5 Helpful Resources for Managing Challenging Behavior


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Behavioral issues are one of the most difficult parts of working in an early learning environment. Young children are still developing important skills in communication, conflict resolution, and emotional regulation. Because these skills are not fully developed and because children often spend long periods of time together each day, we tend to see a lot of big emotions and behaviors that can feel challenging to support. These challenging behaviors can test our patience and can quickly become overwhelming. 

Our job as early learning professionals includes tapping into constructive ways to support children as they learn to process their big emotions and deal with the challenges of peer relationships. This week, we are sharing 5 helpful resources to support you in your work with young children with challenging behaviors. These resources look at positive guidance, culturally appropriate responses, and ways to partner with parents to nurture the healthy social emotional development of each child in your care. 

  1. NAEYC’s Guide to Culturally Appropriate Positive Guidance with Young Children: This resource tackles some tough questions, including how to:  navigate family practices that clash with center principles, use socio-cultural conflicts among children as teachable moments, and foster a classroom community. The article reminds, “For many children, preschool is their first significant opportunity to learn about routines and behaviors that are different from their home life…As practitioners develop their cultural knowledge, they will be better able to identify opportunities for learning.”  

  2. Zero to Three Article on Toddlers and Challenging Behavior: Why They Do It and How to Respond: From empathizing with the child’s emotion to talking about big feelings, this article helps early learning professionals explore the meaning behind challenging behaviors, and set age-appropriate limits and expectations for toddlers. The article notes that challenging behavior is usually a sign that children are not able to figure out how to successfully express their feelings. We can help by suggesting “a different, more constructive way to handle these feelings.” 

  3. Understanding and Managing Challenging Behavior from Community Play Things: This article shares several stories of situations that will feel all-too familiar to early learning professionals — stories of children acting out in aggression and expressing big, unhappy emotions. The article shares a three-step technique for setting limits, known as A.C.T., to help educators quickly and effectively respond to children’s challenging behaviors. 

    • A—Acknowledge the feeling. (“You are very mad.”)

    • C—Communicate the limit. (“You may not hit other children.”)

    • T—Target an acceptable alternative. (“I can get you a pillow to hit.”)

  4. Child Care Exchange’s Tips for Setting Up Your Classroom to Prevent Challenging Behaviors: This printable resource shares tips and strategies for early learning professionals to prevent challenging behaviors and teach children skills to promote their social-emotional development. The strategies include setting up the classroom for success, planning dynamic activities, and demonstrating for children how to engage in play. The article shares that “Challenging behavior can be very frustrating and stressful for early childhood teachers. The good news is that many challenging behaviors can be prevented when teachers use strategies that focus on prevention of challenging behavior and promotion of new skills as a first response.” 

  5. NAEYC’s Tips for Reducing Challenging Behaviors during Transitions: This article contains a list of suggestions intended for educators to share with parents. Although the tips are geared towards the parent and child relationship, the article contains several options that could easily be implemented into early learning programs, including planning ahead, having materials ready, and using music, songs, or predictable noises to signal transitions. The article explains the benefits preventative strategies to “reduce the likelihood that transitions will be difficult or that challenging behaviors will occur.” 

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