Behavior management in the early years is a topic of paramount importance for parents, educators, and caregivers. It’s a phase when children are learning to navigate their emotions, the environment around them, and the basic tenets of social interaction. However, guiding young children towards positive behaviors is more than just a series of dos and don’ts. Let’s delve into understanding and managing behavior in early years for holistic child development and positive outcomes.

1. Understanding Behavior in Early Years

Before we manage behavior, it’s essential to understand it. Young children are not defiant or challenging by nature. They’re exploring boundaries, understanding cause and effect, and expressing their emotions and needs the best way they know how.

2. The Role of Developmental Stages

Each child is unique, but developmental milestones provide a general framework of what behaviours to expect. For instance, toddlers might express frustration through tantrums, while preschoolers might become more vocal. Recognizing these stages can help in setting realistic behaviour expectations beforehand.

3. Common Behavioural Challenges in Early Years

  • Tantrums: Emotional outbursts, often when a child is overwhelmed or unable to communicate their feelings.
  • Aggression: This could manifest as hitting, biting, or pushing, usually stemming from frustration.
  • Defiance: Saying ‘no’, refusing to comply, testing boundaries.
  • Separation Anxiety: Distress when separated from primary caregivers.

4. Strategies for Managing Behaviour

  • Consistent Boundaries: Children thrive on consistency. Setting clear and consistent boundaries helps them understand what’s expected.
  • Positive Reinforcement: Instead of focusing on what not to do, highlight and reward good behaviours.
  • Empathetic Communication: Get down to their level, make eye contact, and talk to them about their feelings.
  • Model Behaviour: Young children often mirror the adults around them. Demonstrating patience, understanding, and calmness can positively influence their behaviour.

5. Environment Matters

An environment conducive to exploration, play, and learning can reduce behavioural challenges very young children. This includes:

  • Safe Physical Spaces: Reduce hazards or fragile items that might lead to constant ‘no’s or confrontations.
  • Structured Routines: Predictable routines provide a sense of security.
  • Engaging Activities: Keeping them engaged reduces boredom-induced behaviours.

6. Collaborative Approaches

When managing behaviour in early years settings, such as preschools or daycares children in your care, a collaborative approach involving educators, parents, and sometimes even professionals, can be beneficial.

7. The Role of Peer Interaction

Interactions with peers can both challenge and aid in behaviour management techniques. While conflicts can arise, peer play also provides opportunities for learning sharing, patience, and communication.

8. When to Seek Professional Help

Sometimes, behavioural challenges can be indicative of deeper developmental or emotional concerns. If a child consistently struggles beyond what’s typical for young child their age or if interventions aren’t helping, it might be time to seek professional guidance.

9. The Pitfalls of Punishment

While it might be tempting to adopt punitive measures for managing negative behaviour, they can often be counterproductive. Negative reinforcements can lead to suppressed emotions, fear, or even resentment.

10. Nurturing Emotional Intelligence

Teaching children to recognize, understand, and manage their own feelings and emotions can be one of the most effective long-term strategies. Simple practices like naming emotions, deep breathing exercises, or using calming jars can be beneficial.

11. The Power of Choice

Giving children a sense of agency can reduce power struggles. Simple choices, like picking a book for bedtime or choosing between two snacks, for other children can make them feel more in control.

12. Avoiding Overstimulation

Understanding a child’s threshold for stimulation can prevent meltdowns. If a day is packed with activities, ensuring quiet downtime can help in managing behaviour.

13. Educator and Caregiver Self-care

Managing disruptive behaviour is challenging and can be emotionally taxing. For educators and caregivers, prioritizing self-care ensures they have the patience and energy needed for the task.

What Constitutes Challenging Behaviour?

Challenging behaviour can be described as any behaviour that interferes with an individual’s daily life, learning, emotional development, and social integration. This includes:

  • Physical aggression such as hitting, biting, or pushing.
  • Verbal aggression like shouting, swearing, or making threats.
  • Self-injurious actions like head-banging, scratching, or biting oneself.
  • Destructive behaviours such as breaking objects.
  • Oppositional behaviours like defiance or refusal to comply with rules.
  • Withdrawn behaviours such as isolation, non-communication, or excessive shyness.

What Is Positive Behaviour?


At its core, positive behaviour encompasses actions and attitudes that contribute positively to one’s personal development and the well-being of the larger community. This good behaviour includes:

  • Demonstrating respect and empathy towards others.
  • Engaging in acts of kindness and cooperation.
  • Being responsible and accountable for one’s actions.
  • Actively participating in constructive activities and avoiding destructive ones.

Positive Behaviour in Different Settings

  • At Home: Parents and guardians can create a nurturing environment by setting routines, engaging in quality time, and practicing active listening.
  • In Schools: Implementing a Positive Behavioural Interventions and Supports (PBIS) framework can promote a positive learning atmosphere.
  • In Workplaces: Encouraging teamwork, providing growth opportunities, and recognizing employees’ efforts can foster a positive work culture.

What is Behaviour Management?


Behaviour management refers to a series of techniques used to promote desired behaviours while discouraging unwanted ones. These behaviour policy strategies ensure that individuals can work, learn, and interact in a safe, respectful environment.

Proactive vs. Reactive Strategies

  • Proactive Strategies anticipate potential behavioural issues and address them before they escalate. Examples include setting clear expectations and creating routines.
  • Reactive Strategies are employed in response to an undesired behaviour and aim to correct it. Examples include time-outs or loss of privileges.

