Understand behaviour in early years

Understanding Behaviour in Early Years

James Hourihan, Author

Most children between the ages of 3 – 5 are happy, curious and full of energy. However, some may exhibit behaviours that are more challenging than others and possibly hinder a child’s social, emotional and cognitive growth. 

Therefore, it’s essential for nursery and primary school teachers to have a good understanding of behaviour in early years, so they can provide the best possible support for the children in their care.

Early childhood behavioural issues 

There are many different underlying factors that influence a child’s conduct, including environmental and psychological problems such as anxiety which may stem from chronic stress at home, sensory impairments caused by a disability can affect how they perceive things i.e. touch/taste etc. and communication difficulties. 

Some common behaviours that challenge include: 

  • Disruptiveness – regular temper tantrums and not following instructions 
  • Withdrawn behaviour – refusal to participate in activities or unwillingness to interact with others
  • Aggressive behaviour – hitting, biting or pushing

Remember that there is no one-size-fits-all answer to managing behaviour in early years, and at this age, children are still learning how to regulate and communicate their emotions. More than often, when a child misbehaves, it is a response to feeling worried, angry, tired, hungry or overwhelmed. 

It is important to note that challenging behaviour could be due to special education needs and disabilities (SEND). If this is the case, then individual support strategies are required to specifically support these children in meeting their learning and personal development goals. 

By identifying the triggers behind these types of behaviours, teaching staff and school leaders are able to adopt a more positive behaviour approach that aims to improve a child’s wellbeing and ultimately prepare them for the next step in education and life. 

How to manage behaviour in early years 

In relation to the EYFS framework, there are three characteristics of effective learning: 

  • Play – gives children an opportunity for self-expression and experience new things (in other words, ‘have a go’)
  • Active learning – help kids concentrate on tasks by offering challenging opportunities, such as painting within lines. 
  • Creative and critical thinking – allows children to develop problem-solving skills and reasoning (cognitive skills). 

Nursery plays such a critical role in facilitating opportunities for development. With this and the guidelines mentioned above in mind, some strategies that you can use to manage behaviour in early years settings include:

Positive reinforcement & rewards: Rewarding positive behaviour is a great way to boost self-confidence and create a sense of achievement. Try using visuals to represent good behaviour points such as stickers and stamps or verbal praise.

Be a role model: Social learning theory emphasises that children learn best by example and build better relationships with their peers and adults as a result. Therefore, it’s important that you model positive behaviour yourself by saying ‘thank you’ or even speaking in a calm manner when things go wrong. 

Establishing ground rules: Rules are essential for any classroom or early years setting when it comes to managing behaviour. By establishing a clear, age-appropriate set of rules and consequences, children will know what is expected of them and learn to be responsible for their actions. 

Using empathetic language: When dealing with behavioural issues, it’s important to use language that is respectful and demonstrates that you understand their feelings. For example, use empathetic phrases such as “I can see that you’re feeling frustrated, let’s see if we can find a different way to do this.”

Offer choices: Offering children choices is a great way to empower them and make them feel involved in their own learning. For example, you could ask a child “Would you like to work on this activity by yourself or with a partner?”

Be consistent: Consistency is key when it comes to behaviour management in early years settings. Children will be more likely to respond positively when you repeat a direction or positive action multiple times, so keep at it! 

See behaviour differently 

Here at Timian, we understand the significance of education in a child’s life, working in partnership with schools and staff since 1998 across the UK and internationally to create a safe, supportive environment where everyone can thrive. 

If you think your educational organisation will benefit from one of our positive behaviour management courses, speak to us on 0800 987 4075 or fill in our form here for more information. 

Sign up to our newsletter to receive our helpful learning resources for free

Further Reading From Timian