Secondary tabs

    • List examples of how you can embed opportunities for positive guidance in preschool.
    • Learn how you can respond to behaviors that may be challenging.
    • Discuss how you can work with families to support children’s guidance and address challenging behavior. 




    The preschoolers in your care need daily opportunities to participate in activities that help them learn new skills and help them practice existing ones in fun, stimulating and supportive environments. As you learned in Lessons One and Two, children’s behaviors develop in the context of their relationships with their primary caregivers and within their families’ and communities’ cultures. You also learned that 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. Overall, it should be clear that positive child guidance helps promote the social, emotional, and cognitive development of children in preschool. In your daily work, you should embed opportunities for helping children learn the expectations for behavior in a variety of settings. You should also help children learn from their mistakes and make positive choices.

    Embedding Opportunities for Positive Guidance in Preschool: Guiding Behavior through Interactions

    Planning for positive guidance should be done throughout the day, rather than just in response to children’s challenging behaviors. As you learned in Lesson Three (Promoting Guidance: The Environment) you set the stage for children’s success and positive behaviors by establishing predictable routines, setting clear rules about expectations, being attentive to children’s needs, communicating with children’s families, and modeling kindness and respect. All of these experiences take place in the context of the relationships you build with children and families in your care. These relationships set the foundation for guidance. Relationships are formed through the many simple interactions that happen each day. This section will explain two key strategies that promote positive behavior in children: providing positive directions and providing positive feedback. Then, it will provide information on how to respond to behavior that challenges. You can find additional resources regarding planning for positive guidance in the first learn attachment.

    Distinguishing Between Positive and Negative Directions

    When a child engages in a potentially unsafe or inappropriate behavior, the first instinct of many preschool teachers might be to tell the child to stop. It is simply easier to ask the child to stop that one behavior than to think of the many other options the child has. Using directions like “No,” “Stop,” or “Don’t,” however, is not effective in the long term, and it may not be effective in the short term—think about how you might respond if someone told you to stop doing something you liked. Providing positive directions that help the child know what to do is much more effective at preventing challenging behavior.

    Instead of saying:

    You might consider saying:

    Don’t run in here.

    Walk in the hallways please.

    Stop teasing Brynn.

    Be respectful.

    Quit whining.

    Please use a calm voice.

    Don’t get upset.

    Take a deep breath.

    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). In other fields, experts recommend that the most effective business leaders use a ratio of six positives to every one negative comment (Zenger & Folkman, 2013). The table below provides examples of nonspecific and specific feedback.

    Examples of non-specific feedback:

    Instead, you can say:

    Good job.

    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.

    Strategies for Responding to Behavior that Challenges

    Even though you may use prevention strategies in your preschool classroom, there will still be some challenging behavior. You must be prepared to respond appropriately when this happens. This section will present three strategies: redirection, problem-solving, and behavior-support planning. You can explore additional resources about dealing with challenging behaviors in the second Learn attachment.


    When a child engages in a challenging behavior, you must be responsive and prepared to provide the child with acceptable alternatives.

    For preschoolers, redirection means providing an acceptable alternative to problematic behaviors. Consider these examples:

    Instead of saying:


    Stop hitting.

    Use gentle hands like this.

    Stop splashing water out of the water table.

    Please keep the water in the table.

    Don’t yell.

    Use an inside voice please.

    Quit fighting.

    How can you solve this problem?

    Don’t talk over me.

    Listen please.


    When you notice frequent challenging behavior in your classroom, try to recognize your own role in that behavior. Frequent challenging behavior is likely a sign that some type of change needs to be made. You may consider the following strategies:

    • If children become disengaged during group time, make the group time shorter than planned and switch to a more active, child-directed activity. What can you do in group time to build on children’s interests? You may want to invite a colleague, trainer, coach, or supervisor to come and observe group time in your classroom and to give you specific feedback on children’s behaviors. For example, do children begin to grow restless after 15 minutes of sitting? Is it hard to get the children’s attention again after a fast-paced dance session?
    • Help bored children find something interesting to do. Get to know the children in your classroom well, be sensitive and attentive to their needs, and take preventive steps before challenging behavior occurs. For example, if a child is wandering around with nothing to do, offer the child suggestions (“The art area is open, Braden. Would you like to paint?”)

