Understanding Behavior Management

Despite all their wonderful qualities and their irresistible zest for life, spending ample amount of time with children can be trying, especially when they are exhibiting troubling behaviors. This blog post aims to discuss different techniques for managing troubling child behaviors as well as ignite a broad discussion on the topic of behavior management.

The act of promoting positive behaviors and correcting harmful behaviors by an adult is called “behavior management.” As educators, it is our duty to ensure that children are not misbehaving. Misbehaving is a broad concept but can be thought of as a failure to act in a societally acceptable fashion.  Examples of misbehavior include but are not limited to the following: using swear words, bullying, acting selfish, pushing other children, talking back to adults, etc.

How to determine if behavior needs correcting?

Socially acceptable behaviors for children can vary by geographical area, culture, setting, etc.  Teachers must recognize this, and always make the determination of whether a child’s behavior is suitable to their environment.  Some behaviors however, are universally unacceptable, such as punching a classmate.  As educated adults with world-life experiences, it is our job to teach children that there is a time and a place for certain actions.  At times it is okay to be silly like while a child is playing on the playground, while other times, like during story time it is best to listen intently.  It can be difficult for children to determine when certain behaviors are acceptable, and they will learn best by trial and error, with periodic explanations of why or why not a behavior is acceptable in a certain instance.

What are some best practices for behavior management?

Focus on the ABCs of Behavior Management:

Antecedents: These are factors that make an inappropriate behavior more likely to occur. In other words, an antecedent is a trigger, something that likely leads to an inappropriate behavior.  Understanding a child’s triggers allows an educator to prepare themselves to anticipate certain behaviors, as well as to avoid the triggers that stir negative behaviors all together.

  • Example: For some children, riding the bus is a trigger for acting inappropriately. Recognizing this trigger, teachers can prepare by positioning their own seat location on the bus near the area of the child who is likely to “act out.”

Behaviors: This refers to the specific actions you are trying to encourage or discourage.  Behavior management is more than just seeking to limit bad behaviors. It is also the process by which we teach positive behaviors.

Example: Encouraging positive self-talk by rewarding it or discouraging poor language by offering alternatives and conveying the consequences of the behavior.

Consequences: These can be either positive or negative and are the natural result of a behavior.  The use of consequences can affect the likelihood that a behavior occurs again.  Especially for children, it is important that consequences be felt immediately.

  • Example: Rewarding positive conflict resolution with additional screen time for a child who values it.

What should we avoid when practicing behavior management? (source: teachub.com)

  • Trying to manage every behavior: At the end of the day, kids are going to misbehave, and they are likely going to do so often.  As educators, we’d go crazy if we sought to manage every behavior and correct every negative action by a child.  Teachers should “pick their battles.”
  • Doing the thinking for the child: Children learn not by being told what to do, but rather by reflecting on their own behaviors. Ask questions. Help them come to the desired conclusions.
    • Question Examples:
      • How do you think John felt when you pushed him in line?
      • You were very helpful to Mrs. Jane today. Does it make you feel good to help out your teacher?
      • Is yelling at your friend going to help you solve the problem?
    • Publicly shaming: Children should never be shamed for their behavior. Should a child’s behavior need coaching, do it in private.  They can be “called out” publicly for their behavior, but that should be the extent of it. All other discussions should occur privately.
    • Use words that affect a child’s self esteem negatively: Even when a child misbehaves they are still worthy of every adult’s respect. Labeling children with negative adjectives like “naughty” or “dumb” serves no positive developmental purpose and is mean spirited.

Additional Resources:


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