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Managing Challenging Behaviors in Young Children

Managing Challenging Behaviors

My son and daughter seem to continually find something to argue about.  They know just how to push each other's buttons.  As a mom, it can be exhausting trying to use every argument and fight as a teachable moment and faith-building opportunity for my kids.  Recently, after a particularly loud disagreement with some pretty flavorful word, I took my daughter aside and reminded her that her brother was a gift to her from God and she needed to love him.  Her response was, "Love him?! I don't even LIKE him right now!!!"

How often don't we as educators feel the same way?  "Lord, I know you have placed this child in my classroom for a specific reason and I know you want me to love him... but right now, I don't even like him!"  In moments like this, we need to learn to separate the behavior from the child. The most important part of dealing with children with challenging behaviors is RELATIONSHIP. Developing a caring connection with the child will build a secure attachment and a positive relationship. The old saying is true, “They don’t care what you know until they know you care.”

 When dealing with challenging behaviors in young children, there are several steps we as educators can take. 

  1. Define the Behavior – What exactly does it look like? Is it a tantrum? Kicking? Hitting? Biting? Withdrawal? Screaming? Crying? Try to focus on changing one behavior at a time.

  2. Consider Risk Factors – This includes biological and environmental factors. Were there complications at the child’s birth? Substance abuse during pregnancy? Neurological problems? Poverty?  Exposure to violence? Trauma?

  3. ABC – Antecedent, Behavior, Consequence – What is happening before, during, and after the behavior? Is something triggering it? When is the behavior most frequently occurring? What is the “payoff” the child receives… attention, escape, or sensory stimulation?

  4. Prevention – How can I adjust the physical environment, the routine, or my teaching strategies to make our day more predictable and help the child feel safe? Are there choices I can give that will give the child a sense of having some control?

Understanding and addressing challenging behaviors in young children is a constant struggle.  As followers of Christ, we are called to love one another and show grace.   As you begin the week with yet another "to do list" that keeps getting longer, let me remind you of God's "to do list" and encourage you with these words from Micah 6:8 "What does the Lord require of you? To ACT JUSTLY, to LOVE MERCY, and to WALK HUMBLY with your God."  

Heidi is an instructor in Education at Northwestern College and the director of the online Bachelor's in Early Childhood program. To learn more about the online programs visit the Master of Education or Bachelor's in Early Childhood pages. For more resources and training about trauma in students, take a look at the NWC Trauma Informed Conference.

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