- Child Behavior Management
Child Behavior Management
Our attitude toward behavior management and discipline is expressed in the name of our family childcare; Shantivanam Children’s Community. The word “shantivanam” means “forest of peace” which is symbolic of the key intention of our program. We encourage a peaceful environment and we use both positive discipline and preventative discipline to help create that type of setting. Positive discipline methods encourage and support the child in acceptable behavior rather than to punish them for unacceptable behavior. Preventative discipline means intentionally creating an environment and consciousness that reduces the number of situations that traditionally cause discipline problems with children. Our positive and preventative discipline policies address the following areas:
- Treating children respectfully, listening to them, and explaining situations.We work hard to ensure each child is treated in a respectful manner. For instance, we let the children know in advance if anything will be different about their routine for the day. We also respect the fact that a child may be fully engaged in an activity when it is time to transition to something else so we give the children a five minute warning when we are about to transition so they can complete what they are doing.
We listen to what the children are saying and we encourage them to express their wants and needs to the adults and to the other children. All of the children are taught sign language so if their verbal skills are not yet fully developed, they can sign what they want. Sometimes older children will use sign language in addition to their words to emphasize what they are trying to communicate.
Language is an important aspect of our behavior management policies. When we are explaining rules we attempt to make sure the children understand all the words we are using. For example, if we tell a young child, “It’s O.K. to run on the grass but not on the patio”, then we physically show them what the “patio” is and where it ends and the grass begins. For the younger children we may also hold their hand and practice walking on the patio and then run with them when we reach the grass. When communicating with the children, we try to limit the use of the word “NO” so that it does not lose its effectiveness when we need to use it. When it’s necessary to redirect a child’s actions, we try to tell the child what they can do before we tell them what they can’t do. For instance, “You may throw the ball outside but inside we need to roll the ball”, or “You may bounce on the bouncing toy, but the furniture is not for bouncing on.” We are also aware of what we say when we need to use corrective measures. We try to use language that depersonalizes the action so it is a logical consequence instead of a personal challenge to the child. For instance, we will say, “If you continue to bang the cup on the table then it will need to go up on the counter” instead of, “If you continue to bang your cup on the table then I will take it away from you.” Though that is a subtle difference in phrasing, we find children do respond differently. When taking corrective measures where a child needs to temporarily leave an area or activity, we always tell them they may “try again later”. If the reason for leaving is due to a safety violation, then we also emphasize we want them to be safe and we explain how they can be safe when they get to “try again”.
We work with the children on how to use respectful language and actions with one another. In our preschool activities we help the children differentiate between the words they speak and the tone used to share a feeling. For instance, we encourage the children to tell another child if they are not done with a toy yet, but we will ask a child to repeat. “I’m not done yet”, if it is not said with a respectful voice.
- Teaching conflict resolution skills.
Our preventative discipline strategy to help avoid conflict in the first place is to discourage competitive games and activities that traditionally pit one child against another. We emphasize team work and have each child competing against themselves in races and other traditionally competitive activities. For races we use a stop watch and time the children as they run around an obstacle course. The next time they run they try to beat their best time rather than to beat another child. Non-competitive egg races are won when everyone gets back with their egg in their spoon (even if they had to pick it up along the way). Everyone cheers and encourages each other. The children will have plenty of time to learn to compete in this world, but for now we are showing them the value of cooperation.
When conflict does arise, the situations are used as learning opportunities where each child has the chance to explain what happened, rather than the teacher telling them what happened and who is to blame. Because we have a high teacher to child ratio, we are able to have one teacher take as much time as necessary to encourage and guide each child to express their concept of what happened and why it happened. For the preschoolers, the teacher will encourage the children to talk directly to one another and come up with other ways they could have acted. When the children agree on a better way to handle the situation, then they “replay” the situation by returning to the area of conflict and each child trying the new way of speaking or acting. This process addresses conflict resolution on an experiential level and not just as an intellectual exercise.
- Avoiding frustration, over-stimulation and being tired or hungry.We have a child-sized physical environment so the children can easily do many things for themselves such as choosing their own toys, getting their own Kleenex and, in the preschool area, getting their own drink of water and washing their own hands. This not only encourages independence but also reduces unnecessary frustration at having to communicate their needs to others and wait for them to respond. The environment is set up in an uncluttered, orderly fashion to avoid over-stimulation. Quiet areas are available both inside and outside so a child can rest, be quiet, or just be alone whenever they feel the need. After lunch we have nap time (or quiet time for preschool children who don’t nap any more), but any child who is tired may rest or nap at any time of the day. We also space our snacks and meal times at approximately 2 ½ hour intervals to avoid having children who are overly hungry.
