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    • Reflect on your beliefs about child guidance.
    • Describe the influence of your culture, experiences, and knowledge of developmentally appropriate practices on your personal beliefs about child guidance.
    • Define child guidance and how it is a critical component of a relationship-based child care and youth program.


    "No society can long sustain itself unless its members have learned the sensitivities, motivations and skills involved in assisting and caring for other human beings." - Urie Bronfenbrenner

    Reflecting on Your Beliefs about Child Guidance

    As a program director who advocates for relationship-based care, you will need to demonstrate your commitment to positive guidance to your staff and families. It is important to examine your own personal beliefs. Your beliefs about child guidance are formed throughout your life: a) your own experiences with your family and in school, b) your cultural traditions, and c) your professional education and training. These personal beliefs about child guidance are reflected in your daily conversations with staff and families and in your personal reactions to children’s mistaken behaviors. You serve as a model for staff members in how to solve conflicts and to build a safe, caring community.

    Consider the following questions for yourself and for your staff and family members:

    1. How does your family and cultural background influence your beliefs about positive guidance?
    2. What did you find positive about your own school experiences in terms of guidance?
    3. What do you wish were different about your own school experiences in terms of guidance?
    4. How has your education and training prepared you to advocate for and communicate the importance of a positive approach to child guidance?
    5. What training and support do you need in order to lead a program that embraces the six principles of positive child guidance?

    Reflecting on your own experiences with child guidance will assist you in your ability to support your staff as they implement positive guidance practices. Share your thoughts and beliefs with your own supervisor or a trusted colleague who manages a different child care program. You are the person that staff will turn to when they need support with handling children’s challenging behaviors and with maintaining a safe, secure classroom environment. For some staff this may be a new learning experience or a paradigm shift in thinking and constructively teaching children new strategies and behaviors instead of using punishment to address children’s mistakes. It is important that you have a strong understanding of positive guidance strategies and that you can provide emotional support to those staff members who may feel overwhelmed while learning new ways to approach children’s behavior.

    What is Guidance?

    According to Marian C. Marion (2013), positive child guidance is based on principles of developmentally appropriate practice. Dan Gartrell (2012) defines guidance as “A way of teaching that nurtures each child’s potential through consistently positive (sometimes firm, but always friendly) interactions; classroom management that teaches rather than punishes” (p. 156). Adults who use positive guidance in their daily interactions with children accept that a primary goal is to help each individual child to:

    • Feel safe and secure
    • Develop healthy self esteem
    • Respect themselves and others
    • Learn to cope with a variety of stressors

    Interpersonal relationships are key to facilitating the use of positive guidance across the program environment (e.g., classrooms, outdoors, on community outings). You and the other staff members are focused on showing respect, warmth, and positive care toward each individual child.

    As a program director, you serve as the model for staff. Your personal values and commitment to the use of positive guidance principles will be evident in your daily interactions with children, staff, and families. Strong interpersonal relationships are essential to bringing these principles to life during daily program routines and activities.

    Gartrell, in The Power of Guidance, describes six practices of teachers who are committed to positive guidance:

    PracticeImplementation Process

    1. The teacher realizes that social skills are complicated and take many years to fully learn.

    Children are learning socially acceptable behavior, and it takes time and practice to develop social skills. Families and teachers guide children to learn social skills.

    2. The teacher reduces the need for children to engage in mistaken behavior.

    The teacher uses developmentally appropriate practices in order to have an appropriate match between the program’s expectations and the child’s skills.

    3. The teacher practices positive teacher-child relations.

    The teacher builds relationships with each individual child and models cooperation and empathy.

    4. The teacher uses intervention methods that are solution oriented.

    The teacher models how to resolve conflicts peaceably and encourages children to negotiate for themselves. The teacher works at managing and monitoring his or her own feelings and growth as a developing professional.

    5. The teacher builds partnerships with parents.

    From the time the child enters the program, the teacher builds positive relationships with parents through positive notes, phone calls, meetings and conferences.

    6. The teacher uses teamwork with adults.

    The teacher understands that she or he cannot do everything alone and creates a team with other adults (including parents and volunteers). Positive guidance involves teamwork with other skilled adults, especially if a child has consistent, intensive challenging behavior.

    A review of the guidance practices and what they might look like in daily interactions with children and families can be incorporated into staff meetings and emphasized in professional development plans. As the program director, you will model positive guidance in your daily practices. You will engage in building partnerships and relationships with staff, families and children. This takes self-reflection and intentional practice on the part of you and your staff. Positive guidance comes naturally for some people, while for others it will take supervision, coaching and practice.

    You and the staff must take into account individual children’s social and emotional growth and individual development when selecting appropriate guidance techniques. For example, preschool and kindergarten-age children like to participate in problem solving about issues that arise in the classroom. They can sustain attention during a 15-minute teacher-lead group discussion about a class problem, such as, “What should we do about our broken tricycles?” In contrast, toddlers have limited attention spans (typically about 3 to 6 minutes) so teachers should use brief, simple directions to guide them during classroom routines (e.g., “If you put your shoes on then we can play outside.”).