    Behavior Support Planning

    There are excellent resources available to help you learn about positive behavior support planning. For preschool programs, you can explore the resources available through the National Center for Pyramid Model Innovations (NCPMI). There is more information about this in the Apply section. If you will be responsible for facilitating behavior-support plans, take some time now to learn about your role by visiting:

    Here are a few important points:

    • Behavior support is a team-based process and should include those individuals who know the child best.
    • Behavior support is person-centered. This involves bringing the team together to clarify a vision for the child.
    • Behavior support is focused on understanding the meaning (or purpose) of the behavior—all behavior communicates a message. The behavior-support process helps you understand that message.

    Check with a trainer, coach, or administrator for program-specific information related to working with children with challenging behaviors. NCPMI suggests that the team develop a hypothesis, or “best guess,” about why a behavior is occurring and then develop a support plan that includes a young child’s strengths, prevention strategies, ways to meet possible unmet needs, new skills to teach the child, and new ways to respond to behaviors. The team then monitors outcomes.

    Experiences and Activities that Support Guidance

    Watch this video to learn about strategies to help children be successful throughout the day in preschool.

    Supporting Guidance: Helping Children Problem-Solve

    Watch this video to learn about a problem-solving strategy you can use with children in your care.

    Conflict Resolution

    Disagreements and conflicts are common between children from toddlerhood through adolescence. The way you choose to intervene during these times of stress can directly affect how the situation unfolds. Adults may try to help preschool children resolve conflicts by playing too active of a role. Instead of letting children resolve the disagreement on their own, adults may push them to come to an agreement too quickly, perhaps because of time constraints. Though it may take more time, teaching children how to resolve conflicts on their own is an important part of positive guidance. There are two strategies we will describe here: the “five-finger formula” and group meetings.

    Dan Gartrell, in Education for a Civil Society, recommends teaching children the five-finger formula for social problem solving. This method involves assigning a definition or purpose to each finger. Once children are taught this technique, they can use their own bodies to calm themselves down during times of disagreement. The five steps are listed below, and you can read more about this technique by reviewing the article in the Learn section.

    1. Cool down (thumb)

    2. Identify the problem (pointer)

    3. Brainstorm solutions (tall guy)

    4. Go for it (ringer)

    5. Follow-up (pinky)

    Often, problems involve more than one child. In these instances, group meetings can be an effective strategy. You should take a more passive role and let the children facilitate the meeting. In some preschool programs, a “peace table” is used as a designated space to help provide a setting and structure for problem-solving.

    A group meeting should encourage the active involvement of each child, providing a safe space and an opportunity for everyone to be heard by each other. Each child is able to share his or her thoughts, feelings, and ideas regarding a problem or solution to a problem without fear of correction by peers or adults. Guidelines for group meetings should be consistent. They can occur daily, weekly, or as needed when conflicts arise. According to Gartrell, group meetings help children identify problems and work towards solutions, and they help children build skills to help them become democratic citizens.

    Some outcomes to strive for when resolving conflict:

    • All parties are satisfied with the outcome. The conflict won’t actually be resolved if the children do not feel comfortable with the outcome. It is important to continue working toward a compromise and mutual feeling of satisfaction. Otherwise, conflicts will continue to come up.
    • The relationship among the children involved has strengthened or improved in some way. This doesn’t mean that the children in a conflict will become close friends as soon as the conflict is resolved. Rather, it means that the children involved will have a deeper understanding of each other and will have worked together to come to a mutual agreement on the situation and will avoid conflict with each other in the future.
    • The children’s ability to resolve future conflicts in a constructive way has strengthened or improved. Through the process of resolving the conflict, children should learn methods of resolving future conflicts in constructive ways. You want children to be able to resolve conflicts positively and constructively on their own. This is a major life skill that will benefit them academically, socially, and in their future careers.

    Guidance and Families: Meaningful Family Participation in Preschool Children’s Positive Guidance

    It is critical in your work with preschoolers to acknowledge that families are children’s first and most significant teachers. Families teach children how to be social, how to treat others, and which behaviors are appropriate. Family involvement can help teachers incorporate family values, cultures and beliefs in their classroom and school environment. Along the same lines, involving families helps them understand what is happening in the classroom, which promotes consistency of practices between school and home. High-quality family-teacher relationships fostered through mutual respect and ongoing communication serve as important models for young children.

