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    • Define positive guidance.
    • Reflect on your own ideas and experiences associated with guidance.
    • Describe why positive guidance is important for young children.




    Think back to your childhood and identify an adult who helped make a difference in your life. Was it a parent, family member, family friend, or teacher? How did this person influence your childhood? How did he or she help guide you to learn or make decisions? How did he or she encourage you? What words did this person use to tell you when you made a mistake? How did you develop ideas about yourself or other individuals as a result of your interactions with this person?

    As a preschool teacher, you play an important role in guiding the behavior of young children. You recognize the opportunity to consider young children’s strengths, temperaments, skills, development, and family culture as you determine your approaches and strategies to supporting and influencing their behavior. In essence, you help maintain a relationship-based approach to guiding young children’s behavior while meeting their needs.

    What is Guidance?

    Guidance is how you help children learn the expectations for behavior in a variety of settings. It is the way you help children know what it means to be a member of your community. It means helping children learn from their mistakes and make positive choices. It is also important to think about what guidance is not. Guidance is not punishment. It is not about control or making children fear adults. It is about knowing children and creating the best physical and social environment in which they can learn.

    Your approach to guidance for preschoolers is likely made up of different influences, such as your own childhood experiences and your personal beliefs about the role of a preschool teacher in helping children guide their behavior. Some preschool teachers may believe that it is their responsibility to maintain and control the behaviors of young children, while others may believe that preschoolers will learn to control their own behaviors through teaching and experiences. It is important to reflect on your understanding of your role and how your beliefs shape the guidance that you are providing preschoolers in your program. When guidance is viewed as a process of understanding and supporting the development of skills, in other words, as teaching, the needs of families and children can be understood, respected, and met.

    Family priorities affect children’s behaviors. For example, some families might place a high value on talking about emotions and expressing them as they occur, whereas other families may value keeping emotions quiet and private. As a preschool teacher, you need to be sensitive and respectful of individual differences in social-emotional development when engaging with children and their families.

    Guidance and Children’s Development: Understanding Proactive Approaches to Guidance

    Being able to listen, follow directions, manage emotions and actions, and peacefully coexist with other individuals are essential skills for meaningful and successful participation in life experiences, both in our professional and personal lives. Difficulty managing behaviors and emotions can cause frustration and disappointment and can strongly influence our relationships with others and our overall quality of life.

    Positive guidance helps promote the social, emotional, and cognitive development of children in preschool. When you intentionally support young children’s development through positive guidance, you help them learn one of the most important skills for school and lifelong success: self-regulation, or the ability to control one’s own feelings and behaviors. The children in your classroom and program are the next generation of our country, and it is important that they understand how to function civilly in a modern, diverse, and complex democratic society. Dan Gartrell, author of Education for a Civic Society, suggests the following five essential skills, which he calls democratic life skills:

    • Finding acceptance as a member of a group and as a worthy individual
    • Expressing strong emotions in non-hurting ways
    • Solving problems creatively—either independently or in cooperation with others
    • Accepting unique human qualities in others
    • Thinking intelligently and ethically

    Applying the democratic life skills can help ensure the long- and short-term decisions we make are helping us move in the right direction. These can be challenging to remember in the midst of a stressful situation involving a child. It is important to remember who owns the problem and what we can and cannot control. We have no control over how others choose to treat us. However, we do have control over how we react to the actions of others.

    A proactive approach to challenging behavior relies on guidance to teach a child the skills he or she may be missing. According to Patricia Hearron and Verna Hildebrand (2013), guidance can be defined as:

    • Using words and actions that positively influence the behaviors of others
    • Establishing appropriate expectations and supporting others so they do the right thing
    • Providing multiple opportunities for practice and success
    • Remaining helpful and encouraging when mistakes occur
    • Understanding your own values while respecting the values of others

    Gartrell (2004), 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.

    1. 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.

    1. The teacher practices positive teacher-child relations.

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

    1. 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.

    1. The teacher builds partnerships with families.

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

    1. 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 family members and volunteers). Positive guidance involves teamwork with other skilled adults, especially if a child has consistent, intensive challenging behavior.

    Impact of Culture and Experience on Guidance

    There are multiple factors that can influence how we, as adults, respond to a child’s behavior, including how we were raised, our personal values and beliefs, and our understanding of child development. Through careful consideration of these factors, we can better understand and improve our interactions with children and their families. This will positively influence the overall development of the children we serve. Consider a few examples of culturally determined adult expectations of children:

    • The age at which a child feeds or dresses herself or himself
    • The age at which a child uses the toilet independently
    • Whether and when a child sleeps independently
    • The amount and nature of eye contact between children and adults
    • Expectations for how adults and children talk to one another (e.g., acceptability of questioning adults, talking over one another, etc.)
    • The ways adults and children show affection (hugging, etc.)

