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  • Writer's pictureFiona Holiday

Why I stopped talking about behaviour management

I used to talk about behaviour management all the time - how the adults manage the behaviour of children and use strategies to change behaviours that are unwanted. It all seemed fairly straightforward.

Then I started to notice how I felt when children did not follow the rules. Somehow, their difficulty with following the rules became my lack of skill in behaviour management. I began to feel ineffective, that I lacked "tools" and even that I was losing control.

When we tie children's behaviour to our ability to control, we are potentially missing a vital part of our role as educators. I had a lightbulb moment when I realised that it was not MY role to manage children's behaviour but to get alongside them and help them learn how to manage themselves. In effect, to co-regulate.

The shift came when I understood that learning how to behave in a whole range of situations was similar to learning any other skill like counting . We are not born with an understanding of how to line up at playtime or respond when someone takes our toy. We learn to manage the stressors that we face with support from adults who are tuned into us and help us regulate.

Understanding how we learn self-regulation can transform how we approach behaviour. When a child is struggling to manage their feelings of anger or excitement, when they are not able to listen or concentrate, when they are constantly arguing with their friends, this tells us that they are overwhelmed in some way.

The most helpful question when we are concerned about a child's behaviour is "What stressors might the child be dealing with?" Curiosity about what is going on allows to wonder about the whole of a child's wellbeing.

We all recognise how a poor night's sleep or a missed breakfast can impact how we respond to others when challenged. We all react in ways which we regret at times. Children need our support to manage these times, to deal with the inevitable guilt or shame and to be coached through calming down and naming what is going on. They are learning.

Now I talk about supporting children to manage their behaviour, about co-regulation and curiosity. I talk about children being overwhelmed and distressed rather than behaving badly. And I manage my own behaviour.

I will be talking in more depth about this at Childcare Expo in Manchester - see the link on my training page.

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