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Going Beyond Managing Behaviors

going beyond managing behaviors

Are you a teacher or a manager?

I don’t know about you, but I refer to myself as a Preschool Teacher, not a Preschool Manager.

So, why when it comes to behaviors in the classroom, we feel that they need to be managed? Why not taught?

I didn’t sign up to be managing behaviors, I signed up to teach…. and that shouldn’t just mean academic skills.

Think about it… if we observe that a child cannot recognize shapes, what do we do? We teach them. We certainly don’t punish them.

What do we do if we observe a child hit another child? We punish them. We put them in time out. We tell them not to hit. We make them apologize. We do it over and over again, hoping the hitting will stop. (sidenote: “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”- Albert Einstein)


It takes just as much energy to get angry and punish the behavior as it does just to teach children a different way. Yes. Sometimes we don’t want to teach it. You may have already talked to a certain student about a certain behavior 10 times…. you are over it! But, if you believe that behavior is a form of communication… ask yourself…What are they telling me? Why are they doing this behavior? Then, take those missing skills and teach them!

Teaching missing skills in the moment:

So, let’s go back to the hitting example:

If we took time to observe and do a little investigative work, we can find out WHY a child is hitting. After we know WHY, we can move to teaching a different (usually more socially-acceptable) way to handle the situation.

For example:  You observed one child hit another. Right before the hitting, the child’s block tower was knocked down by another student. This tells us that most likely the child used hitting as a means of showing and handling frustration. Here is the perfect time to teach the child how to handle frustration appropriately. Model the words to say. Give techniques for calming down. Help children stand up for themselves using words and not hands. Simply put- We teach them how to handle conflict. Now, the next time something like this occurs, they will have practiced what to do instead of hitting.

But, don’t expect children’s behavior to change after one ‘teaching’. It just doesn’t work like that. Children need to practice skills many times with support from you before they can break any behavior habits they may have developed. Patience and repetition is key. Eventually, the day will come when you will observe that child handling the situation appropriately, by themselves- whoo-hoo!

Teaching skills before behaviors happen:

I used to be so guilty of assuming that children magically knew how to behave in different situations. I would think, ‘surely children know how to act when we walk in the hall. It isn’t that hard!’. Then, I would have these expectations for walking in the hall in my head- but I never shared those expectations with my students.

If I would have just taught children what I expected, they could have so easily met my expectations without me having to get flustered and dole out punishments.

So, now I tell them everything. Step by step. Sometimes I even put my expectations in a song. For example, when we go to Chapel time I always sing this song: “When we go to Chapel, what do we do? We sit on our bottoms. Hands in our laps. Eyes are straight forward. Our ears are listening!” I also made Procedure Cards that show (in pictures) step-by-step what they are expected to do for a certain procedure. I do this for everything we do that I have specific expectations. It really is hard to meet someone’s expectations when you don’t even know what they actually expect from you (sure, I have to give reminders – they are only 4 years old)!

Teaching skills in a whole group setting:

Lately, I have gotten into teaching my students about different social-emotional skills (that affect behaviors) in a purposeful way. We usually do this during a whole group setting.

I teach children a new skill each week that encourages positive self-awareness, social awareness, self management and relationships.

During this intentional time, we discuss, role play and practice social emotional skills. I’ve noticed a positive change when it comes to how children view themselves, others and how they interact with others. And I’m do a lot less of managing behaviors – win!

Plus, these mini lessons provide a reference point to jump back to when teaching missing skills in the moment. Learn more about the mini-lessons I use here.

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