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Guidance: An Introduction

This lesson will introduce you to the topic of guidance and how behavior correlates with child development. The importance of relationships and the ways they help to support positive behavior in all learners will also be discussed.

  • Define behavior and guidance.
  • Discuss the correlation between behavior and childhood development.
  • Develop the tools necessary to create positive relationships with school-age children.



Think about an adult who had a positive influence on you as a child. This person might be a family member, teacher, coach, or family friend. What do you remember most about this adult? Did this person provide just the right blend of positive guidance and firmness? Did they maintain a nurturing relationship with you while offering sound advice? How did they help guide you on how to make good choices and understand the importance of your actions? As a school-age staff member, you have a unique opportunity to help shape children’s behaviors by using positive guidance techniques in the learning environment. This is an important role because the proper use of positive guidance will teach children self-control, responsibility, and accountability. These are all qualities that are important as children grow and develop into their adolescent and teen years.

Understanding Behavior and Guidance

Children from all over the world, with varied backgrounds, personalities, temperaments, and abilities, will be coming together in your school-age program to learn, play, grow, and discover. You will be encouraging children to interact, to make friends, and to work together on projects and goals. When children work and play together, challenging behaviors can create obstacles. As a school-age staff member, you will use guidance tools to influence the behaviors and experiences of the children in your program.

It is important to understand what behavior is before thinking about how you can use tools to guide it. The American Academy of Pediatrics says behavior is communication: it is “the conduct, actions, and words that children employ—a signal with which they express their thoughts, feelings, needs, and impulses.” Behavior is judged on whether it fits into social, cultural, developmental, and age-appropriate standards. The community within the school-age program can be disrupted when a child behaves in a way that is outside of those standards. Challenging behaviors can result in physical or emotional harm, and the atmosphere and flow of the learning environment can be affected.

In this course, we will refer to behaviors as either positive or challenging. Positive behaviors are the types of actions, reactions, and responses that are appropriate for the school-age learning environment. These are behaviors that you will be modeling, encouraging, and teaching. Challenging behaviors are those that do not reconcile with the standards listed above. These behaviors will require further guidance techniques in an effort to influence positive behaviors.

Understanding Culture-Based Behaviors

Children learn behaviors in the context of their relationships with their primary caregivers and within their families and cultures. If you think about how diverse our society is, you can imagine that this diversity is also expressed in the ways children from different backgrounds learn how to express themselves, interact with others, and manage their behaviors and emotions. Consider, for example, eye contact. While in some cultures children are taught to avoid eye contact, other cultures consider eye contact an essential component of social interaction. Another example is that of personal space. You can think of this in the context of your own upbringing. Maybe you grew up in a family where there were a lot of children or other individuals in the home. As a result, you may have developed certain ideas about the significance of personal space and your ability to tolerate being really close to other individuals. Alternatively, maybe you grew up as a single child or with fewer children or individuals in your home. These experiences could have created a different set of views about personal space and being really close to others.

In your daily interactions with children and their families, it is important that you cultivate the habit of thinking about or addressing children’s behaviors while considering their home and community cultures. To help illustrate this idea, Santos and Cheatham (2014) used the iceberg analogy to suggest that what we can see on top of the iceberg are children’s behaviors and language as expressed in their daily interactions with peers and adults in their classroom and school environment. These may be related to performing tasks independently, making friends, following directions, or being able to control themselves. What we cannot easily see beneath the iceberg, however, is what usually drives or explains some of these behaviors. Norms, perceptions, or traditions drive children’s behaviors, and therefore when children engage in certain behaviors, we should step back and think what may be causing these behaviors instead of rushing to make judgments about children or their families.

There may be skills or behaviors that are valued and reinforced within children’s homes and community cultures that are different from what is valued in your program. As a school-age staff member, you must be sensitive and respectful of individual differences when engaging with children in your care and their families. In other words, you have to look and think “beyond the surface” when considering children’s behaviors that may be challenging or different from what you would have expected.

  • Language and Behavior
  • Norms
  • Rules
  • Perceptions
  • Beliefs
  • Traditions
  • Attitudes
  • Assumptions

What is Guidance?

Guidance is how you as a staff member help children know what it means to be a member of your program’s community. It is the way you help children learn the expectations for behavior in a variety of settings. Guidance means helping children learn from their mistakes and make positive choices. As a school-age staff member, you have the responsibility to guide, influence, and teach children appropriate social behaviors. This is called positive child guidance. Positive child guidance promotes school-age children’s self-control, teaches accountability, and encourages thoughtful choices. The most effective guidance strategies focus on respect and the developmental level of the child, preserving their self-esteem and dignity. It is also important to understand 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. When children feel belittled or misunderstood, the relationship with their caregiver can become negative and the child’s desire to learn or to be kind to their peers can be inhibited. Conversely, when school-age children’s feelings and actions are validated, this encourages positive relationships with adults and peers alike. As a school-age staff member, this means you may spend less time dealing with challenging behavior and more time implementing stimulating learning experiences and activities.

A Life Skills Perspective: Understanding Proactive Approaches to Guidance

Positive guidance can help build important social, emotional, and life skills. The children in your program are the next generation of our country and it is important that children understand how to function civilly in a modern, diverse, and complex democratic society. Dan Gartrell, author of Education for a Civil 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 to ensure the long- and short-term decisions we make are moving us in the right direction. However, this can be challenging to remember when in the midst of a stressful situation involving a child or another adult. It is important to remember who owns the problem and what we can and cannot control. We have no control over the ways others choose to treat us. We do, however, have control over how we react to the actions of others.

