Allison Lee has written this book as a companion to her first book Starting Your Own Childminding Business. She has been minding children herself for over 11 years and is employed part-time by the National Childminding Association as a Support Childminder giving help and advice to other practitioners. Allison has also written childminding courses for ISC Learning Direct and for UK Open-Learning Direct.
WHAT TRIGGERS UNACCEPTABLE BEHAVIOUR?
Sometimes children's behaviour falls short of our expectations. There are many reasons why this may happen. Below is a list of the most common, everyday causes of unwanted behaviour. By analysing and eliminating as many of the potential causes of unwanted behaviour as possible, we should be able to reduce the number of incidents when a child behaves inappropriately and deal with them more effectively when they do.
The child may feel:
They may be:
- testing the limits or pushing boundaries to see how far adults and other children can be pushed;
- unaware of any potential dangers;
- exploring their environment;
- copying what they think others are doing;
- attention seeking;
- unable to control their emotions and feelings;
- feeling left out or treated unfairly;
- unsettled or confused.
Children may also show signs of unacceptable behaviour when they:
- do not understand what is expected of them;
- have a particular learning difficulty, allergy, etc;
- do not have clear, consistent boundaries to follow.
Although there may seem to be a lot of causes for unwanted behaviour and you may feel overwhelmed at the thought of having to deal with all these scenarios, it is worth bearing in mind that the majority of these causes can be eliminated with careful planning.
Tiredness and hunger
Let us look again at the eight causes in the first list. Tiredness and hunger can be dealt with relatively easily by allowing the child to sleep and offering food. Avoid allowing children to get to a point where lack of sleep and food is causing behavioural problems. Stick to planned routines for meals and naps.
Boredom is often a trigger for unwanted behaviour and this can be avoided by providing the child with adequate toys and activities to stimulate them. Remember that a child does not always need expensive toys and games; you are the best toy a child can have. Make time for the children and have fun with them! Encourage them to use their imagination, involve them in activities suitable for their age and stage of development, and most importantly take into account their personal preferences. Remember, setting a task or activity which is too complex for the child's age is just as bad as not setting a task at all. The child will quickly lose interest in an activity that is too difficult for them to complete. Have realistic expectations of what the child can achieve and set your activities around their individual ability.
Include children in your own everyday tasks such as sorting the washing, setting the table, preparing simple meals and washing-up. Children love to be involved in ‘adult’ tasks and will enjoy helping you.
Illness can be another trigger for unacceptable behaviour and this is something you have little control over. A child who is feeling unwell may be irritable and unable to concentrate. You should make them as comfortable as possible, give them lots of love and affection and seek medical advice if necessary. A child who is unwell and unable to take part in activities or conduct themselves appropriately should not be in an early years setting. Contact parents if necessary and arrange for them to collect their child as soon as possible if you feel that they are not well enough to be in the setting.
Fear and anxiety
Feelings of fear and anxiety are often apparent in young children and can be caused by very simple things like a change in routine. Children need the security of a routine and sometimes even small changes can upset them. Whilst some children cope admirably with big changes such as starting playgroup or nursery, others take a while to settle in. You need to make sure that the child's confidence is boosted and give lots of praise and encouragement. Occasionally, even with careful planning, you cannot prevent a child from feeling scared or anxious. Events which are planned such as starting nursery or school should be talked about well in advance. Talk positively about the teachers, classroom, etc. and, if possible, arrange visits to the school prior to the child's first day so that they can be eased into the situation slowly and become familiar with their surroundings. Books can be very good for helping children become accustomed to the changes ahead.
Other factors which may cause fear or anxiety are not always so easy to prepare for. Thunderstorms, for example, are spontaneous and can occur without warning. Many young children are afraid of the loud noises of the thunder and they may become frightened and anxious.
Reassurance is needed when a child has these kinds of feelings and they should never be ridiculed because of their fears.
Frustration can occur in anyone, at any age. As adults we try to control our frustration when we are confronted with bad service, poor driving, terrible weather, traffic jams, etc. However children are less able to show reason and when frustrated they tend to lose their temper and lash out. Frustration can be caused by a lack of ability to communicate. Children know what they want long before they are able to tell us and, if we fail to understand what they are trying to say to us, they can often become frustrated. Frustration often leads to tantrums. Taking the time to listen to the child and respond to their needs will help to eliminate these feelings.
A child who is restricted may behave inappropriately. Children need space and freedom to run about and express themselves. A child who has been cooped up indoors all day, for example, may be full of pent-up energy bursting for release. Allow the child to play outside whenever possible. Children can play outside even in the winter months and, on particularly wet days, why not dress appropriately in waterproofs and Wellingtons and run through the puddles? The children will love it and there is no rule that says outdoor play is only for when the sun is shining!
