Guiding Behaviour in the Child Care Setting
by Delta McDonell
When families set out to find just the right child care option, they generally have a list of questions: what are the hours of operation, how much are the fees, how will my child be kept safe and what is the guidance and discipline policy of the child care program?
A quality child care placement—be it a license-not-required family child care provider caring for two children or a group centre that enrolls 20—will have a written policy about guiding children’s behaviour. The goal of the policy should be to nurture the children’s ability to act or react appropriately in all situations. The techniques that the child care provider might use to reach this goal will depend on the age of the children, the nature of the situation and be based on respect for the uniqueness of each child.
Four main components to a positive, nurturing guidance strategy are:
• Understanding child development
• Setting up the environment to encourage appropriate behaviour
• Having age-appropriate, positive techniques to handle incidences of inappropriate behaviour
• Having good conversations with families about issues related to the children’s behaviour.
Understanding typical child development helps the provider have appropriate expectations for behaviour and know which guidance strategies might be most effective, given the age of the child. For example, providers do not expect children under three years old to share or wait their turn so will make sure there are enough toys and equipment that young children don’t have to share. Providers will still model sharing, encourage sharing and talk to children about sharing, but they are likely to use redirection as a strategy when toddlers have conflicts with others about toys and equipment.
Setting up an environment that encourages exploration, provides plenty of choices and is free of a lot of “no go” zones can help children avoid situations that may lead to conflict. A positive environment where children feel warm and comfortable and trust the adults around them, will promote learning appropriate behaviour.
Some of the techniques that providers use to guide children’s behaviour might include redirecting children to other activities, modeling problem solving skills with children over three years old, offering appropriate choices and using natural and logical consequences. Problem solving is a skill that we can teach children by helping them work through conflicts. Asking questions such as “What do you think we should do here?” and “Did you ask your friend if they would share?” will help children learn how to problem solve.
Child care providers should not be using “time out” as a strategy for correcting or guiding children’s behaviour because it doesn’t teach appropriate behaviour. Time out is never appropriate for children under three years old. Sometimes a time away for older children can be used as a way to help them learn how to remove themselves from situations that have spiraled out of control. As a last resort, when a child is really having a hard time managing in the group, the child care provider might take the child to a quiet area and stay with him until he is calm. The provider needs to acknowledge the feelings, but stress that the child can not act inappropriately. So the provider might say, “I know you are frustrated, but you can not hit.” Then the provider must tell the child what he can do. The provider might say something like, “If you get frustrated with your friends, you can ask me for help or you can come away and do something else until you calm down.”
While the child is in the quiet area, the provider should stay with the child and offer some kind of quiet activity such as reading a story, listening to music with a headset or playing with puzzles. This is not meant to be the “naughty chair” but a regular part of the setting that anyone can go to for a bit of peace and quiet. It should be a warm and inviting place within sight of the rest of the program. When the child is calm and indicates he is ready, the provider can help him rejoin the play or move on to a different activity. Time away is not about punishment, it is about teaching the child how to gain control of his emotions.
Just as children have to learn to talk, to tie their shoes and to read, they have to learn how to behave in socially acceptable ways. Children learn through copying behaviour that they see around them, by experimenting with different ways of getting their needs met and they learn through consistent, positive guidance from adults they trust. As a parent, you can ask questions about how a potential provider handles guiding children’s behaviour and choose the provider whose guidance policy most closely matches yours.
For more information about child care, contact your local Child Care Resource and Referral Program or check out www.islandfamilyinfo.ca.
Delta McDonell, ECE, B.Ed, is the Regional Coordinator for Child Care Resource and Referral Programs on Vancouver Island.