Best Practices for Guiding Children’s Behaviour

Who will benefit?

This guide is for early learning and child care staff and family child care providers. It provides effective ways to guide behaviours and enhance the social and emotional well-being of all children in your care. The strategies described here are research-based. They can help all children, not just those experiencing difficulties. Where do I begin? You set the tone for experiences that children have while in your care. Therefore, it is important to develop a respectful, caring relationship with every child, right from the start. This allows children to build trust in you. Get to know each child and what may be affecting her behaviour. Observe children carefully and pay attention to the environment where specific behaviours are happening. For example: Do children have to wait for the whole group before leaving the lunch table or using the washroom?

Are they expected to stop playing without notice and change activities often? Do children and adults have to shout to hear each other over background music? These observations will help you adapt your approach and increase positive behaviours. Listen carefully, look at each situation from a child’s perspective and determine what changes you need to make. When we are uncomfortable with a child’s behaviour, it can be difficult to respond appropriately and effectively. It is important to know when we are losing control; recognize our own discomfort; and discuss it with supportive team members. Because every situation is different, behaviour guidance requires ongoing decision making. We need to remember to be patient, even if a strategy does not work in a particular situation. We need to be flexible and try other strategies that may fit the situation better. Sometimes we need to use a strategy for a longer period of time, before we see improvement.

What can I do to encourage positive social interactions?



Seek many opportunities to interact with each child and give individual attention.

Snuggle up and read a book together; ask questions and begin a conversation with a quiet child; join in active play with an energetic child.

Role play examples of appropriate behaviours to teach children how to succeed in social interactions.

Give children scenarios such as “What if you want a toy that someone else is using?” Discuss possibilities and help children try out their ideas. For example: “Can I use that puzzle when you’re done?”

Read books about feelings and discuss them with children.

“Look at her face in this picture, she seems happy. Do you remember feeling this way? What happened to make you feel this way?”

Use words you want the children to use to model appropriate social behaviours.

Ask: “Can I play with you?” before you join children in their play.

Watch closely for positive behaviours and tell children when their language and behaviour is appropriate. Make positive comments more often than negative ones.

“I noticed you zip up your friend’s jacket. That helped her get ready for outdoor play sooner. Thank you.”

Be specific with feedback when giving attention, so children understand what behaviour is appropriate.

Try: “The two of you were so helpful working together to bring chairs to the table.” instead of “Good job.”

Help children develop a short list of basic rules to follow during daily interactions and activities.

Ask: “How should we care for ourselves, our friends and our toys?”

Post the list of rules with pictures to illustrate them, where children can see them easily.

Include photos of the children showing respect for themselves, for others and for toys.

What can I do to discourage inappropriate behaviours?



Recognize that inappropriate behaviours present opportunities for children to develop language and social skills.

Give a cue or phrase, so children can communicate their needs and wants more appropriately.

Have realistic expectations for each child. Ensure that expectations are appropriate for the development and abilities of each child and that they respect individual social and cultural backgrounds.

Remind younger children to use “gentle touches” instead of hitting. Help older children understand the perspective of others by asking: “How do you think hitting made him feel? How can you make him feel better?”

Break tasks into smaller steps that the children can manage.

During cleanup time, ask children: “Please put three toys on the shelf.” rather than “Put your toys away.”

Offer help if a child seems frustrated with a task.

Ask: “Can I help you with your zipper?”

Use positive language that focuses on the expected behaviour.

Provide a reminder: “Please walk.” instead of “Don’t run!”

Ignore minor incidents when there is no concern for safety, to avoid attention on inappropriate behaviour.

For example, do not acknowledge that a child throws a blanket if the child settles for a nap afterwards. Do not acknowledge that a child slams a game piece on the table when frustrated, but continues to play the game calmly.

Provide logical reasons when stating limits.

Try: “Please use a quieter voice so I can hear what you are saying” instead of “Stop shouting!”

Re-state the message differently, if the child does not seem to understand what is expected.

First try: “Take your things to your locker.” Then try: “Hang your snow pants and coat on your hook.”

Use a calm, encouraging tone of voice that expresses your confidence in the child’s ability to stay calm and solve a problem.

Show a positive attitude: “I know you can do it!”

Use positive body language and facial expressions to convey support.

Keep arms relaxed, rather than on hips. Smile instead of frowning.

Respond consistently so children have many opportunities to practise what is expected of them.

If children are expected to mop up spills at the water table, remind them each time, if needed. Avoid doing it for them, even when it may be faster.

Model techniques to help children learn to calm themselves when they are upset.

Allow children to see you express and deal with different emotions. “I’m feeling frustrated. I’m going to take the time to calm down by counting to 10.”

Wait until children are calm before speaking with them.

Quiet, relaxing time in a cozy area can be comforting until they are ready to communicate and solve the problem.

Ensure strategies are consistent among all staff members. Review and discuss program philosophy and the behaviour guidance policy regularly.

Review policies and add discussion about guiding behaviours to the staff meeting agenda, at least twice a year.

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