    Through daily interactions and carefully documented observations, you and staff members learn about children’s individual strengths and needs. This information helps you and the staff select developmentally and individually appropriate guidance practices. Staff will seek you out to help them understand particular child behaviors and choose appropriate guidance practices that meet individual children’s social and emotional development. As the program leader, your acknowledgement of positive teacher and child interactions, in addition to your encouragement and emotional support for staff who are learning to use positive guidance practices, will contribute to your vision of relationship-based care.

    How Does Positive Guidance Look in Practice?

    Program directors who promote positive guidance practices create an encouraging environment for all children and adults. One aspect of positive guidance is creating an environment that promotes positive behavior and minimizes the need for adults to spend time reacting to children’s challenging behavior. Positive guidance practices emphasize teaching problem-solving and friendship skills. They build children’s sense of belonging and membership in the program. In contrast, discipline, or using punishment to control children’s behavior, can be misused by adults with negative consequences for children’s growth and development.

    When teachers value and use positive guidance practices, they support the development of an encouraging classroom. The encouraging classroom environment is a setting where adults guide children to express and meet their needs in acceptable, safe ways. The child is an accepted member of the community, where he or she feels safe and secure. Children are not threatened with removal from the classroom community and they are not publicly criticized. Children’s mistakes are seen as characteristics of typical development and viewed as opportunities to learn the correct behaviors. Partnerships formed with families and peers are supportive and encouraging. Conflicts are seen as part of living in a community where adults help children learn effective conflict-resolution strategies and teach problem-solving skills.

    Supporting Positive Behavior: The Encouraging Classroom

    Positive guidance practices create an encouraging environment for children and adults.


    Gartrell writes: “An encouraging classroom is one where the physical and social-emotional environment of a community of learners empowers all children to develop and learn” (2012, p. 156). Positive guidance practices promote children’s social and emotional development. As a manager, you and your staff must work together to create a safe, warm and encouraging environment for children.

    Completing this Course

    For more information on what to expect in this course and a list of the accompanying Learn, Explore and Apply resources and activities offered throughout the lessons, visit the Management Positive Guidance Course Guide

    To support the professional development of the direct care staff members or family child care providers you oversee, you can access their corresponding Course Guides:



    How do you think about children’s challenging behaviors? Negative thoughts about children’s behavior can bring everyone down. Using negative explanations to explain why a child behaves in a challenging way can cloud your thinking about possible positive solutions. It’s important to take time to learn how to reframe your thoughts about children’s challenging behaviors. Reframing works well not only for thinking about children’s mistakes, but also how you view some adult behaviors.

    Complete the attached Reframing Activity from the Center on the Social and Emotional Foundations for Early Learning (CSEFEL). Add your own examples to the list. This is a good exercise to do during a staff meeting or a professional development period. Reframing can reduce stressful thinking, which in turn leads to happy, healthy staff members. Have staff members complete a reframing chart (similar to the one in this lesson). Help them articulate goals for actively reframing their thoughts about particular children’s behaviors. Set a group goal about positive reframing and check in at a later date to see how staff members are doing with achieving their goal.



    Gartrell provides several examples of intentional communication skills that teachers can use in their daily practices to build an encouraging classroom environment for children and youth. Download and print the Communication Skills handout. As you read these examples, think about these questions: How can you support your staff in using these communication skills?  How might you increase your use of these communication skills with both children and colleagues?

    You may want to share what you have learned in this lesson with your staff. During a staff meeting, you can also review the videos of teachers using the communication skills that help create an encouraging classroom. These videos would make great discussion starters. Staff members can think about when they use these communication skills with children.


    Cognitive ReframingA way of viewing and experiencing events, ideas, concepts, and emotions to find more positive alternatives
    Developmentally Appropriate Practice (DAP)An approach to teaching grounded in the research on how young children develop and learn and in what is known about effective early education practices. These practices should be flexible to allow for differences between children in skills, interests, and characteristics
    EncouragementSpecific, supportive statements that acknowledge effort and progress
    Encouraging classroomThe physical and social-emotional environment of a community of learners that empowers all children to develop and learn
    GuidanceA way of teaching that nurtures each child’s potential through consistently positive (sometimes firm, but always friendly) interactions; classroom management that teaches rather than punishes
    Mistaken behaviorAn intentional or unintentional action that causes a conflict or makes it harder to resolve a conflict




    Finish this statement: Teachers who are committed to positive guidance…


    True or False? Proactive guidance maximizes the need for adults to constantly be on alert for negative behaviors.


    You are observing in the preschool classroom and a staff member mentions to you that they are having a problem with children cleaning up the housekeeping center. Toys and materials are being put away haphazardly and she is not sure what to do about it. What do you suggest?

    References & Resources

    Bronfenbrenner, Urie (1979). The ecology of human development. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

    Center for the Social and Emotional Foundations for Early Learning (CSEFEL). Retrieved from

    Copple, C., & Bredekamp, S. (2009). Developmentally Appropriate Practice in Early Childhood Programs Serving Children from Birth through Age 8 (3rd ed.). Washington, DC: National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC).

    Gartrell, D. (2004). The Power of Guidance. Clifton Park, NY: Delmar Learning.

    Gartrell, D. (2012). Education for a Civil Society: How guidance teaches young children democratic life skills. Washington, DC: National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC).

    Marion, M. (2013). Positive Guidance in the Early Years: Using Developmentally Appropriate Strategies. Young Children, 68(5), 6-7.