Preschool behavior management is a prerequisite for teachers looking to make the classroom an effective and positive learning environment. When done right, behavior management strategies reduce disruptions caused by challenging behaviors. It also encourages prosocial behaviors that support children’s social-emotional development and promotes skills such as conflict resolution, self-regulation, and peer collaboration.
But implementing behavior plans for preschoolers can be difficult when dealing with 20 or more children between the ages of three and five, or when you have limited preschool behavior management strategies under your belt. This age group has seemingly boundless energy and is rapidly exploring and learning.
While achieving success in the classroom can be challenging, it doesn't mean you can’t do it. We’ve put together the below guide to illustrate the best behavior management strategies for preschool.
What is preschool behavior management?
Preschool behavior management uses strategies to support children in learning, increase prosocial behaviors, and reduce challenging behaviors.
Behavior management for preschoolers is vital as it helps set expectations, forms the foundation for social-emotional learning, creates a conducive learning classroom environment, provides strategies families can use at home, and promotes positive behavior.
Benefits of effective preschool behavior management
The benefits of effective preschool behavior management include:
1. Sets expectations
Developing a preschool behavior management plan and sharing it with the children is the best way to set expectations correctly. This way, the children know what behavior is acceptable.
In addition, a clear plan reduces anxiety and supports children in making positive choices.
2. Forms the foundation for social-emotional learning
Besides learning to read and write, children need to develop social-emotional behaviors like regulating their emotions, social awareness, and relationship skills. Clear, concise, and easy to understand classroom rules can help children manage their stress levels and create an environment where they feel safe. A solid behavior management plan may also support children’s ability to communicate with others and listen well. Learning these essential social-emotional skills at an early age sets them up for success later in life.
3. Creates a conducive learning classroom environment
Classroom management strategies for preschool play a crucial role in promoting classroom orderliness. A conducive learning environment is free of interruptions and distractions, making it the best for learning.
Classroom management strategies facilitate smooth learning by defining expectations and guidelines children should follow.
4. Provides strategies families can use at home
Implementing a detailed preschool behavior management plan at your center will appeal to parents and caregivers as they choose a program that will teach their children essential skills to succeed in the classroom and beyond. Families can follow the same guidelines and expectations from the classroom as a way to provide consistency at home.
5. Promotes positive behavior
A preschool behavior management plan isn't only about consequences. A well-done plan can instill helpful skills and motivate all children to uphold positive behavior.
Classroom management strategies for preschool
Implementing preschool behavior management strategies can be challenging when you don’t know what strategies to employ. Try these proven classroom management strategies for preschool to get started:
1. Develop clear preschool behavior guidelines
Whether you call them rules, guidelines, or agreements, your preschool should have agreed-upon expectations for behavior in your classroom.
Depending on the age group, you can create these guidelines with input from your children.
Rather than a laundry list of “don’ts,” you’ll want to keep your behavior guidelines simple and short. For example, expectations such as “Be safe. Be respectful. Be kind.” are common in early childhood education settings.
2. Be specific about your expectations
The more specific your behavior guidelines are, the better for your children. Then, continually working from the preschool classroom rules from above, you will address any particular classroom behavior expectations.
For example, “We use walking feet in the classroom to be safe.” You’ll review these guidelines each morning and every chance you get as your children move throughout the day.
3. Follow a daily routine
Preschoolers thrive on routines. They need to know precisely what is expected of them and what to expect out of their day. So, run through the day’s activities each morning, following your carefully planned preschool schedule.
The consistency will help build trust between you and your children by clearly communicating expectations. It also empowers children to “own” their day and promotes autonomy.
4. Use positive language
Everyone thrives on praise, no matter their age. Recognize and call out when good things are happening at your preschool. Instead of “Don’t run,” you’ll say, “Thank you for being safe and using walking feet.”
Another strategy that often works is focusing on all the good things happening, even if someone is having a rough day. For instance, ignoring an outburst and instead focusing your attention on a positive interaction will do magic.
The trick with preschool behavior management is to recognize that some behaviors need immediate attention for safety reasons (i.e., biting). But other times, children might self-regulate if they witness a classmate receiving positive attention. Simply saying: “I notice that Katie is doing a great job picking up the blocks!” might motivate others to pitch in, too.
Redirecting behavior or changing the focus of a child's attention from an undesirable behavior to a more positive one, can prevent challenging behavior from escalating and help them find a more constructive way to express themselves. For example, if a child is throwing toys, you might take their hand and lead them to a different activity such as throwing a ball outside.
However, it’s essential to acknowledge that some behavioral issues might be rooted in wanting or needing attention. In this case, ignoring what is happening may only escalate the situation.
5. Provide visual cues
Pictures speak louder than words, especially when your audience can’t read yet! Visual cues for behavior guidelines are necessary. Ideally, photos of your children engaging in positive behaviors.
But don’t stop with your preschool behavior guidelines. Label material stations with photos so children can self-manage the clean-up process, hang photos of hand-washing steps in the bathroom, and display photos of children lining up–you name it. Give your preschoolers visual support to encourage independence or post a visual schedule by the classroom door to support end-of-day routines.
6. Manage transitions carefully
Moving between activities throughout the day can be a common time for behavior issues to arise in preschoolers. You’ll manage these hectic times best if you carefully train your children on your expectations at each stage of their day.
Consider a transition timer or countdown and build transition time directly into your daily routine and lesson plans. Some preschool teachers benefit from building a repertoire of go-to transition activities they can build into the day or pull out on the fly as needed.
7. Teach empathy and other social skills
Just like all other school subjects, you must teach social skills. Use circle time to share mini-lessons on positive behaviors like being a good friend, sharing toys, etc. Read books that address empathy and that focus on recognizing and managing feelings.
Use puppets or children volunteers to model treating others with kindness and respect. Children start to develop the ability to empathize around two years old, so encourage interactions that consider classmates’ feelings. Building strong bonds with and among your children will promote positive classroom culture.
8. Pay close attention to challenging behaviors
If you notice that most behavior problems occur during a specific time of day, consider making a change by examining what could be happening. For example, are you asking your preschoolers for a high concentration level before a nap when they are tired?
If so, you might consider rearranging your scheduled activities. For example, do things start to fall apart halfway through circle time? Maybe circle time is too long. If this is the case, modulate activity levels throughout the day and always keep a pulse on what’s working and what isn’t.
9. Engage with families
A strong home connection is beneficial in so many ways, including behavior management. Get input each morning on how a child’s day started. For example, you'll want to know if one of your preschoolers didn’t sleep well or had a rough morning.
Keep families in the loop and enlist their help when behavior problems occur. Is it happening at home too? Communicate your strategies to manage any challenging behaviors with families so they can continue them at home if necessary.
10. Consider a behavior chart
Preschool or pre-k behavior charts are special charts displayed on classroom walls to track preschoolers' behavior. These charts often assign a reward, like a sticker, to a specific behavior. The goal is to motivate children to display positive behavior while in the classroom.
While a behavior chart is one way to influence positive behavior, it does have its drawbacks. For example, it teaches children to expect a reward in exchange for a particular behavior and may undermine any intrinsic motivation to behave in a certain way. It’s best to use a reward system like this sparingly and strategically.
Strategies that build consistent community and positive experiences in your classroom will reduce the occurrence of behavior problems at your preschool. Setting clear expectations around acceptable behavior will help your children learn positive values and habits that will enhance their learning environment.
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