- Giving Opportunities to Learn Self-control and Develop Social ConsciousnessThe art of self-control is not innate in a child, but is a learned skill. Therefore, I feel it is our responsibility to give the children gentle opportunities to practice and thus develop this important skill that will serve them throughout their lives. To help the children develop self-control and self-discipline we have deliberately set-up daily situations that give them opportunities to practice it. One of the ways we do this is to avoid purchasing toys and other items that are all identical. For instance, if the children are choosing toys such as the strollers or lawnmowers, a child may want a particular color that someone else has already chosen. When that happens, they get the opportunity to practice self-control while waiting for their favorite toy to become available. In the meantime, we help the preschool children learn negotiation skills by having them offer to trade another lawnmower for the one they want. If the child is not willing to trade for the other toy, then the first child will ask to please let them know as soon as they are done with the toy. With the younger children we will redirect them to other toys while they wait for their favorite one.
Snack and meal times are another opportunity for the children to practice the art of self-control. The children eat together and if a child finishes before the others, he is to remain in his seat until some of the other children are also finished and he is excused. While the child is waiting we work with him by saying such things as, “Let’s look around and see if any of the other children are still eating.” This not only gives the child practice at self-control by sitting when he would rather be up playing, but it also starts the process of social consciousness and empathy so he can become aware of other people and their needs.
Giving Opportunities to Develop Social Consciousness
The development of social consciousness and empathy are addressed in several ways in our preschool program. The first step is to help the child recognize and express his own feelings and emotions. Both the Preschool and the Entry Level class explore feelings by looking at pictures of children expressing different emotions. The teacher helps the children label what the people in the pictures might be feeling. Then, when we have a real situation where a child is dealing with strong emotions, we first try to tune-in to the child’s feelings and listen to them with empathy. Then we acknowledge what is causing the emotion and we help the child label how they are feeling. Finally, we help the child find a resolution for their need.
Another process we use to help the children develop a sense of social consciousness and responsibility is implemented when one child hurts another. If a child deliberately hurts another child then an appropriate discussion takes place about other means to settle a problem. However, the offending child is never told they must apologize for their action. Children are often not sorry for their action and if we insist they say “I’m sorry”, we just taught them to lie to get out of trouble. Saying “I’m sorry” is modeled by the adults and if a child voluntarily says “I’m sorry” they are acknowledged for it, but they are never forced to say it. What we do instead is to have the offending child stay with the injured child until they are O.K. If an ice pack or band aid is needed then the offending child is the one who gets it. Both children sit next to each other until the injured child feels better. When it’s preschoolers that are sitting, the offending child keeps checking to see if the other child is feeling better. Neither child goes back to play until the injured child is O.K. To help develop a sense of social responsibility, the same process is followed even if the injury was accidental.
- Role ModelsThe first three years of a child’s life are pivotal in building the capacity of empathy, or planting the seeds of violence, according to research by Bruce Perry of the Baylor College of Medicine. He found that a large determinant as to which way a child’s moral development will go is how he is treated by his primary caregivers. Considering that, we remain mindful of how important our part is as a role model. We strive to always present respectful and appropriate behavior around the children. Teachers will also role model how to communicate their own feelings during a conflict and will give an apology if one is appropriate.
We know that it is confusing for a child to have conflicting role models in their lives. Therefore, to help create consistency where all of the primary adults in the child’s life are presenting the same model, we require parents in our program to attend our parenting workshops. At the parenting workshops current methods of child rearing are explored as well as a time for parents to share their successes and struggles at home and learn what we are doing at school. Through this sharing we hope to find the best method to address specific situations with each child.
- Problem Behavior ResolutionWith all of the care we take to create an environment that is conducive to appropriate behavior, we are also aware there may be times when a child’s behavior becomes a detriment to the well being of the other children and/or to the program. In such a case we first consult with the parents and, if appropriate, encourage them to seek counseling or use the free services of the Child Behavioral Specialist at the YMCA Childcare Resource Service. In all situations however, we reserve the right to make the final decision as to whether a child’s behavior is such that it is in the best interest of the Community-at-large for the child to leave the program.