- Describe children’s challenging behaviors.
- Learn ways to document and minimize children’s challenging behaviors.
- Describe unique situations that children in military families may encounter that could result in challenging behavior.
- Create a resource guide of community and installation resources that assist providers and families with children’s challenging behaviors.
Children’s Challenging Behaviors
All children engage in challenging behaviors from time to time. As adults, we can help children learn new and better ways to communicate their wants and needs instead of using challenging behavior.
These can vary depending on who is encountering the behavior. To a parent, whining may be viewed a challenging behavior, but to a child care provider, the whining indicates that the child is communicating a want or need. The provider may see other behaviors as challenging (such as hitting), but easily tolerates whining.
Challenging behavior can be exhausting for both children and adults. Preventing the challenging behavior from occurring is ideal. In Lesson Three, you learned how daily schedules and predictable routines can promote positive guidance. You also learned that understanding various stages of child development helps you know which behaviors are age-appropriate and which behaviors are not.
Children’s behavior is a form of communication. Adults have to think about what a child may be trying to communicate by engaging in a challenging behavior. The adult must think about what may be behind the child’s behavior and take the time to understand how to help the child learn better forms of communicating. Parents must be involved in helping you change children’s challenging behavior. It is not something a child care provider can do without parent input. Changing challenging behaviors can be difficult if a child has learned to obtain adult or peers’ attention or preferred items (e.g., toys, candy, etc.) by using these behaviors.
Documenting and Minimizing Challenging Behavior
To understand what a child is communicating, it is important write down information about when the challenging behaviors occur. Keep a notebook or an index card handy so you can jot down what happened before, during, and after the challenging behaviors. In the Explore section of this lesson, there is a helpful tool to help you detail the behaviors you observe. You may be able to see a pattern that tells you what triggers the behaviors. Having written documentation over time can help you share specifics with parents and work with them to find ways to decrease a child’s challenging behavior.
The Illinois Early Learning Project tip sheet, Helping the Often-Angry Child describes actions that a provider can take to help children learn how to manage their emotions and minimize challenging behavior:
Providing Feedback on Children’s Behavior
In your daily interactions with children you should strive to provide them with specific feedback about their behaviors. Cases of positive feedback should outnumber cases of negative or corrective feedback. Educational researchers recommend a ratio of five positives to every one negative comment or correction (Walker, Ramsey, & Gresham, 2004). The table below provides examples of nonspecific and specific feedback.
Examples of non-specific feedback:
Instead, you can say:
You worked hard on building that structure.
That’s not right.
Can you try it a different way? Let’s look at this other puzzle that you did.
I like your drawing.
You used red, blue, green, and purple. It’s so colorful!
You’re so smart.
You stuck with that problem and figured it out.
I like the way you’re listening.
Joni has her eyes on me and her hands in her lap.
Notice in the examples above, there is also an emphasis on describing what the child is doing and on his or her efforts rather than ability (e.g., being smart). Messages like these help children persist in challenging tasks or situations and help children derive internal satisfaction from their work or good deeds, rather than continually seeking outside approval.
When a child engages in a challenging behavior, you must be responsive and prepared to provide the child with acceptable alternatives.
Redirection means providing an acceptable alternative to problematic behaviors. Consider these examples:
Instead of saying:
Use gentle hands like this.
Stop splashing water out of the water table.
Please keep the water in the table.
Use an inside voice please.
How can you solve this problem?
Don’t talk over me.
Helping Children Learn to Resolve Conflicts
Another way to minimize challenging behavior is to teach conflict-resolution skills. Adults can teach preschool and school age children to resolve their differences in calm, peaceful ways. Children who can solve problems and resolve conflicts peaceably have more friends and are more likely to be chosen by their peers. Children can learn how to negotiate without hurting others—a skill that will help them throughout their lives.
As a family child care provider, you will need to support children as they learn the conflict-resolution process. For younger children, you will have to be their voice to help explain what they want to an older child. You will serve as a facilitator, and your presence during the conflict-resolution process will help children feel safe and secure as they learn to mediate their own problems.
When children have decided on a plan to resolve a conflict, you will still need to be there to support them in following their agreed-upon plan. You can help them write down the plan and refer to it if they forget their decision. Reading stories that involve characters who solve conflicts peaceably can help children learn problem solving skills that will serve them both at your home and in other settings.
The following video shows how a child care provider teaches children how to resolve a conflict.
Unique Situations in Military Families that May Impact Children’s Behavior
Children in military families may encounter many more life transitions, moves, and separations from parents. Children may engage in challenging behavior when these types of unique transitions occur. It is important to provide children with loving, responsive care during these difficult times.
Unfortunately, children in military families may also experience death of a parent or significant adult. Be sure you have resources available to you, the child, and the family to help a child cope with mourning. Learn about installation resources, community resources (e.g., programs for grief counseling, school-based social workers and counselors, etc.) so you can be prepared to support a child who may be experiencing stress, anxiety, and fear due to loss or separation from a loved one.
