Behavior Management in Preschools

Reducing Behavior Problems
in Preschools
Meridian International Center
Sponsored by the U.S. Department of State
Behavior Management
A strategy for managing problems or undesirable
behaviors that are usually pre-existing by:
Eliminating an undesirable or inappropriate behavior
Reinforcing and teaching positive social behaviors
Children attending Preschool
• Each child entering the classroom comes from a
different environment
• Each child comes equipped with a different set of
behaviors, skills, knowledge, and attitudes
• Most children coming to preschool are unaware of
what is expected of them
• Some children will come to preschool with preexisting conditions that may increase the likelihood
of them displaying behavioral problems.
Role of Preschool
• To help child adjust to preschool environment,
rules, and activities
• To accommodate individual and group needs
of children entering the preschool
• Support the child in developing the skills and
knowledge to perform well, socially interact,
and enjoy the preschool experience
What are challenging behaviors
• Repeated behaviors that interfere/prevent learning
• Repeated behaviors that prevent positive social
• Examples:
– Tantrums
– Hitting, biting, pushing, pulling hair, spitting, etc.
– Swearing, using negative language, shouting, ridiculing
others, etc.
– Destroying property, games, materials, etc.
– Withdrawing, not interacting, refusing to obey rules
Why should we address these
• Children with serious behavioral problems (who do
not receive necessary attention and assistance) are
more likely to:
– Fail in school
– Be less productive citizens
– Develop more serious behavioral problems
Anti-social behaviors
Drug abuse
What can we do in the
• Identify and assess behavior problems early
• Assist child in learning and applying more appropriate
behaviors and responses
• Enhance child’s knowledge, skills and capacities to
respond and interact in the learning environment and
with others
• Provide positive reinforcement and build children’s self
confidence and esteem
• Support parents and child with home based activities
• Refer children for additional assistance
The Preschool Curriculum
The curriculum should have:
 A strong social skills development component
 A holistic approach addressing child’s physical, social,
emotional, cognitive, and spiritual development
 A strong communication, language skills and literacy
 An interactive and play based approach including using the
arts, movement, indoor/outdoor play, problem solving
Step 1: Developing Positive
Social Skills
• All children entering the preschool have a right to be
supported in developing positive social skills. Each child
will enter the preschool with his/her own “package” of
social skills that may be in line with preschool identified
“social skills.”
• Key role of teacher/caregiver is to assist all children in
developing their social skills.
• Social Skills should support:
Child’s ability to interact positively with others
Child’s own sense of self respect
Child’s respect for others – adults and children
Child’s self confidence and esteem
Child’s sense of belonging to a group
Social skills are dependent on the
child’s socio-emotional development
Socio-emotional development is based on the child’s sense of:
• Social competence (knowing what to do and say when with others)
– Capacity to participate in individual and group work,
– Understanding and ability to participate within a group setting like taking
turns, managing behavior, regulating one’s behavior, not acting out or
overstepping rights of others, ability to play in groups of 2 or more children.
• Responsibility (acting responsibly to self and others)
– Sharing and taking turns
– Not harming others – verbally or physically
– Not destroying property of preschool or others
Respect (rights of self and others)
Readiness to explore new things – willing to explore and learn new things
Pro-social and helping behavior – positive attitudes towards others
Capacity to follow directions
Socio-emotional development
Usually there are different levels of socio-emotional
• Child’s ability to express his/her emotions
• Child’s ability to cope and adapt to different settings and
• Child’s understanding that others have feelings, needs,
• Child’s ability to empathize with other (this is based on
development and maturation)
• Child’s ability to maintain relationships and interactions
with others
Suggested Activities to Support
Social Skills Development
Below are five simple activities to carry out in the classroom.
These activities should be done during the first days of the preschool opening with
all children of the preschool.
These activities should be repeated on a daily basis until almost all of the children
have learned how to perform them correctly and in the correct situations.
The teacher should observe children during the activity:
– Do any children show attention problems (cannot focus, easily distracted, forget what is
happening around them, play with other items or bother other children)
– Do any children have speech problems – cannot pronounce certain words, cannot hear well,
– Do any children seem very shy, withdrawn, fearful of other children
– Continue to observe these children. Position yourself near them so you can provide more
hands on and direct assistance throughout the activities.
