Rethinking Challenging Behaviors with Reflection

Questions and Key Considerations in Supporting Positive Behaviors for Early Learners

Challenging behaviors can give every teacher pause – but when we pause and reflect on our own behaviors, we often find ways to improve our practice. Read the situation below to dive into this topic and consider reflections that might help you rethink children’s behavioral bumps.

After leading a 10-minute activity on the carpet with her 3-year-olds, Ms. Reynolds prepares to read a book. As she begins reading, she notices Alison rolling on the carpet. She reminds Alison and continues to read. Alison stops for a couple of minutes then begins to roll again but this time into others. Eventually, Alison hurts another child, and Ms. Reynolds asks her to sit by an adult.

This scenario is all too real in the classroom. Yes, children’s behaviors can be challenging, but let us pause and reconsider this scenario, by asking a few questions:

  • How did Ms. Reynolds set up the activity?
  • Did she share expectations to the children on how to engage?
  • Were her expectations developmentally appropriate?

Asking these questions allows us to pause and reflect, and then we can see a bigger picture. Let’s explore our questions individually.

Did Ms. Reynolds set up the activity and clearly share expectations?
Sharing specific expectations with children prior to the activity can help children prepare for what is next. Something as simple as saying, “We are going to read a story, and I would like you to listen by being on the carpet and keeping your hands and feet to yourself,” supports children in their engagement.

What about Ms. Reynolds’ expectations for Alison’s developmental needs? Were they appropriate? According to developmental guidelines, it is challenging for most 3-year-olds to sit still for more than 5-7 minutes, and it was certainly challenging for Alison. Along with clearer expectations, next time, Ms. Reynolds can provide more movement and free choice in between structured .

Looking at the bigger picture, it is evident that Ms. Reynolds’ expectations, the learning environment and Alison’s developmental needs all influence her behavior. According to the Division of Early Childhood (DEC) Statement on Challenging Behaviors in Young Children, behaviors are influenced by multiple factors interacting with one another. These factors include the child’s development and temperament, the environment and adult expectations.

Next time you experience a behavior that is challenging, I encourage you to pause and reflect. Here are some helpful tips and questions to guide your reflections:

  • Consider your learning environment and activities: Did I have a plan? Are my plans, activities, and environments developmentally appropriate?
  • Consider your expectations: Did I communicate my expectations to the children? Are they developmentally appropriate for each child in my care? How are my expectations different than the families?
  • Consider the child’s perspective: What is the child’s behavior communicating? What happened right before the behavior? Are the child’s basic needs being met?

Engaging in self-reflection, can help you better understand the bigger picture of the behavior. More significantly, you can help support and promote positive behaviors by having a knowledge of the developmental milestones for the children in your care.  This knowledge will help you create appropriate environments, activities, and expectations, and can also help you know if a child may need additional supports. Visit the Center for Disease Control (CDC) Learn the Signs, Act Early to learn more!

Jamie Le Sesne Spears supports early learning programs in their efforts to provide inclusive, supportive education and care statewide. Her passion for effective practice is rooted in her seven years of experience educating children with varying abilities as a preschool and kindergarten educator, as well as a behavioral technician. She has also created and implemented curricula, monitored student progress, and pursued family engagement practices. She earned her bachelor’s degree in early childhood education from Miami University and her Master of Education in special education at Indiana University, IUPUI. During her master’s program, Jamie helped develop trainings focused on equity, early childhood education, and inclusive practices. Working with children with dis/abilities is one of Jamie’s strongest passions, and she enjoys volunteering with local churches to develop inclusive dis/ability ministries.