Friday, January 21, 2011

Behavior Management: Step Two - Techniques

Choices – Children are building autonomy starting in those early toddler years, but they need our guidance. Providing them with appropriate choices lets them have some control within limits. The younger the child the fewer the choices offered to them. Start with two and build from there. You are encouraging decision making and problem solving skills while limiting tantrums and breakdowns. Make sure that the choices you offer are reasonable and appropriate, and that you can back them up.
When you offer options you are telling the child that their opinion matters, you value their decision and that you can be counted on to follow through.

Redirection – This proactive technique is very effective for young children, especially toddler and young preschoolers. I have to admit to also using it on school age and teenagers as well. To use redirection effectively, you must be observant of the child for signs that their behavior is about to change (and not for the better). Once you hone in on their behavior signals you’ll be able to redirect the child to other activity choices or to shift your routine to accommodate them. If playing with a particular toy is frustrating to a child offer a more pleasing option that provides them with a sense of accomplishment. If you see that they are more tired than usual suggest a quiet activity that will allow them to recharge. If they need to blow off some steam then shift gears to a more physically active choice. As the children got older I explained how I could see their behavior changing and asked for their ideas to help things turn around. They often had great ideas that were easily implemented, and even better they were beginning to recognize their own behavior patterns.

Limits that Make Sense – Setting limits that make sense allows for cooperative behavior. Obviously when children are very young limits are set by the adults in their lives. It’s vital that all the adults are agreed about what those parameters are; nothing is more frustrating to a child stretching and experimenting with their boundaries to find that there are different rules depending on who is “in charge.” Children are adaptable and can accept differences in caregivers styles but it really helps them to have consistent expectations regarding behavior. Limits should be clear and simple. Boundaries need to be modified as children get older. Including the older child’s views in the modification of boundaries encourages cooperation.

Listening – Good listening habits start early. We expect children to listen to us, but we also need to model listening skills. You may hear some important feedback about things that are working or not working in relation to expectations. This feedback can help to rethink limits and boundaries that will work best. The children in my care got to know that if they came to me with a suggestion or idea that I would honestly listen and consider their point. They felt valued and appreciated which led to better behavior. Being heard has power.  

Take 5 – This technique uses either giving children a break or having children take a break when an infraction has occurred or better yet before it happens. I introduced "take 5" young toddlers as a way to take a break after we've tried other things like redirection or changing activities. Toddlers often demonstrate their frustrations with tantrums. If possible I would have them take a break before we got to that point. A break really is just a time to breath deeply and move away from the action but not out of the room. They needed time to regroup and start again so I never put a time limit on the break. Usually just a few seconds to maybe a minute was all they needed. Once they got used to the "take 5" they would sometimes annouce they were going to "take 5" without my input at all. I can still remember the middle child, he'd just turned 3, announcing to me that he was getting "flusterated" (a good description of his situation) and needed to "take 5". As they got older they would sometimes want to "take 5" in their room or in another location. When they rejoined the activities we moved on and didn't dwell on past behavior but moved forward with a positive attitude.

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