adorable 3-year-old boy with bright blue eyes and a gorgeous smile. As I was observing Aaron shyly interacting with a few of his peers, Aaron’s mother dropped the bomb. She said the words that have haunted teachers since the beginning of time: “Aaron has problems with biting.” I must admit my world went dark for just a moment. But as a professional, I was able to offer a smile and a bit of encouragement. I told her we would work together to help Aaron.  We both wanted Aaron to be happy and successful in the classroom, but my heart was in my stomach.

Children bite for many different reasons! Strategies to understand and cope with biting in the classroom, and at home.

After the family left I began to ponder this new challenge. What was I going to do? What if he hurt another child? What if he hurt me? Instead of worrying I decided to investigate. I began my research by talking with more experienced teachers. I wanted to hear and learn from their experiences. I read articles in magazines and textbooks. I also had a more in-depth conversation with Aaron’s parents. I asked questions and I listened.

There are many reasons children bite. Infants and toddlers bite because it’s part of a normal developmental phase. It is a form of exploration since they learn most about their world through their mouth. Sometimes they bite simply because something is there to bite or because biting relieves the pain of teething. Toddlers sometimes bite as a form of communication. Young children lack the language and communication skills to say, “I want that,” or I’m tired.” So, they bite to express a need or as a way of telling us something important. Sometimes children even bite because they are so happy and excited that they truly don’t know how to express it.

As children reach preschool age, biting occurrences should decrease. However, preschoolers may bite for the same reasons as infants and toddlers. A preschooler may bite to exert control over a situation where he feels helpless. He may bite for attention, as a self-defense strategy or out of extreme frustration and anger. In very rare cases, a preschooler’s bite may indicate deeper issues and concerns.

It’s important for adults to be aware of the circumstances surrounding biting. Does biting occur around the same time each day? What happens just before and after an incident? Can the teacher see the frustration building in the child before he bites? Can the teacher intervene before the biting occurs? Are there any changes in the child’s health, family or home life that may be causing the child to feel the need to bite? What can the teacher do within the environment to prevent biting?

When biting occurs, try and stay calm. It’s important to step in immediately but don’t yell, offer lengthy explanations or say things to crush the biter’s spirit. It’s okay to firmly say things like, “I don’t like it when you bite people. It hurts.” Or simply say, “No biting!”  It’s even better to offer the child the words he needs to express himself. For example, a teacher can say, “I know you are very sleepy, but it’s not okay to bite your friends.” Teachers should also help the child who has been bitten. It’s important to comfort the child and apply the appropriate first aid.

Most of all, it’s important for every child care center to have a policy addressing biting.  Teachers and parents should know the policy, follow it and support it.  After all, everyone wants the best for the children. We all want children to feel safe and loved.  Only when those basic needs are met are children free to relax and learn.

After Aaron entered my classroom there were a few biting incidents and some tears, but with support and team work Aaron and his classmates learned that although every behavior has meaning not every child has to be labeled because of his behavior.  Aaron was not “a biter”. He was an innocent little boy who sometimes bit others but most of all he loved learning and being with his friends.

– Patty

Bribes Don’t Change Behaviors

Have you noticed that while bribes and threats may give short-term results with children, their behavior changes never seem to last? I have discovered this with my own children—it’s easy to look for a quick fix when a challenging behavior rears its ugly head, but sometimes a quick fix can turn on you.

When my middle daughter was two, we used to take weekly Saturday morning trips to the grocery store. Often, these trips went poorly, but on one sunny morning I was sure we could make it through without trouble. My daughter was very engaged in the shopping, talking with me about the food we were choosing, and I hoped my prediction might be correct.

Just about the time I started to relax, my daughter began to get squirmy. Out came the bribe: “If you can be very good while we’re here, I will buy you a candy bar at the end.” And it worked…for about five minutes. Soon she was trying to climb out of the cart, tearing packages, and crying her eyes out!

Next came the threat. “If you keep acting like this, I will never take you to the store again!” She gave me tearful promises that she would behave, but continued to make a scene, defeating my attempts to calm her down.

At last, a miracle happened. Right as we approached the candy bar display, my daughter’s tears dried up. She sat up in the cart and smiled at me. “Look Mom, I am being good!” I realized that she was right…at that moment she was being “good.”

That day I took a long hard look at my response to her challenging behavior. I needed to consider my part in perpetuating that behavior. Is weekly shopping on a Saturday too much for a two year old? (Yes, it is!) I needed to look at why and how I could change this situation—something that we need to examine whether we’re dealing with children of our own or children in our child care programs.

On subsequent shopping trips, I adjusted my behavior so she would adjust hers. When I asked her to behave, I specified the behavior that was not acceptable, and gave her a logical consequence for that behavior. “If you get out of the cart again, we will need to leave the store.”  And just as importantly, I followed through—if she got out again, I left the store instead of continuing to offer bribes or threats.

And guess what? It worked for me! When I stopped doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results, I finally got the behavior I was looking for.

Shocked on the Sidewalk

I just overheard a very disturbing conversation. I couldn’t stop listening, and I imagine my mouth was wide open as I heard 3 mothers talk about their children. “When he does that I put hot sauce in his mouth,” one said, to which the other responded, “Well, you know you can use Ivory soap, that’s okay.” Then they all laughed. I was not laughing. It is not okay.

I was dumbfounded. I still don’t exactly know what to say. I am going to try to pull myself together and make something of this.

I know this happens. Children can be challenging, especially when they are learning independence and how to communicate. When children misbehave, there are a variety of reasons for the misbehavior. Generally adults are pretty impatient, and expect children to behave like miniature adults.

When I was in kindergarten I acted out a lot. I broke my teacher’s special heart-shaped pencil. I put a whoopee cushion under my teacher’s chair. By her standards, I was probably labeled a “bad kid.” Truth of the matter is, I didn’t have enough to do, and I was trying to get some attention. My desire to have time with my teacher and to be cared for by her manifested itself in these misbehaviors. I might as well have been screaming “PAY ATTENTION TO ME, I NEED YOU!”

Adults often have their own agendas for children and inappropriate expectations. Children act out, and they are punished instead of getting to the root of why the child acted in a certain way. The most appropriate way to handle a child’s mistaken behavior is to look into why the child behaved a certain way and then what the adult can teach or model so that the child responds differently next time.

It takes a little more time than grabbing a bottle of soap or winding up for a spanking, but no child should ever suffer like that.