A proactive response to challenging behavior relies on guidance to teach the child the skills he or she may be missing. According to Hearron & 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 that they do the right thing
  • Providing ample opportunities for practice and success
  • Remaining helpful and encouraging when mistakes occur
  • Understanding your own values while respecting the values of others

Additionally, Gartrell (2004), in The Power of Guidance, describes six practices of teachers who are committed to positive guidance:

Practice Implementation 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.

Developing Relationships

The atmosphere of the learning environment and your ability to guide the behaviors of school-age children will greatly depend on the bond that children feel with you. It is your responsibility to work at building and developing relationships with the children in your care. When it comes to working with school-age children, the bottom line is children need to trust and respect you. According to the Council on Accreditation’s Standards for Child and Youth Development Programs, staff members should develop positive and supportive relationships with children by engaging with them and relating in positive ways.

Examples of this standard in practice are:

  • Helping children feel welcome, comfortable, and supported
  • Recognizing positive achievements
  • Modeling positive behavior through your interactions
  • Treating everyone with respect
  • Listening to what children have to say and responding to them with interest, appreciation, and acceptance
  • Being consistent and following through on what you say

Supporting Positive Behavior in School-Age Children

By developing positive relationships and using proper guidance techniques, you will help support positive behavior in school-age children.

Examples of positive guidance tools you will learn about in this course are:

  • Conflict resolution
  • Positive reinforcement
  • Proactive guidance
  • Self-regulation

Each of the above guidance techniques will be explained and demonstrated throughout this course. As a school-age staff member, you will help set the stage for positive behavior through your use of behavior management and guidance techniques. A key piece to the success of any guidance technique is setting boundaries for school-age children. Boundaries help children feel safe and know what is expected of them. They also hold children accountable for their behaviors. Throughout this course, you will learn about the importance of setting boundaries and how it will help you guide the behaviors in the learning environment.


Guidance: An Introduction

Watch this video for an introduction to guidance.


As a school-age staff member, it is important to remember that along with a child’s family, you serve as an excellent guidance resource. Children will look to you to model how they should behave, so it is important that you are aware of your actions and behavior at all times. Do the following:

  • Consider how you interact with co-workers, family members, and children throughout the day. These interactions should always be positive and healthy.
  • Arrive to work on time and comply with dress codes and professional standards.
  • Bring your enthusiasm and energy to work with you each day. The way you behave and act in the learning environment will help to guide the children in your care.
  • Support the guidance techniques families use at home. You should have an open forum for communicating with families about the behavior expectations and guidance techniques that will be utilized within the program. 
  • Inform family members when challenging behaviors occur and discuss possible guidance strategies to implement in the school-age program. You can refer to the Family Engagement course and Communication & Language Development course for information on working and meeting with families.


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 School-Age Positive Guidance 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.


School-age children represent a variety of personalities and temperaments, which are reflected in the way children behave. Complete the Observing Behaviors activity and share your completed work with your trainer, coach, or administrator.


Reflecting on your personal experiences with guidance techniques and management is an important part of developing methods of supporting positive behavior in the learning environment. Complete the Personal Reflection activity and share your completed work with your trainer, coach, or administrator.

As a caregiver working with children the language you use and relationships you build with each student is vital to promoting positive behavior in your program. Use the Direct Language Chart as be a helpful resource for promoting positive behavior through positive language that you use in your daily practice.


The conduct, actions, and words that children employ—a signal with which they express their thoughts, feelings, needs, and impulses
How you help children learn the expectations for behavior in a variety of settings


Finish this statement: Guidance for school-age children means…
True or False? School-age children look to you as a model of how to make positive choices and how to interact with others.
Which of the following can support the development of positive, supportive relationships with school-age children?
References & Resources

Baumrind, D. (1996). The discipline controversy revisited. Family Relations, 45(4): 405-414.

Baumrind, D. (1991). Parenting styles and adolescent development. In Lerner, R. M., Peterson, A. C., & J. Brooks-Gunn (Eds.), Encyclopedia of Adolescence. v. 2: 746-758. Garland.

Bronstein, P., Duncan, P., D'Ari, A., Pieniadt, J., et al. (1996). Family and parenting behaviors predicting middle school adjustment. Family Relations, 45(4): 415-425.

Council on Accreditation. Standards for child and youth development (CYD) programs.

Gartrell, D. (2004). The power of guidance. Delmar Learning.

Krevans, J., & Gibbs J. C. (1996). Parents’ use of inductive discipline: Relations to children's empathy and prosocial behavior. Child Development, 67(6): 3263-3277.

Owens-Stively, J., Frank, N., Smith, A., Hagino, O., et al. (1997). Child temperament, parenting discipline style, and daytime behavior in childhood sleep disorders. Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics, 18(5): 314-321.

Santos R. M., & Cheatham, G. (2014). Front porch series: What you see doesn't always show what’s beneath: Understanding culture-based behaviors. Head Start Early Childhood Learning & Knowledge Center (ECLKC).

Schmitt, B. D. (1987). Seven deadly sins of childhood: Advising parents about difficult developmental phases. Child Abuse and Neglect, 11: 421-432.

Schor, E., & the American Academy of Pediatrics. (1999). Caring for your school age child: Ages 5-12. Bantam.

Smith, C. A. (1993). Responsive discipline: A leader's guide, Kansas Cooperative Extension Service.

Steinberg, L., Dornbusch, S., & Brown, B. (1992). Ethnic differences in adolescent achievement. American Psychologist, 47(6): 723-729.

Wilson, S. R., & Whipple, E. E. (1995). Communication, discipline, and physical child abuse. In Socha, T., & Stamp, G., Parents, children, and communication: Frontiers of theory and research. LEA's communication series: 299-317.

Wood, C., Freeman, B. (2011) Responsive school discipline: Essentials for elementary school leaders. Northeast Foundation for Children, Inc.