Using common sense and looking at the needs and requirements of the child will enable you to successfully manage their behaviour. Planning ahead and anticipating their needs may eliminate the problems all together.
Now let us look at the second list. The eight triggers for unacceptable behaviour in this list are a little more complex and will require more management. The main reasons children resort to unwanted behaviour through one of these causes is down to their age and lack of understanding. There is little you can do about a child's age and level of understanding except to take solace in the fact that they will get older and grasp things better in time!
Testing the limits
Testing the limits and pushing boundaries is something that all children will do at some time. Making sure that children are aware of the rules will help to eliminate this problem. The ‘grey’ areas when parents collect their children from early years settings are often the times when children play up. They are unsure of who is in control at this point: their parent, childminder or nursery nurse, etc. The rules they have adhered to all day go out of the window and they begin to think they can do as they please. The child is effectively challenging their carer to comment on the behaviour they are showing whilst their parent is present. Ideally in this situation the parent will reprimand their own child, however there may be occasions when a child is doing something that they know is unacceptable but that the parent is not aware of. For example, if you do not allow children to climb on the furniture when a parent is not present do not let them do this the minute their parent walks through the door. They may be allowed to do many things at home which you will not allow in your own setting and children must learn the difference. Never ignore unacceptable behaviour just because a child's parent is present. This sends out the wrong message not just to the child who is misbehaving but to every other child present.
Unaware of danger
There may be occasions when a child behaves in a way that doesn't meet with the adults’ expectations because they are unaware or do not realise the danger of the situation. For example a child who runs into the road does not do so because they are trying to get themselves knocked down by a car. They are doing so to attract adult attention and do not fully understand the danger of their actions. Making sure that a child is never in a dangerous situation is the way to avoid this cause of inappropriate behaviour. If a child insists on running into the road after the dangers have been explained then using a restraint such as reins or a wrist strap will prevent this behaviour from happening again until the child is able to accept the situation.
Exploring their environment
Children may also exhibit unacceptable behaviour when exploring their surroundings. Children are, by nature, inquisitive and they like to explore their environment. They should be allowed to explore whenever possible, however it is your duty to ensure that the environment around them is safe and suitable for such exploration. Remove any potential hazards such as ornaments and vases on low tables and ensure they can not push things into power sockets, video recorders, etc.
Watching and copying
Children learn through watching and copying. Is a child really being naughty when he pulls up tulips after watching you weed the garden? Can we really expect a three year-old to know the difference between a weed and a plant? In such cases children should be allowed to explore the garden, help you to plant seeds and flowers, pull up weeds, etc. but they should do so under supervision. Explain to them what you are doing and why and show them which plants to care for and which to dispose of.
Remember that whilst children will imitate our good behaviour and traits they will also copy our bad behaviour, and it is up to us to provide them with a positive role model at all times.
Attention seeking behaviour can often be a way for children to get noticed. A child who is playing well and appears engrossed in an activity can all too often be overlooked. If a child is exhibiting attention seeking behaviour is this because ‘bad’ behaviour is the only way he or she gets any attention? If so then you must look carefully at how you treat the children. Praise and reward the children who are showing pleasing behaviour and lavish attention on them rather than on the child who is behaving inappropriately.
Unable to control emotions
Young children are often unable to control their emotions and feelings. They may become angry and lash out or cry for seemingly trivial reasons. Children need to be encouraged to explore their feelings and emotions and talk about the way they are feeling. Always ensure that the child knows they can talk to you but never pressurise them into opening up if they do not want to. Do not laugh at or ridicule a child who gets upset or angry but offer reassurance.
Feeling left out or treated unfairly
Sometimes children can get angry and frustrated if they are feeling left out or consider that they are being unfairly treated. Patience is not something that most children are good at showing and they often find it hard to wait their turn or to share. Explain to the child that they are not being left out but, like everyone else, they need to wait their turn. Keep an eye on group activities which do not include an adult and make sure that no-one is being overlooked. Groups of three can often cause problems as one person inevitably feels left out. Encourage activities which include everyone and show children how to share and take turns.
Unsettled or confused
A child who is experiencing lots of change in their family circumstances or is new to the setting may be feeling unsettled and confused. These feelings, like most emotions, can be very powerful and may even frighten a child who is experiencing them. Reassure the child as much as possible and make them feel welcome and valued. Give the child as much one to one attention as possible and encourage them to take part in simple activities. Take your cue from the child and never force them to take part in anything they are not happy doing. Children will often sit and watch others for some time before finding the confidence to join in.
