Working with preschoolers in a childcare or school setting can be extremely fulfilling. However, it also comes with its fair share of challenges—particularly when it comes to dealing with unruly or difficult behavior. Preschool age kids (typically ages 3 to 5) are often too young to reason with when it comes to managing their behavior. Helping them to control how they act in a childcare or school setting takes a special set of skills and knowledge.
If you want to improve your ability to help preschool-age kids manage their behavior, it can help to understand how to communicate with them. It can also help to have insight into what motivates and soothes them. Read on to learn different techniques that can help to keep your preschool classroom under control. These strategies can also keep preschool-age kids calm and engaged.
Stick to a Routine
Preschool age kids thrive on routines. Set up a routine for the day or the time that you spend with preschool-age children. Then stick to this routine no matter what. Preschool kids do well with consistency, and once they are familiar with their routine, they will naturally try to stick to it. Adhering to their routine gives them a sense of agency and power.
Have a Puppet Helper
When you’re trying to be in control of a classroom, it can help to have help. If you don’t have another human help you to manage behavior, create a puppet friend who can step in and communicate with kids when necessary. Create a puppet and give the puppet a name. Use the puppet to communicate to kids about their behavior in particular instances. For example, a puppet assistant may be useful to let kids know when they’re not being polite or using their manners. Having a puppet helper allows you to be the good guy some of the time, instead of always having to be the bad cop with kids.
Even if your preschool age kids are losing it around you, make sure to always stay calm around them. Being a calming presence and a model of good behavior helps them realize that acting out is ineffective. Often, preschool-age kids act out to provoke a reaction or get special attention from the adults around them. By maintaining your calm disposition no matter what, you don’t reinforce bad behavior. You also demonstrate the appropriate way to act in all situations.
Help them get their energy out.
Sometimes preschool-age kids have a hard time controlling their behavior due to an excess buildup of energy. Help them expend all their energy and get tired by incorporating outside time and physical activities into the routine. Schedule regular time to play on the playground, or play games that involve moving around, like following the leader, duck duck goose, and more. Do some organized activities where energy is expended each day. You can help ensure that preschool kids get naturally worn out by the time the day is done.
Minimize interactions during tantrums or episodes.
When kids have a tantrum or a bad behavioral episode, keep your interactions with them to a minimum. Try to redirect them to a different activity or to let them know they will not be acknowledged until they calm down. Interacting with a child during a tantrum often serves to reinforce the behavior. This is because acting out is often attention-seeking. Make sure your child is safe, but don’t give them the attention they seek until they are calm and listenig. Over time, when your child sees that tantrums don’t get results, they may realize that their is a different reaction to have. This is especially true when they are unhappy or seeking something from an adult.
Give praise for good behavior.
One way to encourage good behavior is to give authentic, vocal praise for it regularly. When you notice a child’s good behavior and point it out, you give them attention for behavior you want them to repeat. This is a good contrast to only giving children attention for poor behavior. When you regularly notice and call a child out for bad behavior, it can encourage them to repeat it because they enjoy the attention. Stop bad behavior before it starts by regularly positively reinforcing good behavior.
Talk about feelings.
Sometimes, a child may be acting out because they are having feelings that feel overwhelming to them. It may also be because they feel that their emotions are not being acknowledged. When you encounter a child who feels overwhelmed by feelings, practice active listening. Talk to them about why they are feeling the way that they do, especially if they are feeling angry. Often, simply acknowledging a kid’s feelings and allowing them to feel heard will help them to feel supported and naturally calm them. Note: you don’t have to agree with everything your child is saying when you are practicing active listening. Simply allow them to feel heard and loved.
Get all adults on the same page.
Once you’ve developed strategies for dealing with challenging behavior in preschool kids, teach these strategies to all adults involved in care. You want to make sure children experience consistent reactions, no matter which teacher or care provider is working with them. Have a training where you talk through behavior management techniques. Also, consider typing up a guide to appropriate responses to children’s behavior. The more consistency a child experiences with caregivers the better. Also, the reactions of your team can help to only reinforce positive, good behavior in kids.
At the end of the day, it can be tons of fun to work with preschool-age kids, who are very loving and often excited about learning new things. However, it can also be very challenging to work with this age of kid, because their behavior can be erratic and hard to manage. Luckily, however, if you learn about preschool age behavioral patterns, what routines work for kids, and how to model good behavior, you can create a healthy, fun environment. You can also help adults in charge easily calm kids down when things start to feel overwhelming.