    Consider the following strategies to engage families in children’s positive guidance:

    • Have available in your school lending library children’s books that discuss feelings and social interactions.
    • Provide resources for families in your classroom library or school resource library.
    • Invite families to come to your classroom and observe experiences and activities that promote children’s positive guidance.
    • Be responsive to families’ needs or concerns about their children.
    • Be sensitive and respectful of individual families’ preferences or life circumstances.

    Involving Families

    In your daily work, make it a habit to reach out, work at establishing relationships, and engage in ongoing communication with families. Above all, respect families’ preferences and be sensitive to their unique needs and circumstances. In the Apply section of this lesson, you will find resources for families regarding children’s guidance. Spend some time familiarizing yourself with these resources and consider sharing them with families of children in your classroom and program.

    With the help of a trainer, coach, or supervisor, you should facilitate formal meetings with a family whose child has challenging behavior. There are several things to keep in mind to help facilitate these meetings, suggested by the Center on the Social and Emotional Foundations for Early Learning:

    • Begin the discussion by expressing concern for the child.
    • Let the family members know that your goal is to help the child.
    • Ask the family members if they have experienced similar situations and if they are concerned.
    • Tell the family members that you want to work with them to help the child develop behaviors and social skills that will help them be successful in the program and beyond.
    • Tell the families about what is happening in the classroom or program, but only after they understand that you are concerned about the child and are not blaming the family.
    • Offer to work with the family in the development of a behavior-support plan that can be used at home and in the classroom.
    • Emphasize that your focus will be to help the child develop the skills needed to be successful in the classroom or program. The child needs instruction and support.
    • Stress that if you can work together, you are more likely to be successful in helping the child learn new skills.

    Connect families with community agencies that provide behavior support. The Kids Included Together (KIT) program can also be a valuable resource to share with families. Families can get the individualized support they need in their own homes from experts. Behavior consultants may work with your program, as well, to make sure the child has a consistently implemented plan.

    When there is reason to think that an individualized behavior support plan is necessary for a child, families should be involved from the very beginning. Families should participate in observations of the child, share their perspectives on concerns across home and the program, participate in developing a hypothesis about the child’s behavior, contribute strategies to the plan, and be involved in implementing and evaluating the plan. The National Center for Pyramid Model Innovations (NCPMI) provides numerous resources to help you involve families in every step of the behavior-support planning process.


    Supporting Guidance: Involving Families

    Listen as a preschool teacher describes how she engages with children’s families about guidance.


    In your daily interactions with preschool-age children, consider the following:

    • Be responsive to children’s attempts to use social skills or to express emotions. Build on what they are saying or doing.
    • Provide frequent, developmentally appropriate models through daily activities and routines.
    • Follow children’s cues and preferences.
    • Embed activities about emotions into daily routines. For example, during center time, have children play an activity involving sorting, matching, or identifying emotions with friends or peers.
    • Ask children questions about their feelings, actions, interests, or life events. Reinforce them for using emotion words, appropriately sharing emotions, or demonstrating appropriate social skills.
    • Provide puppets or stuffed animals to act out situations or events in which children were experiencing big emotions (e.g., feeling mad, sad or excited). Ask children how they think the puppets or stuffed animals are feeling. Talk about these emotions and ask children to practice using these emotions throughout the day.
    • Identify times of day when a child, or group of children, seems to be experiencing big emotions. Create small books or simple stories with pictures about these times of the day using appropriate feeling words and responses. Read the books or stories to children throughout the day and remind them to use the appropriate emotion words during these times of the day.
    • Incorporate multiple books that help children discuss emotions and social challenges that are common for preschoolers (e.g., a friend gets a new toy you really want, a child saying, “You’re not my friend anymore!”). Encourage children to consider how the characters feel and what they could do in similar situations.
    • Tell families about some of the activities, experiences, or strategies you use in your classroom to help children practice social-emotional skills at home.

    For more information, visit the following articles and recommended sites for concrete supports to improve your positive guidance practice:



    How do interactions between children, adults and families occur in your program? Use the attached Reflection handout to write down your initial thoughts and ways to improve upon interactions. Share your reflections with a trainer, coach, or supervisor.



