General Principles for Behavior Management
Nearly all children demonstrate behavioral problems from time to time. Although these problems are relatively common, they are, nonetheless, disruptive. Teachers and parents however, should avoid attempting to control children's behavior (Crary, 1984). Control means that someone else takes over and determines what events occur. Parents and teachers need to learn how to respect children and their ability to control their own behavior. When children are in control of their behavior, it makes them more receptive to learning experiences whether at home or at school (Eisenberg, Lennon, & Roth, 1983).
This respect should be demonstrated in language and actions (Honig, 1985). Children should be told what it is that adults like about them, and shown they are valued by receiving smiles and hugs. Showing respect also includes taking time to listen to what they have to say. When children feel they are respected, they are better able to stay in control. Even when children do not behave rationally or in control, however, they should still be respected and loved.
Children respond more positively to being told what they can do rather than what they cannot do. Adults would be bewildered if their bosses were to say, "I don't want you to be lazy today," Adults and children prefer and expect to be told what needs to be done, A phrase such as, "Today, we should work together and get this project completed," demonstrates positive expectations.
Whenever possible. children should be given choices rather than told exactly what to do. Adults must be careful, though, not to overwhelm children by providing too many or giving them choices that are "developmentally inappropriate" (Factor & Schilmoeller, 1983). Instead of being told, "Sit down and eat your apple," choices such as. "If you want a snack, you need to sit down. Would you like an apple or an orange?" could be provided.
Children tend to respond positively to a comment such as, "Today, we are going to have fun sharing with our friends," rather than, "Today we are not going to grab toys from our friends." Adults should avoid overloading children with negative statements such as no, don't, stop it, quit that, cut it out, and you can't. Most children gradually stop listening when there are many "no's." Messages of "no" may discourage children and cause them to begin to feel negatively about themselves. Telling children what not to do also does not provide them with information about what they should be doing.
Children should be continually reassured that they are worth loving and can learn how to do new things. When children sense that other people value them, they are more likely to approach and persevere at tasks they find difficult (McGinnis & Goldstein, 1990). When children sense that adults do not like them or think they cannot be successful, they are more likely to resist participating or to fail when they try.
When children are unsuccessful, they frequently hear comments such as, "That was too hard for you" or "Can't you do anything right?" These messages tell children they are not expected to be successful. Messages such as, "That's a really hard job. Let's try again," encourage them (Wyyckoff & U nell, 1984).
Adults should not attack children's personal worth by using statements such as, "I should have known you'd behave like a monster." Comments that condemn or compare such as, "You'll never amount to anything" and "Why can't you be more like your sister?" may damage a child's self-esteem (Wagonseller & McDowell, 1979). Frequently, when a child is /lot behaving in the desired manner, adults believe the child's behavior must be managed or changed. In some cases, this is true, but in many it may be necessary to change the environment rather than the child (Crary, 1979).
Adults may also need to change their own expectations. Some children intentionally misbehave to get attention. Different children need different levels of attention. Frequently, children with special needs require extra attention because they find it more difficult to succeed (Baumrind, 1977). Therefore, they are likely to respond in ways, positive or negative, to help ensure that people acknowledge them.
Adults too often leave children in situations in which the children have trouble coping due to a lack of sufficient adult supervision. Adults often expect more self-control and mature behavior from children than they can achieve. For example, if a child is constantly taking cookies from a cookie jar, the cookie jar should be put out of sight and reach. If children are fighting over a toy day after day, the toy should be removed. Although attempting to reason with children is admirable, it may not be effective with children less than four or five years old.
Adults must acknowledge each child's needs, which means working with rather than against a child. For example, a child who has difficulty sitting for long periods of time should not be expected to sit quietly for a ten-minute story. Standing back, observing children, and planning acceptable ways to accomplish certain goals is generally more successful than using a predetermined formula for interacting with children (Izard & Malatesta, 1987). Consistency among care providers is also important. When care providers respond in different ways or respond inconsistently, children cannot learn rules or accomplish goals.