– Do some children show lack of comprehension and have difficulty understanding and
following instructions
– Record your observations over time and see when the child’s behavior seems to improve or
get worse
– Provide one to one assistance and guidance to the child at a later time
– Continue to repeat this activity with them until they have mastered it. This may take
reinforcement, encouragement, praise, and lots of repetition.
Social Skills – Teaching Children How to Interact
Properly and Respectfully in the Preschool
• Select 5 phrases you want children to learn to use
Hello, my name is ____. What is your name?
Please, I would like to use this.
Excuse me, I would like to say something.
Please stop doing that, it is bothering me.
Let’s take turns….you can go first.
• Write each of these phrases on big posters. In bright,
fun colors. Make at least 3 copies of each phrase.
• Post these phrases throughout the classroom.
Suggested Activity #1
“Hello, my name is”
Group children (around 6-10 children only) in a circle. Ask the children, to repeat the phrase – “Hello, my name
is…..” (Write this phrase on 3 posters and show them to the child and explain what the words say and mean)
Let them go around the circle and introduce who they are. Each child will step forward and say – “Hello my name
is _____Ahmed.”
The other children should respond by saying, “Hello, Ahmed.”
Then the children should be instructed to turn to their right and say, “Hello my name is ( ). What is your name?”
Then they should turn to the left and do the same.
After that let the children walk around the group and introduce themselves to others and get to know the other
(The teacher should observe the group and notice if any children are having a problem introducing themselves
and/or listening to other children.)
– Approach children who are having problems and support them in introducing themselves and listening to
– Introduce yourself to the child, have him introduce himself/herself – encourage them and praise them.
– Take the child’s hand and guide them to another child. Encourage them to introduce themselves….
– Repeat 2-3 times
Show the poster with the words, “Hello my name is…..” and ask them where they would like to place these posters
in the classroom to remind them to use these nice words.
Suggested areas – near the entrance of the room, in the free play area, and near outdoor play areas.
Suggested Activity #2
Regroup the children around a table that has an object for every child. This could
include crayons, pencils, blocks, small cars, or any type of small object.
Have the children repeat the phrase, “Please, may I use/play with this?” Have
them repeat the phrase five times.
Then tell the children that each one will be able to select one item off the table.
But before taking the object, they must ask for it. This is done by saying, “ Please
may I use/play with this?”
The group should respond by saying, “Yes you may.”
After the group says this, the child is allowed to take the item.
Repeat this until all the children have taken an item.
The teacher can then say, Thank You! You have all been very nice and polite. We
will always use this phrase when we want to use something that is not our own.
She can then tell the children, “Please put everything back on the table. Thank
you very much.”
(The teacher should observe children consistently to make sure that they use this
phrase when they are playing with others. Remind children to use the phrase. Explain
to children why it is important to ask permission to use things that don’t belong to
them. This way, they are following the social rules that respect the property of others.
They will know that they can use something, no one will get mad.)
Suggested Activity #3
“Excuse me, I would like to say something”
Group the children in a circle sitting on the floor.
Hand each child a picture or photograph or object that the child can easily describe (for example, a
tomato, tree, car, etc.)
Ask each child to repeat after you, “Excuse me, I would like to say something.” Let them repeat this
5 times (or until they can say it correctly.)
Then the teacher initiates the activity. She says, “ Excuse me, I would like to say something.” She
then shows children a picture of a child and begins to talk with the children. “This is “Suha.” Suha
loves to play and talk. Every time she has something to say, she raises her hand and says, “Excuse
me, I would like to say something!” Let’s all remember to do the same. Let’s try it now. Who would
like to go next and tell us about their picture/photo?
A child should then be selected to talk about his/her picture. Make sure to encourage the child to
say, “Excuse me, I would like to say something.” When the child says, Excuse me….the other
children should all say together, “Yes you may!!!”
Each child gets a turn practicing to say…Excuse me! And then to tell about their picture.
After each child says, “Excuse me, I would like to say something,” the group of children should reply,
“Yes you may.”
