How I changed my approach to behaviour in early years

Supporting young children with behaviour starts with helping them to understand their emotions, says Varinder Johal
11th November 2020, 3:00pm
Varinder Kaur Johal

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How I changed my approach to behaviour in early years

https://www.tes.com/magazine/archive/how-i-changed-my-approach-behaviour-early-years
Eyfs Behaviour

When reflecting on my teaching practice, I think of the distressed behaviours I've encountered in the numerous classes I've taught - some stand out, in particular.

During my development as a classroom practitioner, I've made a conscious effort to develop how I support children with their behaviour. There are many factors to take into consideration here. For example, something as simple as referring to "supporting" behaviour rather than behaviour "management" can be very powerful.

In some cases, we cannot manage the behaviour of children, but we can support those children to deal with their emotions, which in turn affects their behaviour. If you can shift your mindset, you can shift your approach.

There are many reasons why children might be displaying behaviours that need addressing. 

Firstly, we need to take into consideration the classroom and outdoor environment: is it stimulating and engaging? Is it accessible for all children and does it cater to the different interests you have in the classroom? We need to make a conscious effort to get to know our children. Only then can we consider the provision we have for them in the classroom - what works well for this class and what doesn't work so well? 

This can also be supported by strong partnerships between practitioners and parents/carers. We need to clearly communicate both concerns and praise to parents/carers, and give them the opportunity to do the same, by making ourselves approachable.  

EYFS: a better approach to behaviour

But even with all of this in place, there can still be pupils who pose problems.

I remember one child in particular who struggled with their behaviour and emotions and would be violent towards other children. It was evident that there was an underlying issue. I realised that trying to change the child's behaviour simply wasn't working, and so I would need to change my practice.

Here's what I did.

1. Created a space for time out

I could see the child would get angry and needed somewhere to chill out, so I bought a fluffy pillow and made this available to the child in a quiet part of the room - alternatively, you could have a mat or a corner in the classroom where the child can retreat.

I made sure I modelled with the child how to use this space to have a little time out and to calm down when everything was getting too much, and how to come back when they were ready to join in with the activities again.

2. Modelled emotional awareness

Using modelling and language, my teaching assistant and I would roleplay incidents that made one of us feel upset or angry for the whole class. We would demonstrate how we could express this and share it with someone else by acknowledging the feeling and what made us feel like that, as well as accepting others' feelings.

This helped my class immensely because they were able to see how we could relate the emotions and feelings we have in response to our own actions of the actions of others and how to express this. We made a conscious effort to do this regularly and to display all sorts of emotions.

It's not always about sanctioning and praising behaviour. We have to look at emotions and feelings and try to understand why children might be displaying distressed behaviours and ensure that all children can express and show how they are feeling safely. 

Varinder Kaur Johal is a primary teacher, working across EYFS to Year 6

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