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Vermont Child Care Providers Share: How to help children manage behavior

Establishing clear, effective rules in a preschool classroom is one of the keys to maintaining a productive environment.

While you want children to learn and develop, you also are responsible for providing order and stability in their day. This is not always an easy task when dealing with a large group of under-6 year olds. When it comes to preschool policy for behavior management, simple, concrete, and positive rules are most effective.

All rules should follow simple patterns, using simple words. Abstract or unfamiliar words will be ineffective for classroom policies, as the children will not know what they mean. It is also best to frame rules as positive behaviors, rather than as negatives, or a list of “Don’ts.” For instance, “Be kind” is a more effective rule than “Don’t be mean.”

While a child may understand what both rules mean, the former places the emphasis on behaving nicely. The latter instructs a child on what not to do and might feel imposing, restrictive, or abstract to them.

Preschool Rules

Every preschool has certain universal behavior rules. Sharing, being respectful, managing volume, walking instead of running, etc. All of these things are essential for maintaining a safe and peaceful environment. But how do we convey concepts like respect or volume control to 4- and 5-year olds?

Rather than attempting to teach abstract concepts to children, positive behavior can be encouraged through active behavior guidelines. Rules for respecting others can be worded as such: “Be kind. Use your words. Listen. Share with friends. Control your body.” Rather than telling children what not to do (i.e., Don’t argue, Don’t fight, Don’t hit, etc.) these rules provide clear, simple guidelines for acceptable behavior.

It is also best to keep these rules short. The shorter they are, the easier they will be for your children to internalize.

Guiding Preschool Behavior Management

Establishing rules is only one part of the process. Ensuring that children can understand and follow them is also crucial. Some important questions to consider include: How do we familiarize children with the rules? How do children respond to cues? How do we discipline children when they misbehave?

Besides clear and concise communication, routine can help children follow the rules. Following a routine helps young children understand what is expected of them. Without a daily classroom routine, they might struggle to understand the classroom environment as a whole.

With a familiar routine in place, they will better understand what is expected, and trust the rules in place.

Use Simple Visual Cues

Simple visual cues are often an effective way to help students grasp verbal or written rules. For instance, the visual cue of an ear implies listening.

An eye implies watching, and so on. Visual cues can be used in all areas of the classroom.

A visual guide of proper handwashing technique next to the sink can help children learn personal hygiene. An image of a neat cubby will help students organize their belongings each day.

Visual cues often provide students with straightforward, concrete instructions on proper behavior.

When it comes to discipline, positive reinforcement is key. Make sure to compliment students on their good behavior as often as you can. This lets them know that they are fulfilling the classroom expectations.

Maintain Positivity

If you do need to discipline a child for misbehavior, try to maintain positivity. Rather than telling a child they are misbehaving, try reminding them of the rules. If a child is refusing to play with a classmate, remind them that it’s important to share and be nice.

Preschool behavior management can often play a critical role in early childhood development. The importance of clear and effective behavioral management guidelines in this setting cannot be overlooked.

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