Challenging behavior in preschool is common but just because it is common doesn’t mean it’s easy to deal with. Preschool behavior management takes patience and a plan. When I work through a rough patch with a student or as is more common these days am contacted by a reader who needs help with a student one of the things I always suggest is to document the behaviors. Sometimes that suggestion is met with a blank stare, or an email reply that goes something like this ” Um ok, how do I do that?” That is why I am writing this post and providing you with a sample Behavior Observation Log you can print out free and use as much as you like, or use it as a guide to create your own.
Why Document Challenging Behaviors?
There are two main reasons I that suggest teachers document challenging behaviors. The first reason to document is to discover patterns and triggers. Does Hailey always lash out at lunch? Does Keaton run around and tackle friends during transitions? When you document behavior you can find these patterns and triggers quickly and try to stop the challenging behavior before it starts. By addressing the root cause made more obvious by documenting, many behaviors can be successfully overcome.
The second reason for documenting is in order to better communicate with parents/guardians, other teachers, and school administration. Staff and parents/guardians are a team but when it comes to challenging behaviors it can feel like anything but. Having things written down can better guide discussions, help to make a better plan of action, and ultimately help the child better. If multiple teachers are in the classroom having a paper trail can be an important tool for getting a whole picture of the challenges the child is having.
Whose Behavior Do You Document?
In a perfect world, preschool teachers would have enough time to document a little about each child in their class, taking note of their development, their challenges, and achievements every day. In reality, we tend to only carefully document the children who are presenting a challenge. I definitely encourage documenting all students when possible ( my favorite tool is my camera), however, The tips and suggestions below are for those students who are struggling with challenging behavior.
What Do You Document?
When I am trying to get a good handle on a tough situation I document a lot. I will take note of interactions, especially ones between the child and children that they often conflict with, I will document any behaviors that are not developmentally appropriate, safety concerns, etc… This is really where your connection and relationship with the child needs to come in. You as the teacher knows this child if their behavior is “off” take note. Also, please document the great stuff too.
Take note of when these students have great days, work well with a particular classmate, or even just great moments and share those with parents and guardians. It is tough knowing your child is struggling at preschool and sharing these great moments with the family builds that bridge.
Behavior Observation: How Do You Document?
My favorite trick that I learned when I was student teaching 300 years ago was to use Post-it Notes. You don’t have time to run back to the child’s folder and onto documentation forms but you can write a little note on a post-it and then after the school day take the time to document the whole event. At the start of the day, I would put the Post-its on my clipboard ready to go. If you have more than one student who needs documenting use different color Post-its.
When the day is done take the Post-it and write a much longer account of the event in the child’s folder. I would use plain paper often but I wish I had something like these Behavior Observation Logs. I created these for a reader who was looking for a way to document and keep it all organized. They are a great place to start, use what works for you and don’t worry, they are free!
The Role Of Communication with Parents and Guardians
As I said earlier, teachers and parents are a team and when children are struggling that team is vital. Parents can get defensive, teachers can lack patience and vice versa. We are all human, extending some grace and being gentle with parents/ guardians is key. Included in the Behavior Observation Log printables I have included two different pages devoted to parents and guardians, one asking for their input and the other to take notes of any meeting you have with them. This is why documentation of the great and the challenging is equally important when trying to overcome a behavior challenge.
Sometimes minimal parent involvement is needed, but if you are at the stage of documenting behavior regularly, it’s time to clue them in. Remember we can learn so much more about our students if we have a relationship with their parents/guardians. A child acting up for no apparent reason is hard to help, but when we know that their dog died, or that their older sibling is in the hospital our whole outlook shifts. Those shifts only happen with communication. For more info about how to talk to parents about their child’s disruptive behavior check out this post.
So now what?
That depends on the child, the severity of the behavior, and the resources available.
Documentation may lead to a good plan, sometimes referred to a behavior plan ( there is a sheet for that in the Behavior Observation Log printable here), that lays out the steps needed to help the child overcome this behavior. At times documentation helps to make clear that the challenges are too great for your classroom. It helps teachers advocate for services that they are not able to provide for the student. The goal of writing everything down is never to have “evidence” of bad behavior used to shame, punish, or expel a child. The goal is to observe, take note, and help. Sometimes help comes in your classroom and sometimes we recognize that the need is greater than our ability. In those cases, all this documentation can prove to be helpful as well.
I hope that this helps break down the behavior documentation process for you. If you teach at a public school, or at a corporate childcare center you likely have a system already in place. My hope is that if you are teaching at a small private school like me that this helps inspire you to create a flexible system to help the children in your care who are struggling.
You can read more helpful articles about teaching preschool here!