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What are Preschool Behaviors Telling You?

what are preschool behaviors telling you

All behavior is a form of communication…so, what are preschool behaviors trying to tell you?

I’m a firm believer that children don’t do things just to piss us off.

Sure, it feels like it sometimes. But, truth is children aren’t born ‘bad kids’ they aren’t out to wreck our day. Children learn through their own experiences and modeling of others on how to behave.

So, let’s talk about how we can look at modifying student behavior in one of two ways- is it a missing skill or is it a behavior problem?

Example 1: Hitting

Traditionally, when we would look at the behavior of hitting, we’d see it as a behavior problem. Maybe we would have them sit out or go to timeout for hitting. We might try telling them hitting hurts and ask if they like being hit. And we would keep doing this in hopes that maybe they will learn that it’s not okay to hit another person. We might even get frustrated and say things like ‘How many times have I told you not to hit?’, ‘Do you want {insert child’s name} to hit you back?’ or other not so helpful things.

Or….. we can totally shift our thinking into ‘is it a missing skill’? The WHY. I take that word why into everything I do. So, why are they hitting? Sure, figuring out why they are hitting is going to take a little more effort on my part. It’s going to take a little bit of investigating …. But why are they hitting another? Because of frustration? Maybe another child knocked down their tower and so now there is frustration and they don’t know how to handle that type of situation without lashing out physically.

Or, maybe it could be something different. I actually had a student last year that, I found when I looked deeper, was using hitting as a way of getting other students to play with him. His play style was very rough and tumble and so he assumed everyone played like that. So what would he do to get someone’s attention? He would hit them because then they would turn around and pay him attention. Wasn’t necessarily positive attention, but he didn’t care. He just wanted them to pay attention to him. And so we worked all year on how we get a friend’s attention in a positive way.

Traditionally, I would have taken that hitting situation and I would have sat him out every time he hit. But, would he stop hitting if I wasn’t there to intervene and sit him out? Probably not. He would have just tried not to get caught! No problem was solved.

But, guess what I found, when I taught him how to talk to friends? I overheard him saying, “Hey, do you wanna play with me?” And then he went even further and said, “I like to play rough. What’s your play style?”. Which kind of cracked me up because the other child just looked at him like, ‘Huh?’. But he got it. He finally got it. I was just beaming with pride for him because he understood how to get a friend’s attention. So, the hitting stopped because he learned a different way. He was getting what he wanted when he asked a friend to play and I didn’t even have to be there to intervene- he handled it all on his own.

Example 2: Sitting at the Carpet

Another example – rolling around on the carpet. That happens a lot, especially in kindergarten classrooms. WHY are they rolling around on the carpet? It could be as simple as you haven’t taught them sitting choices. Maybe that student is just overwhelmed. There are so many kids at the carpet and just so much going on and they need their own little space. Or, maybe they have not yet built up the stamina and self control to sit and we need to slowly build that up. It could even be that your expectations of how long they can sit is off a bit. If you see a lot of kids having trouble sitting on the carpet, there could be a problem with your schedule and how long you’re having your kiddos sit. But, traditionally we might see a child rolling around on the carpet and just say over and over again….sit up, sit up, sit up, I told you to sit up! …. when you constantly repeat yourself you might go insane through the process. So… Look at it with a different lens!

Example 3: Following Directions

Another huge behavior I often see in my classroom is not following directions….right? Kiddos don’t want to listen. They don’t want to do what they’ve been asked. I do think a lot of this goes back to the relationship. If they trust you and they don’t want to disappoint you, then some of that stops. But, we can also look deeper into the WHY they aren’t following your directions. One example might be that your directions had too many steps… you gave a four step direction and they got lost trying to follow them. Or, could it be a possibility that they have trouble hearing..can they hear you through the crowd of louder kids?

But, what I found that usually happening, is that they don’t want to stop doing what they’re doing. Say it’s cleanup time, you ring the bell or play the song. Everybody’s singing, but they’re not cleaning. Why aren’t they cleaning up? Because they don’t want to stop. I get it. There’s some fun things that I do that I don’t really want to stop, but when the time has come, we stop. Sometimes we have to teach kids that we have to do things we don’t really want to do. Make a game out of it. Explain the why behind it.

However, when we look at the behavior of not following directions- traditionally this is how it goes: you give the directions, give them again and give them ten more times. Then you start getting angry. Then, maybe you start yelling or putting kids in a safe seat or in a timeout because they are not listening. This cycle repeats itself because the child knows no other way… and what is their motivation to want to do what you asked… they no longer trust you to help them.

When we look at addressing student behaviors the traditional way, the result is usually some form of punishment. The problem with that being that children aren’t learning a different way to get their needs met. Therefore a cycle forms: 1. undesirable behavior, 2. punishment, 3. repeat.

But, when we take time to look deeper and find the WHY we see that yes, behavior truly is a form of communication. The best way to look deeper? Document and analyze.

Ready to TEACH children rather than MANAGE them? Read more here.

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