This activity encourages children to learn to listen to one another. It helps them to understand that they
should ask permission to speak in class and take turns listening to one another. During this exercise,
encourage children not to interrupt one another. Praise all those who are following the rules and assist
those who are having difficulty remembering to use these words. Provide them with one on one
assistance and repetition of the activity throughout the day and in different corners of the preschool.
Suggested Activity #4
“Please stop doing that!”
Have children sit in a circle.
Ask each child to name one thing that they don’t like other children to do to them…push them, yell at them, take
their toys, use bad words
Ask the children to stand up. Tell them to repeat after you…”Please stop doing that!” They should say it in a firm,
but not loud voice. Repeat this five times.
Now have the children sit down again.
Ask one child to stand. Tell him he should walk around the circle and slightly push/tap a child on the shoulder.
The child who has been touched should stand up, face the other child and say firmly, “Please stop doing that!”
Both children should then sit down besides each other.
Ask another child to stand up and enter into the circle. Ask the child, to move very close to another child. That
child, should then stand up and say, “Please stop doing that.” Both children should then sit down besides each
Have another child stand up and have him try to take something from another child. The other child should stand
up and say, “Please stop doing that!” Both children should sit down besides each other.
The teacher should then remind the children of what to say if someone is bothering them. She should explain
that no hitting, swearing or yelling is to be permitted in the preschool. If someone bothers them they should
report him/her to the teacher after they have asked the child to stop doing that kind of behavior.
Show them the poster with the words…Please stop doing that!!!
Reinforce and praise good behavior and help those children who are having a difficult time implementing the
Reminder: Teachers should listen to all complaints from children and respond to them. Ignoring what children have to
say will lead them to act out in class and revert to negative behavior.
Suggested Activity #5
“Let’s take turns… you can go first”
Take the children outdoors.
Use the swings, the slide, or bicycles to teach children how to take turns.
Ask children to line up by height….the tallest in the front and the shortest in the
When they are in line….ask them, “Who wants to swing (or slide or ride
bikes…which ever activity you are doing?
Usually all of them want to do it. Explain that there are more children than swings
or slides. Ask them to tell you how to make sure everyone gets a turn. By using the
words, “Let’s take turns…you can go first!”
Have the children repeat the words, “Let’s take turns…you can go first!”
Now ask the children to partner with the person behind them. They should now
practice using and applying the practice of taking turns. So one of them should
initiate…”Let’s take turns” Then they can proceed to take turns on the slide, etc.
This activity can also be done indoors within any play area…puzzles, blocks, library,
Teacher should reinforce the use of the words and post a sign that shows the words
“Please take turns!”
Step 2: Developing Cognitive
Skills and Knowledge
Children’s cognitive development includes the ability:
• to process sensory information,
• to analyze the incoming information,
• to be able to use the information in short and long term memory
• to use the information in making comparisons, generalizations, and taking
Children with poor cognitive skills will demonstrate behavioral problems
because they either cannot perform the task, cannot remember what they
are required to do, or cannot use previously learned information to help them
problem solve. Supporting their cognitive development skills usually improves
behavior problems.
Remember – cognitive development doesn’t mean force feeding children with
information. It is encouraging children on how to use the information around
them…internal processing of information.
Support Cognitive Development
Through Your Curriculum-based Objectives
Cognitive-language development
Analytical skills and mental problem-solving
– This is usually done through asking questions like…”What happens next? Who do you think did it? How can
we solve this problem?”
Concentration and memory
– Keep children focused on the task. Keep them close to the materials, ask them questions, stand by their side,
guide them, ask them to tell you what they are doing, and what they will do next. Provide encouragement and
– Asking questions like, “What did you do yesterday? What did you do this morning?”
Early numerical abilities or knowledge of numbers
– Repeating numbers, singing rhymes that have numbers in them
Knowledge of letters
– Singing the alphabet song, having the alphabet and words posted throughout the classroom and asking child to
point and pronounce specific letters and words
Language and symbol recognition
– Fill the classroom with signs and words (red light, green light, stop signs, crosswalk, quiet sign, smiles,
handshake, etc.
– Label things in the classroom…door, window, books, bathroom, kitchen, wall, bookshelf, etc.
