Variables Associated with Appropriate Behavior in Young Children (page 3)
Several variables are associated with appropriate behavior in young children, including the level of adult supervision, consistency of consequences, readiness for academic achievement, and environmental considerations. The absence of these variables has been found to place children at risk for antisocial behaviors.
The strongest predictor of appropriate behavior in children is the quantity and quality of caregiver supervision (Kauffman, 2001; Lewis, Colvin, & Sugai, 2000). When caregivers monitor children's behavior-where the children play and with whom their children play-they are showing children that they care about their well-being, that there are specific physical and behavioral boundaries, and that there are caregivers who will monitor their safety.
Caregivers must strive for a healthy balance between restrictiveness and permissiveness. When caregivers are overly restrictive, children tend to be submissive, dependent, and unable to take risks. When caregivers are overly permissive, children tend to be noncompliant, delinquent, and careless. A lack of caregiver supervision is also related to children's association with property destruction (e.g., breaking toys) and student misbehavior during school transition periods (Colvin, Sugai, Good, & Lee, 1997). Hetherington and Martin (1986) state that children will have positive outcomes when parental discipline is firm and consistent, yet loving and responsive.
Perhaps the most significant variable in managing young children's behavior is consistency. "Consistency helps make an environment predictable" (Bailey & Wolery, 1984, p. 242). Consistency builds understanding and trust between caregivers and children. Children learn what to expect and what is acceptable and unacceptable behavior when caregivers are consistent in what they say and how they respond. Children learn the likely consequences for their behaviors when caregivers consistently follow through.
In the absence of consistency, children are likely to be rebellious when caregivers finally do try to respond to inappropriate behaviors. Children tend to be noncompliant with caregivers who are inconsistent because they have learned that the caregiver doesn't always mean what they say or say what they mean. Caregivers who are inconsistent when disciplining children tend to be harsh and hostile because they are frustrated by their children's lack of compliance. In fact, they have taught their children not to listen to them by not following through in a consistent manner. This inconsistent and hostile relationship is associated with children's aggressive, noncompliant, and delinquent behavior.
When young children enter school, at either the preschool or kindergarten level, educators have certain expectations about their skills and behavior. Unfortunately, many young children do not have the skills or behaviors to meet even minimal teacher expectations. The potential outcome for these children includes social and academic failure, poor relationships with educators and peers, and the risk of falling further and further behind the norm throughout their school years.
Parents and early childhood caregivers can improve the chances of success for young children entering school by teaching them basic readiness skills, including
- appropriate social interactions with caregivers (listening, compliance, following directions);
- appropriate social interactions with peers (sharing, playing, turn taking); and
- appropriate environmental behaviors (use of toys and other materials, in-seat behavior, attention to environmental cues).
Caregivers teach these skills through verbal instructions and practice. We have already provided the example of children who have been read to from an early age; they are likely to sit and listen when caregivers read a story within an educational setting. Sitting and listening are not just behaviors; they are skills that children must learn to succeed in school. Children who learn to share and cooperate from an early age are likely to get along with their peers in later years. Children who learn to take care of their toys and not to be destructive are likely to generalize these skills and behaviors to the school environment. These children 'will be ready to learn and ready to expand their social relationships with new caregivers and peers.
Both teachers and parents alike need to realize the importance of environmental influences on young children's behavior. The purpose of considering these influences is to establish an environment that serves to prevent inappropriate behaviors in preschoolers (McEvoy, Fox, & Rosenberg, 1991; Nordquist & Twardosz, 1990). Of course, prevention is the best form of intervention. While structuring the physical environment, one should keep in mind that the preschool child is struggling to become independent yet still requires caregivers' close support and guidance. Although the preschool setting is the most typical educational environment outside the home, the passage of Public Law 99-457 in 1989 has promoted the provision of early childhood services within the context of the family. Thus, many early childhood intervention programs are home based.
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