The final three causes which may result in unwanted behaviour are a little more difficult to deal with and may take some time to implement. This is because the issues may be due to the age and understanding of the child or they may be out of your control.
Not understanding expectations
If a child does not understand what is expected of them this may be for several reasons:
- 1.They lack communication skills.
- 2.The adults around them may be using language which is too complex for their stage of development or is not clear enough.
- 3.They have not been told what is expected.
In these cases it is important for the adults to explain in simple terms, appropriate to the child's age and level of understanding, what is acceptable and what is not. Positive childcare is all about bringing out the best in the child. It is important that the adults around then listen, understand, praise and encourage them. Try to refrain from pointing out where a child is going wrong and instead concentrate on rewarding and praising the things they get right.
Children with particular learning difficulties will have little or no control over their behaviour and the way they respond to some things. Depending on the nature of the problem you may need to seek additional help from professionals. Children may be suffering from:
- 1.speech or language problems;
- 2.sensitivity to food additives which result in irritability, aggression and being unable to concentrate;
- 3.Attention Deficit with Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD);
- 4.Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD).
All children need boundaries. Boundaries put a limit on behaviour and enable a child to understand what is acceptable and what is not. Boundaries help a child to feel safe and secure. It is, however, not enough to simply set boundaries; it is essential that everyone is aware of and understands them. It is important to be realistic when setting boundaries and you must take into account the child's age and level of understanding. There is little point in having a rule which states that all children must ask before going to the toilet if the children in your particular setting are in nappies. Avoid complicated rules and making a fuss over trivial things.
Most children and adults will accept the need for boundaries and in order to make them effective we need to consider the following factors:
- Are the boundaries realistic?
- Are the boundaries fair?
- How are the children made aware of the boundaries?
- How are the adults made aware of the boundaries?
- Do the adults agree with the boundaries?
Children who do not have clear, consistent boundaries will inevitably display unwanted behaviour mainly due to the fact that they are unsure of what is expected of them. It can be very confusing for a child if they think that what may be acceptable one day could well be unacceptable the next.
Most early years settings have a policy with regard to behaviour. Childminders are no exception to this rule and are advised to have a policy stating exactly what is and is not acceptable in the setting. A policy should be written clearly and the contents shared with the children and their parents. A copy of the policy should be given to each parent and also displayed on the walls of the setting.
Behaviour policies are usually based on simple ‘house rules’ which are put in place to protect everyone in the setting. Remember to be realistic and avoid setting very high expectations that most children will struggle to reach.
Establishing a successful framework for behaviour will depend on:
- Your ability to encourage the children to learn your rules by reminding them frequently.
- Your ability to use clear, precise language and give simple instructions.
- Your ability to explain to the children why you have rules and what will happen if they are not met.
Your own behaviour policy will depend on what you view as unacceptable behaviour. For example, some people may not mind if children roam around their house wearing their outdoor shoes while others may insist that they are taken off at the door. Figures 2 and 3 show examples of what behaviour policies in a childminding setting may look like.
Obviously the policy in Figure 2 was written with older children in mind as the wording would be too complex for young children. The policy has been written to look attractive and encourage people to read it and take notice. A policy written for younger children may read something like Figure 3. Use words like ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ rather than more complex words like ‘manners’ which most young children will not understand.
STICKING TO THE RULES
There is absolutely no point whatsoever in creating a framework for behaviour and writing a behaviour policy if you do not stick to the rules you have set out. What is the point of writing a policy which clearly states ‘remove outdoor shoes before entering’ if you allow children to run through your house with their Wellingtons on? A policy is not simply a way of decorating the walls. It should provide useful information that everyone understands and abides by.
When we say ‘no’ to a child it is important that we mean ‘no’. Most children will respond to this expression provided it is used sparingly. If you constantly tell a child they cannot do something when in fact there is no real reason for you to say ‘no’, then it will have little impact on them. Set your rules and stick to them. If a child thinks that they can bend the rules by being uncooperative or by wearing you down with tantrums and whinging then, rest assured, this is the behaviour they will resort to. For a behaviour framework to work you must be fair but firm.
The following suggestions may be useful for dealing with children’s unwanted behaviour.
- Be optimistic. Persevere and adopt a sense of humour.
- Be clear. Decide what you want the children to do and explain your expectations to them clearly with language they can relate to.
- Be firm. If a child fails to abide by your rules do not give up. Insist on the type of behaviour you expect and show appreciation when the child has achieved it. Withhold your praise by walking away or ignoring the behaviour if the child behaves badly.