– Ask child to focus on word and say the words on a daily basis
Basic literacy
– Read stories to children, have the child sit nearby you or in a place that you can have direct eye to eye contact.
– Ask questions…what will happen next, how does the character feel, what would you do in this situation.
Suggested Activity #6
I Spy…(I See)
• Have 5-6 children sit in a circle.
• Take one child from the group. Whisper in the child’s ear, “Pick something
in the classroom. For example, a book lying on table. Let’s have the other
children try to guess what object you are referring to. What color, shape,
design is on the book that we can use to give the children a clue? The
child might say, the book is red or it is square?
• The child goes back to the group and says, “I Spy I See something….Red.
Guess what it is?
• Children take turns going around the circle trying to guess what the object
• The child who guesses correctly now takes a turn at selecting something
for the children to guess at.
This is a fun game for children. It teaches them to focus on certain
characteristics of an object, to listen to others, to see things from the
perspectives of others, and helps children to categorize things.
Suggested Activity #7
Memory Games
• Get five blank sheets of paper.
– On the first sheet, draw 3 different shapes (circle, square, X) Cut the
page into 3 sections. Turn them over and mix them up. Have children
try to identify where each of the different shapes are.
– On the second sheet, draw 4 circles using different colors for each
circle. Cut the page into 4 sections. Turn the pictures over and have
children try to identify where each of the different colors are.
– On the third sheet, cut out pictures from magazines or use stickers and
place 8 different photos or pictures (animals, vegetables, flowers, etc.)
Cut the page into 8 sections. Turn the pictures over and have children
try to guess where each of the pictures is located.
• Or another game is:
– Have children stand in a group. Each child says his name, and then the
next child says his name and the child’s name besides him, and the
third child has to say his name and the name of the other two
children. Go around the circle and see how many names they can
First Steps in
the Preschool Setting
• Set clear, positive, well defined rules and expectations for
• Identify any children who may need more targeted
assistance and support in understanding and following the
rules and expectations.
• Modify the classroom environment to accommodate the
needs of children who are experiencing difficulties in
observing rules (give more open space, provide separate
time out and rest areas, mark off specific space for a child,
• Identify additional types of activities to assist the child in
learning the rules and practicing them more frequently.
Preparatory Actions
• Meet with parents and collect information on the child – needs, behaviors,
concerns, likes and dislikes
• Develop set schedules and routines that are easy to follow and remain
• Set up clear signals when activities begin, will soon end, and what to do after an
activity is completed
• Carry out activities that encourage and support positive interactions between
children – shared accomplishments in building, painting, physical games, etc.
• Talk to children in clear sentences. Make sure they understand what is expected
of them.
• Tell children what the rules are and what will happen if they do not follow
rules…we must all take turns so that we can each have a ride on the swing, if you
push or shove others to get to the swing, you will be asked to sit on the side and
will lose your turn.
• Consistently and constantly observe children – reinforce and encourage positive
behavior and guide children who are not following the rules
How to implement in the preschool
Write up/Draw the 4 or 5 rules that you want children to follow and post them in strategic locations
throughout the preschool.
– These rules should be easy to follow
– Identify what you WANT the child to do and not what they SHOULD NOT do.
– They should be easy to implement
– Explain the rules to the children, demonstrate what is expected, and have children act out the rules one
by one – make sure each child understands what the rules are and why they should follow the rule.
Be consistent in observing children as they implement the rule – reinforce positive behaviors and encourage
children who are not obeying on how to follow the rules. If a child repetitively disregards the rules then
identify 2-3 consequences (child cannot participate in an activity for 5 minutes, the child will have to repeat
the appropriate behavior, the child will not get a sticker, etc.)
– Constantly observe children, move close by them and observe what they are doing
– Provide them with reminders (Now we are going to eat….what are the rules…Pick up the toys and games
and put them away, line up, and move to the bathroom to wash our hands!)
– Observe children who seem to have difficulty following the rules and identify what is the cause – lack of
attention, forgetting, in a hurry, etc.
– Assist child in learning how to apply the rule…step by step instruction, acting out the behavior, providing
immediate hands on assistance in a repetitive manner until the child learns the behavior (provide
consistent reminders when necessary.)
– Reinforce positive behavior with rewards that the CHILD likes.