    The Backpack Connection Series was created by TACSEI (Technical Assistance Center on Social Emotional Intervention for Young Children, which has since merged with NCPMI) to provide a way for teachers, parents and caregivers to work together to help young children develop social-emotional skills and reduce challenging behavior. You may choose to send a handout home in each child’s backpack when a new strategy or skill is introduced to the class. Each Backpack Connection handout provides information that helps family members stay informed about what their child is learning at school and specific ideas on how to use the strategy or skill at home. This series was developed in collaboration with Pyramid Plus: The Colorado Center for Social Emotional Competence and Inclusion and Bal Swan Children's Center in Broomfield, Colorado.

    You can access the entire list of Backpack Connection Series handouts on the NCPMI (National Center for Pyramid Model Innovations) website:


    Behavior-support planAn individualized plan that focuses on understanding the meaning (or function) of a child’s behavior; it includes strategies for preventing the behavior, teaching new skills, and responding to challenging behavior
    RedirectionA strategy to focus a child’s attention on appropriate behaviors or interactions
    Replacement skill or replacement behaviorA skill or behavior that is taught to be used in place of challenging behavior; for example, if a child hits to get a friend’s attention, a replacement behavior might be to teach the child to tap her friend’s shoulder




    True or False? In preschool, positive guidance should only occur in response to children’s challenging behavior.


    You hear your co-worker, Jill, say to four-year-old Charlotte: “Stop making fun of Kaden” and later you hear her say, “Good job,” when Charlotte invites to Kaden to play with her. How do you respond?


    Finish this statement: You can engage families in children’s positive guidance by…

    References & Resources

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

    Center on the Social Emotional Foundations for Early Learning (n.d.). Talking with Families about Problem Behavior: Do’s and Don’ts. Retrieved from

    Fields, M. V., Merritt, P. P., Fields, D. M., & Perry, N. (2014). Constructive Guidance and Discipline: Birth to Age Eight. Pearson Higher Ed.

    Center on the Social and Emotional Foundations for Early Learning. Resources: Preschool Training Modules. Retrieved from

    Edwards, C. C., & Da Fonte, A. (2012). The 5-Point Plan: Fostering successful partnerships with families of students with disabilities. Teaching Exceptional Children, 44, 6-13.

    Gartrell, D. (2012). Education for a Civil Society: How Guidance Teaches Young Children Democratic Life Skills. National Association for the Education of Young Children.

    Hemmeter, M. L, Ostrosky, M. M., & Corso, R. (2012). Preventing and addressing challenging behavior: Common questions and practical strategies. Young Exceptional Children, 12(2), 31-44. doi:  10.1177/1096250611427350

    Hemmeter, M. L., Ostrosky, M. M., Artman, K., & Kinder, K. (2008). Moving right along: Planning transitions to prevent challenging behavior. Young Children, 63(3), 18-22, 24-25.

    National Association for the Education of Young Children (2010). 9x: Cooperative Games for Preschoolers. Teaching Young Children, 4(2), 6-7.

    NAEYC. Helping children get to know each other. Teaching Young Children/Preschool

    National Association for the Education of Young Children (2014). Principles of Effective Practice: Two Way Communication. Retrieved from

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

    National Center on Quality Teaching and Learning. Materials for Social Emotional Support: (1) Giving Children Responsibilities, (2) Following Children’s Lead, (3) Fostering Connections, (4) Being Aware of Children’s Needs, (5) Creating a Caring Community. Related content online at

    Ostrosky, M. M., & Meadan, H. (2010). Helping Children Play and Learn Together. YC: Young Children, 65(1), 104-110.

    Ostrosky, M. M., & Sandall, S. R. (Eds.). (2013). Addressing Young Childrens Challenging Behaviors (Young Exceptional Children Monograph Series No. 15). Los Angeles, CA: The Division for Early Childhood of the Council for Exceptional Children.

    Sanchez, D. D., Steece-Doran, D., & Jablon, J. (2013). Planning for Positive Guidance: Powerful interactions make a difference. Teaching Young Children, 6(2), 8-10. Retrieved from

    Sandall, S. & Ostrosky, M. M., (Eds.). (1999). Practical Ideas for Addressing Challenging Behaviors. Young Exceptional Children Monograph Series. Longmont, CO: Sopris West.

    Santos, R. M., & Ostrosky, M. M. Understanding the Impact of Language Differences on Classroom Behavior. CSEFEL What Works Briefs. Retrieved from

    Stanton-Chapman, T. L., & Hadden, D. S. (2011). Encouraging Peer Interactions in Preschool Classrooms: The role of the teacher. Young Exceptional Children, 14(1), 17-28.

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