Behavior management is one of the most vital building blocks for dealing with challenging behavior. However, it’s also something that many teachers struggle with the most.
Unfortunately, there is no one-size-fits-all classroom management method.
Every class is different, so what works for one teacher might not work for another. As a result, you may need to remain patient and flexible and try different strategies until you find one that fits your style and your students. However, the following approaches are some of the most effective behavior management strategies in the early years.
Approaches to Try in Your Classroom
One of the most important things to keep in mind is that young children will feed off of your emotions. If you react to student behavior in a way that is defensive or combative, they will often escalate their behavior.
Stay in control by exercising rational detachment. By keeping your demeanor calm, the child will be encouraged to match your energy. This is particulary true of early childhood.
Organize Your Room Strategically
The way you set up your classroom can directly affect your students’ behavior and the success of your overall classroom management strategies.
Giving some areas clear and distinct purposes can limit conflict. For example, you can define a library space specifically for independent or group reading. You can also create a space that is just for art to limit mess.
When students see that different areas have clearly defined purposes, they are more likely to engage in appropriate behaviors within those spaces.
Another tip is to arrange your classroom to keep noisy areas separate from quieter ones. For example, the blocks probably shouldn’t be right next to your library.
By keeping calmer areas separate, children engaging in quieter activities are less likely to be disturbed by their peers who are playing loudly, which can limit conflicts.
Use Child-Friendly Labels
When your classroom is set up, it’s time to create appropriate labels for early childhood learners. Keep in mind that your students cannot always read, so everything must be labeled with words and pictures.
Labeling the classroom ensures that your students will find toys, supplies, and materials on their own. This encourages independence and boosts confidence.
Having clearly labeled bins and shelves also helps children clean up quickly and efficiently. There’s no confusion as to where the dolls or play food go. As a result, students need less assistance or redirection from the teacher.
Keep your class schedule and routines in your classroom. They should also include pictures, so your class can keep track of what comes next.
Create Routines and Stick to Them
Speaking of routines, it’s absolutely vital to establish them early in the school year and to keep them consistent.
Young children thrive when they fully understand and can anticipate the schedule and routines. It may be tempting to switch things up when they feel monotonous, but sudden, unexpected changes can do more harm than good.
Create a display with your class schedule (with child-friendly images, of course), so your students can find where they are in the day independently. You can also post reminders for routines in appropriate areas, such as handwashing pictures in the bathroom and getting dressed pictures by the cubbies.
Set Clear and Realistic Expectations
Children are not born with an understanding of what good or positive behavior is. When they enter an early childhood classroom, they are only beginning to understand how to socialize and collaborate in a school setting. As a result, they cannot meet expectations unless they are clear and reasonable.
For example, you cannot expect a 5-year-old child to sit completely still for over half an hour without getting restless or losing focus. Therefore, you must organize your circle time and activities with their natural time limits in mind.
Similarly, a student cannot be expected to “line up properly” unless they understand what precisely that behavior looks like in practice. Take time to model this for your students and break down how you want them to line up: walking feet, voices at zero, hands to yourself, etc.
Children cannot model behavior unless they see it first. When you show them an example and post visual examples around the room, students become more familiar with the standard procedures and are encouraged to follow the routines appropriately.
Collaborate with Students
A meaningful way to create a sense of responsibility for students is to include them in the discussion of routines.
Children are more likely to follow expectations when their thought and opinions are heard. Have a brainstorming session with your students about what the expectations should be for things such as lining up, cleaning up, getting ready for recess, etc. Write them down on a board and include pictures or draw them if you can.
These discussions are excellent times for the children to explore natural consequences and formulate group behavior contracts. When the children have had ample time to share their ideas, you can collectively sort through the suggestions and make a class agreement on the routine.
When students are included in establishing routines, they are more likely to develop a sense of pride and ownership. They will be encouraged to follow the routines and meet expectations because they were involved in the decision-making process.
Keep Environmental or Personal Factors In Mind
When planning our classroom management it’s easy to forget that small children are people with complete personalities and full lives outside the classroom. Sometimes they exhibit negative behavior because of the environment or issues outside of the classroom.
For example, a student who is not used to being at school for a full day may get irritable in the afternoons due to tiredness. They may benefit from taking breaks or engaging in calmer activities to avoid outbursts.
Another student might be overwhelmed by noise. Having access to noise-reducing earmuffs might help them stay calm during louder activities.
Keep the time of day in mind when planning activities. Young children tend to get restless and cranky before lunch, so a quiet storytime might not be the most practical idea right before lunchtime.
Focus on Positive Attention and Corrections
Everyone enjoys a little praise. However, vague comments like “good job” or “nice work” aren’t always meaningful to the littlest learners. Therefore, specificity is essential.
Clearly describe the positive behavior that the child is exhibiting. For example, “Wow! I see that you are using walking feet to join the line at the back. That’s a wonderful way to line up.”
Also, make sure that you are giving positive attention as the behavior is taking place. If too much time passes, the child may not remember the specific instance, which won’t be as meaningful.
Mild negative behavior does not always have to be addressed by the teacher. Children may cause minor disruptions as a means to get attention. Engaging with them could result in escalation.
Actively ignoring the child can encourage them to cease the behavior on their own. Wait until they exhibit appropriate behavior that meets classroom expectations, so you can give them praise. For example, “I can see you are much calmer now. Thank you so much for joining us at the storytime rug.”
Observe and Document Ongoing Issues
When children are consistently disruptive or showing negative behavior, you need to keep track of the instances. Keep a notebook or spreadsheet to document exactly what the child is doing and the situations around the behavior, such as time of day, other children involved, etc.
Marking your observations can help you see any patterns in the behavior or identify root causes. Then you can more easily make any beneficial adjustments to your classroom management approach.
Get Parents and Caregivers Involved
Every family wants their child to thrive and be successful. Getting them involved can be beneficial for students who are having difficulty in the classroom.
If expectations are vastly different in the two locations, the young child might have trouble distinguishing which expectations are in place. Coming to an agreement with the family can reduce confusion.
Involving the parents in your management strategies can also help build trust between them and the teacher. Parents are much more cooperative when they are included in developing plans and setting goals for their child.
Get Your Plan Together
Now that you have 11 ideas for classroom management, sort through which ones are the most practical and meaningful for your present circumstances. Some of the strategies may be more relevant to your classroom than others, so it’s perfectly acceptable to pick and choose as needed.
You may have to try different combinations of approaches before you find the best fit for you and your students, so don’t be discouraged if you don’t see results overnight. Building an effective classroom management strategy takes patience, but it’s well worth the time you invest.