5 Steps
• Explain (why and what is expected)
• Demonstrate and Model (teacher and child)
• Rehearse/ Guided Practice (reinforce positive
• Perform Independently (consistent observation and
guidance for children)
• Review/Reteach (not all children learn at the same
rate, individual differences in applying rules)
Helping children to learn
positive behaviors
Preschool activities should be kept between 10-15 minutes. For children
experiencing difficulties divide activities into smaller parts (5 minutes) and then
move to next activity or task.
Teacher should provide one to one assistance and guidance with children – hands
on, close and personal interventions…”Ahmed here is your crayon, here is your
paper, where do you want to sit? Keep the child focused and move them through
the activities.
Support children in partnering with one another – children learn from one another
and can be mentors. This will allow them to complete activities “together” and
raise likelihood of success.
Place signs, written words, pictures in certain places to remind children what to
do…”smile”, “share” “wash hands” “pick up toys” “listen” “talk quietly” etc.
Set up a reward systems for good behavior….children gather points for listening,
washing, etc. At the end of the day they get a sticker, take home a book, or get to
be the first one in line if they have gathered a certain number of points.
Students who don’t follow
• All behavior happen within a particular context
• All behavior serves a purpose
• Children learn to behave or misbehave based on
whether it addresses their needs
• Understanding why children act the way they do is
the first step in problem solving
Why children “misbehave”
• Sometimes to escape from doing an activity, task or
event that they do not like or feel incompetent in
• Sometimes to get attention
• Sometimes because they may have difficulty in
performance and comprehension
• Personal reward and gratification
• To be in power, to take control over others, or revenge
Teacher must observe children’s behavior to determine
possible causes for misbehaving and the “reward” the
child is receiving for acting this way.
• Before thinking about how or what kind of disciplining program you want
to support:
– Ensure you develop a warm, considerate and supportive relationship with the
child. Without this, the child is less likely to be responsive to you.
– Always demonstrate positive, appropriate and
– Observe the child’s/children’s behavior and be able to identify quickly changes
in the child’s behavior and emotional state so that you can interfere quickly
before the behavior or emotion gets out of control
– Teach the child to identify and communicate his/her emotional states, identify
behaviors or situations that are upsetting to them, to seek out assistance
when they need it
– Help the child to learn how to control their behaviors and prevent them selves
from carrying out negative behaviors (those that hurt themselves or others)
– Assist the child in calming down first. Then address the problem and how it
impacted on self and others
– Help the child to understand how the other child feels, help them to talk to
one another
– Develop and foster positive, supportive relationships with the child
• No type of physical punishment is acceptable.
• Disciplining is a way of positively educating a child.
Time out
Remove child from setting
Remove toy or game
Reduce attention and reinforcement to child
Reinforcement and Rewards
• Praise and approval for good behavior – good job, nice drawing, you
are smart, etc.
• Modeling appropriate behavior – teacher talks quietly, listens, takes
turns, is polite, smiles, etc.
• Positive programming – rewarding small steps in each of the
activities as the child performs them – by developing new skills –
“holding crayons, lining up, holding books, sharing toys”
• Shaping – reinforcing behaviors that are similar to the positive
behaviors you are seeking. “Smiling at child who is playing well
with others, encourage child who is helping to pick up toys”
• Token economy – giving child points for each good behavior. Points
can then be exchanged for a reward – child gets to pick which
activity they will do or wants to do
Steps in Analyzing
Child’s Behavior
Teacher should discuss the following issues in consultation with other teachers who may also be
interacting with the child:
What behavior is of concern to the teachers?
When does this behavior appear:
Identify potential causes for the behavior – child is frustrated, child is tired, child is uninterested
Who is around the child? Where is this behavior more likely to take place at?
What happens after the child misbehaves?
Do other children give the child what he/she wants?
Does the child get to stop doing the activity?
Does the child get more attention?
Does the child have any kind of disability or learning difficulties?
Is the child hyperactive, impulsive, have difficulty concentrating/ paying attention
Does the child have any kind of physical difficulties – movement, visual, hearing,
Does the child show signs of difficulty in communicating, autism, mental retardation
Does the child have a learning disability – reading, writing, math, memory, etc.
