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Behaviour management – How to use positive behaviour management in Early Years and primary classrooms

Learn the benefits of positive behaviour management and strategies for using it with your pupils, says Steph Caswell...

  • Behaviour management – How to use positive behaviour management in Early Years and primary classrooms

Do your colleagues need support with positive behaviour management? Download our free positive behaviour management PDF which summarises the contents of this article here.


During your training, you might have heard the term ‘positive behaviour management’. Here’s how to create positive vibes in your own classroom.

What is positive behaviour management?

Positive behaviour management focuses on prevention, support and skill development.

It recognises that children are, indeed, children, still learning the way the world works and making mistakes as they go.

Using a positive approach supports them while they establish this understanding, as well as their own values and beliefs.

It also helps them to build positive relationships with their peers and teachers, particularly in Early Years.

Benefits of positive behaviour management

Using positive behaviour management strategies enables you to create a truly unique environment for your pupils; one that’s based on positivity, mutual respect and empathy.

A consistently positive approach, highlighting what children do well, boosts their self-esteem and confidence within all areas of school life.

It encourages them to take risks with their learning and make mistakes, all in the knowledge that ‘failure’ is part of a supportive learning journey.

It is no longer something to be feared, but an essential part of understanding new concepts and problem-solving.

All behaviour, both negative and positive, is communication. As children become more mature, most of them are able to communicate more effectively using appropriate language. Some, however, find this more difficult, taking longer to master the skills necessary to verbalise when they’re unhappy, annoyed or struggling with their work.

By modelling positive communication skills, you can be sure that, over time, pupils will begin to use and adapt these skills effectively, even from an early age.

Positive behaviour management strategies

Explicitly teach the skills you want to see

Don’t expect children to understand what ‘listening carefully’ means.

Use activities that improve listening skills. Roleplay what it looks like to actively listen with your whole body – think about body language, eye contact and waiting for your turn to speak.

Model this consistently when listening to the children and praise them for showing examples of ‘whole body’ listening.

Be mindful of your own behaviour

If you want children to behave in a positive way, then commit to having a consistently positive attitude too – be Mr or Ms PMA.

It’s okay to have bad days – we all do – but be bold. Address it with the class and acknowledge that maybe you weren’t as positive during a particular lesson as you would have wanted – children really respect open, honest conversation.

Detach the behaviour from the child

It’s easier said than done, but remember, all behaviour is communication.

Express disappointment in the behaviour, not the child.

Often, pupils who make poor behaviour choices are those who have low self-esteem. Making other people laugh by choosing to behaviour inappropriately is their way of getting attention and making themselves feel good, even for a moment.

Look for the reasons behind the behaviour if it persists and put a support plan in place.

Use positive language to remind children of your expectations

It’s easy to say “Don’t call out” because similar language was used when we were children.

Instead, work hard on using affirmative language. “Don’t call out” becomes “We put our hands up to speak.”

It might sound convoluted, but it makes the difference. Remind children of the behaviour you do want to see and praise those making good choices.

Rewards work, but only if the class values them

Pupils need to see rewards as worth their effort. Rather than imposing a reward system on them, involve the class in creating one.

They’ll be more inclined to follow expectations if they’ve had some ownership of the rewards and the system.

Establish class values

This sounds more positive than ‘rules’. Discuss with the children what behaviours and attitudes they value.

Encourage them to put these into positive phrases and celebrate pupils showing these values consistently.

Show empathy

Children want to feel heard and understood. Often, they feel as though their opinions and emotions aren’t valid.

If a child is distressed, acknowledge it. Tell them that you can see or hear that they’re upset.

Encourage them to talk through the issue and to use words, rather than feet or fists.

Mutual respect is key

If children feel respected, they’re more inclined to demonstrate good behaviour.

If they have made a poor behaviour choice or are angry or upset, give them the space they need to self-regulate.

How often have you felt upset and needed a few minutes to gather yourself together?

Children are no different. They might not be able to articulate it, but giving them space to regulate their emotions will ensure more productive conversations, as well as help you plan your own responses.

Praise works wonders

It’s a big part of positive behaviour management.

Be aware of the different ways that children like to receive praise. Some like to be praised in front of the whole class, others prefer a quiet word or a subtle thumbs up.

If you’re over-the-top with praise, tone it down a bit and use it more sparingly. If you thank pupils for simply walking into the room, it soon loses its impact.

Reprimanding children is a necessary part of teaching

It’s how you do it that makes a difference to how a child will behave in the future.

‘Firm but fair’ is an oldie but goodie. Humiliation has no place in a classroom.

A quiet word followed by an appropriate sanction has more impact than shouting. Be consistent and always follow through with any warnings you have given.


Positive behaviour management can have such a great impact on children, as well as on you, the teacher.

When you’re naturally looking for the positives, children respond with enthusiasm.

Remember, there’s no ‘one size fits all’ approach to managing behaviour. Take into consideration the specific, individual needs of each child, particularly if they have SEN.

Creating positive, enthusiastic pupils who understand the importance of values, relationships and communication skills is one of the most important things we can do.

It ensures the children of today become the successful young people of tomorrow.

Do your colleagues need support with positive behaviour management? Download our free positive behaviour management PDF which summarises the contents of this article here.


Steph Caswell is an author, performance coach and former teacher. Find her at strivecoachinganddevelopment.co.uk and follow her on Twitter at @stephcaswell_.

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