Communicating with Families about Challenging Behavior
It can be difficult to start conversations with families about their child’s challenging behavior. Some parents may truly never see their child behave the way you describe him or her because children may act very differently in different settings. To be able to have difficult conversations, you must first build a trusting relationship with the family. Jodi Whiteman of Zero to Three describes three practices that help with those difficult conversations:
Building relationships with families takes time and attention. Having a family’s trust makes it easier to work together when addressing children’s challenging behavior. Solving a child’s challenging behavior takes a team effort (family child care provider and parents). Online resources can be helpful in learning strategies to try with a particular child. The Kids Included Together (KIT) program can also be a valuable resource for ideas and techniques to address challenging behaviors.
Sometimes, finding solutions extends to collaborating with professional personnel from community agencies and schools. As a family child care provider, you can create and share a resource list of local and installation services that may be helpful to families in addressing children’s challenging behavior. Your careful attention to addressing children’s challenging behavior will leave a lasting impact as each child in your care grows and develops into a caring, emotionally secure individual.
Using what you have learned in this course, download Documenting Children’s Behavior and observe the children in your family child care program. Taking time to reflect on when and where behaviors occur can help you understand what children are communicating through their behavior. Reflect on your observations and share your thoughts with your trainer, coach or family child care administrator.
The following list of websites and online resources are available to help parents and providers with addressing children’s challenging behavior. Take time to review these resources and bookmark those you may want to refer to in your work with children and families. You may want to share any favorite resources with families who ask for information about addressing children’s challenging behavior and supporting emotional development.
Websites and Online Resources for Addressing Challenging Behavior
- The Center on the Social and Emotional Foundations for Early Learning (CSEFEL) focuses on promoting the social-emotional development and school readiness of children from birth through age 5. The website offers resources, in English and Spanish, for families, trainers, teachers, family child care providers, and states. It also includes training modules about infants/toddlers and preschoolers, and a module for parents. http://csefel.vanderbilt.edu
- Devereux Early Childhood Initiative (DECI) promotes young children’s social and emotional development, resilience, and skills for school success by establishing partnerships among early childhood educators, mental health professionals, and families. DECI offers training for practitioners and parents and an assessment program for infants/toddlers and preschool children. http://www.centerforresilientchildren.org/
- Early Childhood Behavior Project was designed to increase the availability of resources about positive behavioral support for young children who engage in challenging behavior. The website offers tip sheets, case study examples, information for parents, and guidance on building a technical assistance team. http://www.cehd.umn.edu/CEED/publications/tipsheets/default.html
- Guidance Matters, a Young Children column by Dan Gartrell, discusses early educators’ use of guidance to foster young children’s development and learning. The column is published in the March, July, and November issues of Young Children, and an archive of the columns is available online. https://dangartrell.net/guidance-matters-columns/
- National Center on Pyramid Model Innovations (NCPMI) creates free, research-based resources to help parents, providers, administrators, and policy makers apply best practices when working with children who have or are at risk for delays or disabilities. The website includes a glossary of terms, briefs on systems and procedures, and related links.
The resource below, High Scope Conflict Resolution Steps, was adapted from content at https://www.highscope.org/. Teaching children to resolve conflicts themselves you may add to their social and emotional development by providing them with the skills to negotiate with others.
- How might you use the High Scope Steps to Resolving Conflicts with the children you care for?
- How would you use role play with the children to teach them the steps?
- For school-age children where might you write down the steps so they are handy to review when a conflict arises?
Look for children’s books and stories you can use to teach conflict resolution and problem-solving skills. Children’s books are a wonderful way to start discussions among you and the children about ways to solve problems.
Center for the Social and Emotional Foundations for Early Learning (CSEFEL). Retrieved from http://csefel.vanderbilt.edu/index.html.
Dodge, D. T., Rudick, S., & Colker, L. J. (2009). The Creative Curriculum for Family Child Care (2nd ed.). Washington, DC: Teaching Strategies, Inc.
Extension Foundation. (2015). Ways Child Care Providers Can Teach Young Children to Resolve Conflicts. Retrieved from http://articles.extension.org/pages/25762/ways-child-care-providers-can-teach-young-children-to-resolve-conflicts.
Extension Foundation. (2015). Helping Children in Child Care Handle Anger. Retrieved from http://articles.extension.org/pages/25796/helping-children-in-child-care-handle-anger.
HighScope Educational Research Foundation. (2016). Social Development. https://www.highscope.org/
Illinois Early Learning Project. Retrieved from www.illinoisearlylearning.org.
Kits Included Together (KIT, 2012). Supporting Children & Youth with Social-Emotional Needs. Kids Included Together & National Training Center on Inclusion. Retrieved from: http://www.kitonline.org/html/about/publications/2012_social_emotional_booklet_general_audience.html.
National Center for Quality After School Programs. Retrieved from http://www.sedl.org/afterschool/resources/curriculum.html.
Whiteman, J. (2013). Connecting with Families: Tips for those difficult conversations. Young Children. 68(1), 94-95.