How can you change the behavior?
Discuss the issue with parents and see if there are joint actions to take in the classroom and at home
Discuss joint approaches to reinforcing child and guiding them towards appropriate behavior
Discuss behavior with child, what is expected of them and what actions will be taken when they
Assist child in developing skills to carry out activities or perform in a way that is not frustrating or
limiting to the child.
Intervention Plan
Identify potential causes for
child’s behavior
Teaching strategies
Communication and expression
Consequences are in place
Child is tired, hungry, unable to
perform the task, is being
ignored by the children….
Teacher supports child in
expressing what their needs
are… “I am hungry, I am tired, I
do not want to do this activity,
no one is playing with me…”
Teacher supports development
of skills – “let’s read together,
get the blocks from the top
shelf, stand in line…”
Teacher reinforces positive
behavior and explains to child
what happens if they do not
follow the rules…time out, lose
a turn, etc.
Behavior Intervention Plan
• Identify what behavior you want to change
• Set the goal.
• Discuss with the child what the goal is and how you will work
together to achieve
• Decide what social skills are needed to perform the behavior
• Decide what performance skills are needed to perform the
• Decide on what curriculum or environmental adaptations are
• Decide on what consequences child will receive
– Types of reinforcement
– Types of discipline
Problem Behaviors
Is the child demonstrating any of the following behavioral problems:
• Aggressive Behavior: Hitting, Biting, Pushing, Tantrums, Destroying Property/ Injuring Self,
Swearing, Non compliant behavior
Communication problems – not able to speak, not fluent in speech, speech articulation
problems, problems with voice, non-communicative, non-responsive, other
Personal care – not able to dress alone, not able to use toilet properly, poor hygiene habits,
problems eating
Physical disability – visual, hearing, motor, gross motor, fine mother, mental or psychological
problems, seizures,
Psychological problems – poor attention, withdrawn or isolated behavior, lacks concentration,
anxious, fear of separation, loss of interest, depressed, hyper active
Academic problems – poor logico-mathematical skills and knowledge, poor pre-literacy and/or
literacy and writing skills, poor comprehension of science/exploration/curiosity .
Initial Actions To Take
Discuss problem with other teachers and parents to get more information
on behavior and causes
Review class dynamics – is behavior happening during certain hours of the
day, during certain activities, with certain children?
Does the child do better in small group work, large group work, individual
Does the child perform better when there is more space around him/her
Does the child perform better when he/she is in quiet area or separate
from the group
Does the child do better when you give them small, short, clear tasks with
Does the child do better when he/she is given more freedom and selection
of activities
Does the child need more breaks
Does the child need more one on one contact and assistance
Initial Actions To Implement
Break down the exercise or task into smaller, shorter steps
Support the child with one on one assistance – two to three times
Guide him/her on the activity
Demonstrate for the child what behavior or outcome you are
Role model the behavior or show child a model of what is expected
Giver feedback consistently and reinforce good behavior
Change activity if child appears very frustrated
Allow the child more time to complete the activity
Encourage the child to continue with work and reinforce
Change the activity slightly by making it easier or using different
colors, materials, etc. so the child remains engaged and interested
Parent Involvement
• Discuss the plan with the parent
• Identify what actions can be done at home to
eliminate the negative behaviors
• Identify means of sharing information
• Identify set plan of action to adopt within the home
• Agree upon reinforcements and disciplinary actions.
Children with Special
• Attention Deficit
Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD
– poor attention
– impulsivity
– overactive behavior
• The frequency, duration and
severity of these behaviors
is constant.
• Emotional and behavioral
• Autism
• Learning difficulties
• Special needs
Children with Special Needs
• Discuss behaviors and
interventions with
• Identify additional
support networks outside
of the preschool if
• Support other children’s
understanding of
differences in children
and tolerance and
• Discuss need to
coordinate plans and
support mechanisms
within the preschool or
through parent
• Set realistic expectations
and goals for the child
• Support child-child
Slow and steady
• Preschool and home involvement are
• In preschool cooperation and coordination is
• Allocation of additional support from
specialists should be sought when necessary
• Consistent, thorough work with the child
usually will lead to progress
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