My first year of teaching preschool many years ago was anything but peaceful. I had an energetic class with some children facing very big challenges. While I finally got my footing and my voice back, I also learned a lot that year about what not to do. I had some of these steps to a peaceful classroom down even back then, but I needed some help. Many years later getting the best out of my young students is much easier, I realized that behavior management for preschool has nothing to do with punishment and everything to do with how you set up their environment, react to their actions and behaviors, and most importantly how you connect with them. Here are my nine lessons about behavior management for preschool. I wish I had known all of these before ever stepping foot in a preschool classroom but instead learned many through experience.
1. Set your students up to succeed. Do not expect a 3-year-old to sit quietly for a 20 minute circle time or a trio of five-year-olds to be able to work next to each other without talking. Support your students’ growth and development with activities and materials that engage and challenge them but avoid frustration.
2.Make routines predictable.Make sure to prep the children when anything out of the ordinary is planned. Anxiety is a major reason for misbehavior in preschool-aged children, it doesn’t always present itself as worry.
3. Do not overstimulate. Children process information slower than we do, and too much input to process results in meltdowns. If you have too many things our for free play, if there is too much noise or too many people crowded together you can have a harder time managing behaviors. I noticed last year that at the start of each month when we would switch themes that behavior would change, it was just too much for some students to have so many new things out. We adjusted and slowly introduced the changes and all returned to normal.
4. Use positive corrections instead of negative ones. ” We walk inside, but when we get outside you can run.” ” Painting is for the easel, why don’t you come help me wash this paint off the car and then you can play with it in when you are done painting.” ” Hitting hurts. When you are angry, you need to use your words and keep your hands on your body.”
5. When you do have to correct a child get down to their level and do it gently and without shame. Avoid using ” I like how Sally is sitting; Sally is sitting perfectly.” instead try ” Sally is showing me she is ready by sitting by the fence.” It is a subtle change but an important one.
6. Notice good behavior and praise it authentically. All children are good; their behavior may be challenging, but the child just wants connection, and it’s our job to find a way to make that connection. Try to find what the misbehaving child is doing right and praise them for that. This is easy to say but sometimes harder to do, but it’s worth it.
7. Selectively ignore bad behaviors. Once you understand a child’s motivations for behaviors you can decide if you can ignore it or not. Of course how it affects other students plays a large role in whether you can ignore it or not. Is it disruptive? Can you move the child to another area within the classroom and allow them to keep it up where it won’t infringe on any other child? Can it be a teachable moment for the whole class without shaming the child?
8. Be a role model and call yourself out when you do something that breaks your classroom’s rules and expectations. Every moment in your classroom is a teachable moment. Just last week I found myself tossing a toy into a bin. I threw a toy inside, which is not permitted. I quickly said ” Oh no I forgot we throw things outside, inside we place them in the bin. I will try that again.” I did try it again by placing the toy in the bin with three children watching who learned from my mistake.
9. Teach about emotions to foster empathy. When children can recognize and respond to classmates emotions they can work more cooperatively and take responsibility for their actions and how they affect others. Here are some circle time activities I use in my class to explore emotions.
10. PLAY with your students. Get down on the ground and pretend to be a lion, drink 50 cups of pretend coffee and make snakes with playdough. That is where your real authority will come from, not by shouting, or making students fear you. Make them love you by playing and connecting with them, and you will see children eager to please. I can not stress this one enough; young children will listen to your requests much more effectively when they feel a connection.
If you were giving advice to a new teacher what would you add to this list?