Teachers should establish appropriate classroom expectations. They must be certain that they are not requiring children to engage in activities that they are not mature enough to handle. Teachers should analyze the classroom schedule of activities, physical layout of the room, and level of organization for activities to determine whether these factors are contributing to management problems (Linder, 1983). For example, an overcrowded classroom, too few toys, or tasks that are too difficult may lead to aggression.
Teachers should make sure that they consistently deal with behavior problems. They must take responsibility for supervising children and anticipating problems and preventing them from occurring. They should also analyze whether the environment is one in which children are likely to be successful (Bailey & Wolery, 1984). Teachers often need to seek help from a consultant (e.g., a social worker or psychologist), someone less emotionally involved, to help solve behavior problems. The table below provides a list of suggestions that facilitate positive classroom interactions.
At times, adults will need to attempt to modify or limit children's behavior to ensure their safety. Limits should be communicated clearly. calmly, and consistently. It is important to acknowledge that children see the world differently from adults. Things that are obviously unsafe from an adult's perspective are often not seen as unsafe by children (Berkeley & Ludlow, 1989). For example, adults frequently assume that, because children are taught not to run inside one building, they know the rule and "should know better than to run indoors" anywhere. Children. however, often do not know what adults expect of them. They frequently do not generalize expectations from one situation to another (Bredekamp. 1987). In addition, adults often inconsistently respond to children's behavior. For example, they allow children to run down hallways some days but not others.
Rules sometimes help children control impulsive behavior. Too many rules, however, lead to their being forgotten and broken (Carta, Schwartz, Atwater, & McConnell, 1991). Rules should be reasonable, enforceable, and appropriate for children's age, health, and developmental level. It is unreasonable to tell a child to sit on a chair until apologizing—the child may never apologize. Rather than saying, "Don't throw the blocks," a child could be told, "Build something with the blocks or we will put them away." If the child throws another block, the blocks should then be put away.
Adults should avoid overloading children with a large numbers of rules. At preschool and daycare centers there should be no more than four or five classroom rules. They should be easy to understand and focus on what children should be doing rather than on what they should not be doing (Dunst, 1985). For example, a rule should be stated as "walk in the building" rather than "no running in the building."
When children misbehave. it is generally best to teach them "desired" behavior rather than to use punishment, which includes applying a negative consequence or penalty (Dunst, 1986). There are times when using punishment is necessary, although punishing children does not teach them proper behavior. Punishment should not model aggressive behavior such as yelling or put the child at physical or emotional risk (Wicks-Nelson & Israel, 1991). It is unethical and illegal for teachers to use aversive behavior management techniques.
Behavior management takes a great deal of time and thought. In fact, it initially takes more time to manage than to than punish children. Punishment only indicates types of behavior that adults find unacceptable. Behavior control tends to emphasize negative aspects of behavior and is generally used after an undesirable behavior has occurred. It includes use of negative comments or punishments and does little to support or encourage desired behavior (Fisher, Hand, Watson, VanParys, & Tucker, 1984). Adults often attempt to change several kinds of negative behavior at once. This is not reasonable. It is necessary to determine which behavior should be focused on first.
Behavior management includes what is modeled to the child. Adults need to make sure that they are modeling appropriate behavior (Garwood, 1983), and should ask themselves whether they would want a child to repeat their action and language. One of the major goals of most preschool and daycare programs is to help children acquire socially appropriate behavior (Parker & Asher, 1987). It is best to manage the classroom by creating a positive learning environment that encourages desirable behavior, but sometimes teachers must modify undesirable behavior. It is often difficult, however, to agree on which types of behavior warrant intervention.
Strategies for Encouraging Positive Classroom Interactions
- keep classrooms neat and organized
- create classrooms that are attractive and colorful
- create play centers
- establish a special area for disruptive children
- begin activities promptly
- plan ahead and develop routines
- use positive interaction styles
- learn from experience and be willing to change
- ignore undesirable behavior whenever possible
- reinforce desirable behavior
- use nonverbal signals to indicate that inappropriate behavior must stop
- move close to the child who is misbehaving
- remove tempting objects children want or fight over
- follow through on your warnings
- discipline privately whenever possible
- use time-out, but not excessively
- tell children to "stop"
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