Friday, January 14, 2011

Behavior Management: Step One - Prevention

“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Ben Franklin

Ben had it right. I’d rather put in effort to prevent issues than work at having to put out the flames of misbehavior. Behavior management is more than discipline it’s setting up children for successes and being proactive in providing those opportunities.

Be Observant – Be aware of what is going on in each child’s age and stage of development. Know what new challenges are before them and how they are managing those challenges. Take an assessment of their physical needs – sleep, nutrition, activity level or general comfort. Do adjustments need to be made? Be watchful for stressors – irritations, frustrations, worries or changes in schedule. These can make a big difference to how children react to situations. Are you noticing a child who is over or under stimulated, overly rushed or bored? These can be signs pointing to schedule issues. A child who is well rested, hydrated, eating nutritious meals, participating in a varied routine and at a minimum stress level has a much easier time coping with their world.

Environment – The physical environment can contribute to the child’s success or struggles. Assess play spaces. Is there enough space to engage in activities and play, access to age appropriate toys or activities, system for keeping toys or activities stored and organized, play space is clean and safe? Is there a place for active play that won’t interfere with another child choosing a quiet activity? Can a child find a quiet spot to read with an adult comfortably for both? Is the lighting appropriate for chosen tasks? Many children are sensitive to bright lights, textures, sound or other environmental components that can affect their behavior. You may find that some very simple changes will make all the difference.

Routines – Schedules ground children. Knowing what they can expect from the day is important and for some children it is critical. Regular meals and snacks, rest time, active time and quiet play, are all important in establishing the daily routine. When special activities or outings are planned keep the child’s routine in mind. Try to maintain meal time as close to normal as possible. Provide for some rest or nap time as close to their usual schedule as possible. Pace your outing so that no one, including you, becomes over tired or exhausted. Prepare children for outings or special activities. This could be as easy as simply introducing the plan at the start of your day. Briefly outline the activity, when you are leaving, when you’ll return home, some details about what they can expect from the activity, and answering their questions. Reminders throughout the activity about the plan can help everything flow well.

Recognize Good Behavior – When children are behaving well we need to give them positive feedback to confirm to them they are on the right track. They need to get positive reinforcement so those behaviors are firmly established. It’s as easy as saying “I like the way you are playing with your Legos!” It might be tempting to just leave them to it while they are doing well, but this is the time to pour on the praise. Make sure that your recognition is real and sincere. Children can spot “phony” a mile away. Even after the fact you can provide positive comments – “I was just thinking about how well you shared with your sister yesterday. It was so nice to see that!” This kind of feedback empowers better behavior.

Next Friday - Part Two!

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