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Helping Children To Develop Positive Behaviour

“If there is anything that we wish to change in the child, we should first examine it and see whether it is not something that could better be changed in ourselves”

-Carl Jung-

Children are not born ‘good’ or ‘bad.’ They develop a range of behaviours, attitudes and ways of expressing their needs depending on a variety of factors throughout their early childhood years. Children need adults to teach, guide, and support them as they grow and learn. Child care providers play an important role in guiding children's behavior in positive, supportive, and age-appropriate ways. The most appropriate ways to guide behavior may differ from child to child and will depend on the child’s age and developmental abilities and needs. Positive and supportive guidance helps children as they learn self-regulation and find appropriate ways to express their wants, needs, views and feelings.

School is most often a child’s first experience of being in a wider social environment, as well astheir first encounter of being away from parents and guardians. Therefore part of their time at school is spent learning or reinforcing appropriate behaviour. These include skills like taking turns, sharing and managing emotions. All of the mentioned skills are typical and necessary behaviours that children need for the future. It is important that we support this learning and act appropriately if children display undesirable behaviours.

Children who are developing often know how to use their verbal skills to request for something they need or want, whereas others may exhibit problem behaviors that serve the same function, but in a clearly inappropriate manner (Crick & Dodge, 1996; Dodge &Coie, 1987). Children who display challenging behaviors often do so because they are unable to communicate their needs and wants in a more appropriate manner or are trying to avoid a potentially non-preferred activity or situation. Therefore, children need to be given the tools to function in the society in an appropriate way. For some children, this could mean explicitly teaching them what verbal phrases they can use to start a conversation with other peers or to ask for help. Other children may need to be taught what they can do or say when feeling frustrated.

Often, some children are communicating a need for attention. It is important, therefore, to provide our children with frequent, positive attention in ways that show that they are noticed and valued. Often this will be at random times and conversational, providing a ‘dose’ of positive attention (e.g., I like those new gumboots! I noticed your little sister is getting tall – she must be nearly ready to start school. Did you enjoy the match on Saturday – didn’t your team play well!) Encourage your students to notice each other as well – for example, during circle time, buzz groups, or other social sharing times. These approaches are important because, for some children, the attention they receive is insufficiently frequent or positive to meet their needs.

Positive ‘noticing’ helps to prevent these students from seeking attention in antisocial ways,because it helps to ensure that their need for adult or peer attention is being met in pro-social ways.

When dealing with children’s behavioural problems, we tend to focus on how to reduce undesirable behaviour and neglect how to encourage desirable behaviour. In fact, both are equally important. When children behave well more often there will be less time and opportunity for them to misbehave.Therefore, to promote children’s good behaviour, positive responses should be used to encourage them. Conversely, negative responses should be used to reduce inappropriate behaviour .When children misbehave,they must be met with consequences, which are clear and logical. For example, if children fight in the yard, it is a logical consequence that they will have to leave the yard. If children distract others in class they will have to work away from others. It is important that the consequences are fairly immediate, implementable, and appropriate. Consequences should never be physically or psychologically harmful or humiliating.

Specifying rewards can also be an effective way to encourage positive behavior. When trying to foster a new behavior, it is important to reward a child consistently each time he or she does the desired behaviour. Once the behaviour has become an established habit, rewards can be given every now and then to encourage the child to maintain the preferred behaviour. The ultimate goal of rewarding children is to help them internalize positive behaviors so that they will not need a reward. Eventually, self-motivation will be sufficient to induce them to perform the desired behaviour, and outside reinforcement will no longer be necessary.

To this end, the best educators of children are people who are good role models and about whom children care enough to want to imitate and please. Certain conditions in the adult-child relationship have been found to be especially important in promoting positive child behaviour, these include: providing attention to the child to increase positive behavior (conversely ignoring, removing, or withholding adult attention to decrease the frequency or intensity of undesirable behaviors) (Kohlberg, 1964), providing consistency in the form of regular times and patterns for daily activities and interactions to reduce resistance, convey respect for the child, and make negative experiences less stressful (Kohlberg, 1964); responding consistently to similar behavioral situations to promote more harmonious adult- child relationships and more positive child outcomes (Rutter, 1983); and being flexible, through listening and negotiation to reduce fewer episodes of child noncompliance with adult expectations.

Involving the child in decision-making has been associated with long-term enhancement in moral judgment (Munn, 1999).These factors are important in developing a positive, growth-enhancing relationship between parent, teacher and child. Even in the best relationships, however, parents or teachers will need to provide behavioral limits that their children will not like, and children will behave in ways that are unacceptable. Disagreement and emotional discord occur in all settings, but with reinforcing positive adult-child relationships and clear expectations and goals for behavior, these episodes are less frequent and less disruptive (Howard, 1991).


Department of Education and Early Childhood Development.(2009). Victorian Early Years Learning and Development Framework. Melbourne, Vic: Early Childhood Strategy Division, and Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority.

Crick, N. R., & Dodge, K. A. (1996).Social Information-Processing Mechanisms in Reactive and Proactive Aggression.Child Development, 67, 993-1002.

Dodge, K. A., &Coie, J. D. (1987). Social information-processing factors in reactive and proactive aggression in children's peer groups.Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 53, 1146–1158.

Dunlap, G., P.S. Strain, L. Fox, J.J. Carta, M. Conroy, B.J. Smith, L. Kern, M.L. Hemmeter, M.A. Timm, A. McCart, W. Sailor, U. Markey, D.J. Markey, S. Lardieri, & C. Sowell. 2006. “Prevention and Intervention With Young Children’s Challenging Behavior: Perspectives Regarding Current Knowledge.” Behavioral Disorders 32 (1): 29–45.

McKibben, S. (2014).The two-minute relationship builder. ASCD: Education Update, 56(7). Retrieved 28 February 2017 at

Dwyer, Patricia. (2003) Achieving Positive Behaviour, A Practical Guide. Dublin: Centre for Education Services, Marino Institute of Education.

Gordon, Gerard (1996) Managing Challenging Children. Ireland: Prim-Ed Publishing

INTO (2002) Discipline in the Primary School. Dublin: Irish National Teachers’ Organization.

Howard B.J. (1991), Discipline in early childhood. Durham: Duke University Medical Centre

Kohlberg L. (1964), Development of moral character and moral ideology. In: Hoffman ML, Hoffman LW, eds. Review of Child Development Research. New York, NY: Russell-Sage Foundation

Munn, P. (ed) (1999). Promoting Positive Discipline. Edinburgh: Moray House Publications.

Rutter M. (1983), Stress, coping, and development: some issues and some questions. In: Garmezy N, Rutter M, eds. Stress, Coping, and Development in Children. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill Book Co.

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