National Network for Child Care’s Connections
Elaine Goodwin, Ed.D.
Parent Education Coordinator
Community Coordinated Child Care (4-C), Dekalb, IL
“How many times have I told you?”
“Can’t you see I’m trying to …?”
“You are a real troublemaker!”
“That’s enough – I’ve had it!”
Do any of these sound familiar? Guiding children to behave in
appropriate and acceptable ways is challenging for many adults.
There are no quick, easy answers because every child is unique.
Differing temperaments, personalities, needs, growth patterns,
home environment, and family settings affect children’s lives.
The following five points should be part of your general plan
to guide children’s behavior.
PROMOTE POSITIVE BEHAVIOR
Both parents and caregivers who use positive reinforcement
find it a “self-fulfilling prophecy.” Children become
what we expect of them. Be very specific about the compliments
and praise you give. This lets the child know exactly what behavior,
actions, and words you liked. For example, “I really like
the cooperation I saw between June, Steve, and Siron in cleaning
up the dress-ups.” Or, “I really appreciate how well
you listened to the directions for this activity. It helped things
to run smoothly.” Or, “I noticed how helpful you were
to Terrence today outdoors. I know he appreciates that, and I
do too.” The child is then more likely to repeat the positive
Caregivers can build a child’s self-esteem in many other small
ways. Share hugs, smiles, and kisses. Tell a child s/he is important
to you. Praise a child within the earshot of others. Give a child
your undivided attention. For those children who seem to get your
attention for their misbehavior only, try shifting the focus of
your attention. Try writing down a list of the things you like
or appreciate about that child. Give that child at least as much
attention for his or her positive behavior as for misbehavior.
EXPECT CHILDREN TO OBEY
Be very clear about rules and expectations. Give children an
option unless there is a question of personal safety or health,
when there is destruction or aggression involved, or when, you
as the adult, decide the situation calls for prompt action. Demonstrate
your confidence by using short, clear, positive statements. Use
a tone that says you expect compliance.
MAINTAIN FAIRNESS AND CONSISTENCY
Deal with challenges in a matter-of-fact, calm manner. Consider
the child’s age and “normal” behavior for this age range.
Learn about developmental stages of children and their accompanying
physical, social, emotional, and intellectual needs. For example,
it is unrealistic to expect a child who is 18-months-old to do
much sharing, since toddlers, by their nature, are very self-centered.
Communicate rules and their consequences in words that children
understand. When a child breaks a rule, follow through with a
fair, appropriate, and meaningful consequence right away. When
you are fair and consistent in your response to misbehavior, the
child’s sense of security and knowledge of right from wrong will
ALLOW THE EXPRESSION OF FEELINGS
Allowing a child to express his or her feelings does not mean
allowing such inappropriate expressions as hitting or hurting
others. Sometimes, providing quiet time along with a favorite
toy or blanket will help a child to relax and calm down. Some
children express anger, resentment, and frustration by pounding
with a hammer on a pegboard, punching an old pillow, kicking a
soccer ball in the backyard, creating a picture, or using self-talk
with their stuffed animals. Offer to take a walk with the child
or to read a story together. These activities may help diffuse
strong feelings of anger or frustration. It is important to provide
a range of acceptable avenues for children to release these very
strong, yet natural emotions.
THINK AND PLAN FOR THE FUTURE
Look past today’s difficult moments. Remember that your goal
is for the child to achieve self-discipline. When problems do
arise, step back from the scene if you can. Count to ten, or do
whatever helps you maintain your composure and your perspective.
Keep in mind the example you set through your own behavior. The
way in which adults treat children and each other in your program
serves as a model for children. For example, the use of phrases
like, “Thank you,” “Please,” or “Can
I help you?” should be a part of everyone’s routine behavior.
Guiding children’s behavior is a major commitment from caregivers.
Progress may seem slow at times. Regression and setbacks are likely
to occur. Through it all, keep your sense of humor, and remind
yourself of your successes and of the important role you play
in caring for children.
National Network for Child Care – NNCC. Part of CYFERNET, the
National Extension Service
Children Youth and Family Educational Research Network. Permission
is granted to reproduce
these materials in whole or in part for educational purposes only
(not for profit beyond the cost of
reproduction) provided that the author and Network receive acknowledgment
and this notice is
Reprinted with permission from the National Network for Child
Care – NNCC. Goodwin, E. (1994). Five tips for guiding children’s
behavior. In Todd, C.M. (Ed.), *Day care center connections*,
3(6), pp. 1-2. Urbana-Champaign, IL: University of Illinois Cooperative
FORMAT AVAILABLE:: Internet
Level 3 – National Peer Review
DOCUMENT SIZE:: 29K or 4 pages
ENTRY DATE:: March 1996
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