Key Behaviour Management Strategies

  • Clear Expectations: Clearly define and consistently enforce expectations. This removes ambiguity and helps individuals understand what’s expected of them.
  • Positive Reinforcement: Reward and recognize positive behaviours. This could be through verbal praise, tangible rewards, or additional privileges.
  • Model Desired Behaviours: Lead by example. Demonstrating the desired behaviour is one of the most potent teaching tools.
  • Consistent Consequences: Ensure consequences for undesired behaviours are consistent. Inconsistency can lead to confusion and resentment.
  • Active Listening: Pay attention to underlying feelings or concerns that might be triggering undesired behaviours.
  • Time-Outs: A brief, supervised break from a situation can help the individual recalibrate and reflect on their behaviour.
  • Redirecting: Channel an individual’s energy or focus from an undesired behaviour to a positive or neutral activity.

What is Positive Behaviour Management?

Positive behaviour management emphasizes the use of positive reinforcement, proactive approaches, positive strategies and constructive feedback to encourage desirable behaviours and reduce the frequency of undesired ones.

Key Positive Behaviour Management Strategies

  • Positive Reinforcement: Praise, reward, or provide privileges when desired behaviours are exhibited.
  • Prevention and Anticipation: Predict potential challenges and proactively address them to prevent undesired behaviours.
  • Model Desired Behaviours: Be a role model. Demonstrating desired behaviours teaches by example.
  • Set Clear, Achievable Expectations: Ensure that individuals know what is expected and that these expectations are realistic.
  • Active Listening: Engage in genuine conversation to understand underlying concerns or feelings, validating them in the process.
  • Offer Choices: Allow individuals some control over their actions by providing them with choices, ensuring they feel involved and valued.
  • Use Visual Supports: Visual cues, like charts or cards, can serve as reminders and reinforcements for positive behaviours.

What is Unacceptable Behaviour?

Unacceptable behaviour refers to any conduct that violates societal norms, established rules, or basic respect and empathy towards others. Examples include bullying, verbal abuse, physical aggression, discrimination, and deliberate disregard for rules.

Root Causes of Unacceptable Behaviour

Understanding the underlying factors that lead to such behaviours is the first step towards effective intervention. These factors can include:

  • Environmental Factors: Chaotic or stressful environments can trigger aggressive or disruptive behaviours.
  • Personal Issues: Mental health challenges, unresolved trauma, or personal insecurities can manifest as unacceptable behaviour.
  • Cultural or Societal Influences: Certain behaviours may be deemed appropriate in one culture but unacceptable in another.
  • Peer Pressure: Especially among adolescents, the desire to fit in or be accepted can lead to negative behavioural patterns.

Impacts of Unacceptable Behaviour

  • Disruption: Such behaviours can interrupt the flow of activities in settings like classrooms or workplaces.
  • Emotional Toll: Victims of unacceptable behaviours, like bullying or discrimination, can face significant emotional distress.
  • Strained Relationships: These behaviours can cause rifts between peers, colleagues, or community members.
  • Reputational Damage: For organizations, unchecked unacceptable behaviours can damage reputation and credibility.

What is Self-Esteem?

At its core, self-esteem is an individual’s assessment of their worth. It encompasses beliefs about oneself, including personal abilities, inherent values, and overall self-worth. It is not a static trait; rather, it can fluctuate based on experiences, surroundings, and life stages.

The Two Facets of Self-Esteem

  • Explicit Self-Esteem: This is the conscious, reflective self-evaluation. It is what individuals believe they think about themselves.
  • Implicit Self-Esteem: This refers to an individual’s unconscious self-evaluation, which might not always align with explicit self-esteem.

Boosting Self-Esteem

  • Self-Awareness: Recognize and challenge negative beliefs about oneself.
  • Positive Affirmations: Regularly practice positive self-talk and affirmations.
  • Set Achievable Goals: Celebrate small victories, which can enhance feelings of competence and self-worth.
  • Avoid Comparisons: Everyone’s journey is unique; comparing with others can be detrimental to self-worth.
  • Seek Professional Help: Therapists or counselors can offer techniques and tools to rebuild and maintain healthy self-esteem.

What is Self-Confidence?

Self-confidence is a belief in one’s abilities and judgments. It’s an internal assurance that one can meet life’s challenges and succeed. Unlike self-esteem, which is more about one’s sense of self-worth, self-confidence is specifically tied to competence and ability.

Social and Emotional Development

Social and emotional development refers to the evolution of a child’s capacity to form close and secure relationships, understand their own and others’ feelings and emotions, regulate their behavior and emotions, and engage in social interactions in a meaningful way.

Creating a Safe Environment

A safe environment is the cornerstone of well-being, growth, and development. By understanding its multifaceted nature, we can work collectively to foster spaces where everyone, regardless of age, gender, background, or identity, feels truly safe. Only then can we hope to create communities that are both resilient and flourishing.

Tackling Behaviour Issues

Behaviour issues can manifest in a myriad of ways and can be influenced by a range of factors, from biological to environmental. Such issues are common across all age groups, though the nature and cause may differ. Addressing behavioural concerns requires understanding, empathy, consistency, and sometimes professional intervention.

Recognizing Behaviour Issues

Signs may include:

  • Repeatedly defying rules or norms.
  • Aggressive behavior towards others.
  • Withdrawal from social interactions.
  • Sudden decline in academic or work performance.
  • Substance abuse.
  • Signs of self-harm or talking about self-harm.


Managing behaviour in early years is not about control but guidance. It’s about helping young children navigate a world they’re still learning about. With understanding, consistency, and a focus on positive reinforcement, managing behaviour can become an enriching experience, laying the foundation for well-adjusted, confident children. Remember, every child is unique, and what works for one might not work for another. Flexibility, patience, and collaboration are the keys to success in early years setting.