- Be consistent. To carry any kind of authority in a childcare setting you need to be determined. If a child thinks they can wear you down they will! Always be prepared to follow through with your sanctions and then everyone will know that you mean what you say. Consistent boundaries have the added bonus of adding to a child’s sense of security.
- Be prepared. Try to work out a suitable strategy for dealing with ongoing problems. Never wait until the problem has got out of hand before doing something about it.
- Be available. Show the children that you are interested in them and that you value their views and opinions. Adults are very important to children and it is important for both children and childminders to form close relationships and to spend quality time doing activities together.
- Be human. Try not to set your expectations of children so high that they have difficulty achieving them. Admit when you are wrong and give rewards and punishments that are appropriate but not excessive.
Although it is important to establish boundaries and to make sure that children are aware of what you will and will not accept it is equally important that you ensure that when a child behaves unacceptably it is the behaviour you do not like, not the child.
Some procedures are completely unacceptable when managing children’s behaviour and should never be used. Unacceptable procedures for behaviour management include:
- 1.using any form of physical punishment including smacking, pinching, shaking, prodding or rough handling;
- 3.criticism or comparison;
- 4.name calling;
Many young children resort to tantrums as a means of trying to win over a situation to get their own way. They wrongly believe that by throwing themselves on the floor, lashing out, screaming and shouting they will get what they want. Tantrums are often embarrassing for adults and it is because of their embarrassment that they give in and succumb to the child’s demands. This is the worst thing an adult can do. Agreeing to the child’s demands may well put a stop to the tantrum at that time, but it effectively tells the child that if they create a scene they will get their own way. Tantrums will become common practice for children if they think they will win! The best way of dealing with a tantrum is to ignore it. Stick to your rules despite the child’s behaviour and never be tempted to give in just to avoid a tantrum.
Around 50% of all two year-olds have tantrums on a regular basis – hence the term the ‘terrible twos’. Tantrums usually occur in the presence of a parent or carer such as a childminder or relative. Children rarely resort to tantrums in a playgroup, nursery or school environment.
The main cause for tantrums is frustration:
- They can’t have or do what they want.
- They are being criticised.
- They feel they are being treated unfairly.
The main need for tantrums is to seek attention and to vent anger.
It sometimes seems as if a child has ‘blown up’ for no reason at all because the behaviour immediately prior to the tantrum appears to be trivial. Often though, it is this last ‘trivial’ occurrence which is all that is needed to set off a tantrum that the child has in fact been building up to. Tantrums may vary in severity but there is no mistaking the fact that the underlying feeling being expressed is ‘anger’!
There appears to be three important points which you should remember in order to avoid temper tantrums:
- Be clear about your rules and never leave an opportunity open for misinterpretation. Tell the child exactly what they can and cannot do.
- Listen to what the child is telling you and act upon this whenever possible. If there is no alternative, for example if you are waiting at a bus stop for the bus to arrive and the child is getting impatient, then explain to them that they have no alternative. Try to make the wait less boring by playing a game, for example.
- Avoid trying to ‘control’ the child. Instead try to help them feel as though they are in control by allowing as much freedom of choice as possible.
The best methods for dealing with tantrums are:
- Distract or divert the child.
- Ignore the behaviour.
- Walk away from the child.
Of course these methods are not always possible, for example if you are in a public place it may not be an option to walk away from the child. At times like this you should:
- Hold the child.
- Reassure the child.
- Offer hugs and cuddles.
Remember that tantrums can be a frightening experience for a child. When a child is experiencing a tantrum you should never:
- Smack them.
- Shake them.
- Handle them roughly.
These responses can be harmful. When the tantrum is over it is important to talk to the child. Encourage them to talk about their feelings and offer reassurance in order to discourage a repeat of the behaviour. If you are caring for someone else’s child you should inform them if the tantrum is particularly severe. Remember, NEVER allow a child to manipulate you through tantrums. It may alleviate the problem initially but, rest assured, by giving in to the child to curb one tantrum you will increase the frequency of further tantrums.
Remember, temper tantrums are normal and do not usually lead to serious problems. As the child gets older they will learn to deal more effectively with the stresses of everyday life and become much calmer.
Bribery is often mistaken for reward. Giving a child a reward for good behaviour is not the same as bribing the child to behave well. Bribery should not be used in order to get a child to behave. I am sure that most parents have, at some point, fallen into the trap of saying to their child, ‘If you are good whilst we are shopping today I will buy you some sweets/a book/a toy’ or whatever. In essence this is not a problem; however problems will arise when a child will only behave if they are promised a bribe. Never allow a child to use bribery on you. For example do not allow them to tell you they will behave only if you buy them a toy/ sweets, etc. Children should be encouraged to behave well because they want to, not because of the reward they may receive.