    A mismatch between our own expectations and a child’s behavior (or family’s priorities) may cause tension. It is important to understand the variability in behaviors that might be culturally determined. In attempting to do that, it may be helpful to reflect on how your own upbringing influences how you view child guidance. For example, if you grew up in a strict home, you may view guidance very differently from a colleague who grew up in a home with few rules. You will learn more about the importance of understanding culture-based behaviors in Lesson Two.

    Your own upbringing may influence the kinds of behaviors you tolerate. For example, think about how you would respond if a child left circle time without permission in your classroom. While some teachers may have considered this child’s behavior challenging or problematic, and therefore may have expected the child to return to circle, others may think that this behavior demonstrates the child’s sense of independence and choice-making. This belief could cause the teacher to ignore the behavior. Neither of these responses are right or wrong; they are simply representations of how culture and experiences shape individuals’ approaches to guidance.

    Guidance as a Strengths-Based Approach

    In your daily work as a preschool teacher, you should think about approaching behaviors that may be challenging as opportunities to problem-solve and teach new skills. You should encourage children to assume responsibility for their behaviors, to care about and get along with others, and to contribute to the group. By doing so, you help create and sustain a positive climate that focuses on teamwork, acceptance, cooperation, and patience even when mistakes are made. When you focus on the positive traits of others, it is likely that you will see an increase in the occurrence of those positive behaviors. You can encourage other colleagues to do the same with children.


    Guidance: An Introduction

    Watch this video to hear preschool teachers share their views about guidance and its importance for children in preschool.


    As a preschool teacher, it is your responsibility to provide developmentally appropriate experiences and activities that are sensitive to children’s individual needs. As you plan and implement your program, you must remember you are setting the foundation for children’s growth and success. When thinking about guidance in your preschool classroom, consider the following:

    • Plan meaningful, fun experiences for the children in your care while acknowledging their individual differences and backgrounds.
    • Embed opportunities for guidance learning throughout your school day and provide children with multiple opportunities to express themselves in various ways.
    • Acknowledge, validate, and respond to children’s needs, emotions and concerns.
    • Remember that children’s behaviors, and in particular challenging behaviors, communicate a message and that it is up to us adults to “decode” and interpret that message.
    • Be sensitive to children’s unique life circumstances and experiences that may influence their behaviors.
    • Arrange your environment in ways that promote children’s success.
    • Use natural classroom events, relationships and interactions with peers and adults as opportunities to talk with children about emotions or challenging behaviors.

    Completing this Course

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

    Please note the References & Resources section at the end of each lesson outlines reference sources and resources to find additional information on the topics covered. As you complete lessons, you are not expected to review all the online references available. However, you are welcome to explore the resources further if you have interest, or at the request of your trainer, coach, or administrator.



    What does guidance mean to you? How do you define guidance? What experiences have shaped your thinking about child guidance? Download and print the Defining Guidance Activity. Respond to the questions. Then, share and discuss your responses with a colleague, supervisor, trainer, or coach.



    What are some of your own experiences and beliefs associated with child guidance? Download and print the Thinking about Guidance and Culture Tool. Take a few moments to respond to these questions. Then, share and discuss your responses with a supervisor, trainer, or coach.


    GuidanceHow you help children learn the expectations for behavior in a variety of settings




    Finish this statement: Positive guidance for preschool children…


    True or False? Adult expectations of certain behaviors, such as the age at which a child uses the toilet independently, are culturally determined.


    When thinking about challenging behaviors, you should do which of the following?

    References & Resources

    Berk, L. E. (2013). Child Development (9th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education Inc.

    Center on the Social and Emotional Foundations for Early Learning:

    Denham, S. A., & Brown, C. (2010). Plays Nice With Others: Social-emotional learning and academic success. Early Education and Development, 21, 652-680.

    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. National Association for the Education of Young Children.

    Hearron, P. F., & Hildebrand, V. (2012). Guiding Young Children. Columbus, OH: Pearson.

    Marion, M. (2011). Guidance of Young Children. (8th ed.), Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.

    National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (2012). Early Childhood Generalist Standards for Teachers of Ages 3-8 (3rd ed.).

    Sandall, S., Hemmeter, M. L., Smith, B. S., & McLean, M. (2005). DEC Recommended Practices: A comprehensive guide. Longmont, CO: Sopris West.

    Trawick-Smith, J. W. (2014). Early Childhood Development: A Multicultural Perspective (6th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education Inc.

    Whittaker, J. E. V., & Harden, B. J. (2010). Beyond ABC’s and 123’s: Enhancing teacher-child relationship quality to promote children’s behavioral development. NHSA Dialog, 13(3), 185-191.