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Explaining The Reasons Behind Rules And Requests Will Yield The Best Behaviour Results

“Think about the messages we send when we ask children to behave well in return for an extrinsic reward.”

  • Explaining The Reasons Behind Rules And Requests Will Yield The Best Behaviour Results

We need our children to behave so that they can learn in a calm, safe environment, and so that we can teach them effectively. If children are talking when you are speaking, how can they hear what is being said? If children are out of their seats running around the room, how can they focus on learning?

But helping children learn to behave properly is also a vital life skill. We want our children to behave well in their wider lives, as well as in our settings. And for this to happen, we need more than systems to control behaviour – we must help children understand the why behind what we ask them to do. We must help them develop the empathy that’s at the heart of ‘good behaviour’.

Many settings have a system of rewards and sanctions as part of their behaviour policy – this can be useful for controlling the majority of issues, but it can run into problems when it comes to exploring motivation. Think about the messages we send children when we ask that they work and behave well, in return for an extrinsic reward.

Similarly, think about the messages we send when we insist they don’t misbehave, for fear of receiving a consequence. Are we suggesting, even if subconsciously, that the only reason for good behaviour is to receive a treat? Are we saying the main reason for not misbehaving is to avoid a sanction, or is there more to it than this?

As soon as we step away from a straightforward ‘training’ approach to behaviour, the questions become far more complex. It’s fairly straightforward to apply rewards and consequences, in the hope of creating a climate for good behaviour.

It’s much more difficult to think about the reasons behind poor behaviour, and what we might do to resolve them. We know from the statistics that many children excluded for difficult behaviour have SEND.

Clearly there’s a link between the difficulty these children have in accessing learning, and the behaviour that we experience. Those children from chaotic home backgrounds often lack the role models they need.

If a child hears his parents swearing, or sees them becoming confrontational in the face of difficulty, this is the model he may bring into the setting. The practitioner becomes an important example of what ‘good behaviour’ looks like. The more explicit we make the model we offer, the better placed our children will be to replicate it.

Tip 1

Talk about the why behind what you are asking the children to do. When you need them to listen or work silently, give a reason. If you insist a child returns to her seat, outline why ‘staying in your seat’ is necessary for learning in this situation.

Tip 2

Talk about the emotions other children feel when a peer behaves badly towards them. How does their behaviour make other children feel? Why might it upset or anger someone? Stories are helpful for developing empathy, particularly ones that explore how a character’s behaviour impacts on others.

Tip 3

Talk about the moral code you are trying to create as a community of learners. Why is it important for children and adults to behave in this way? What does it mean for the learning that happens and the way we feel when in the setting?

Tip 4

Talk about your own emotions around behaviour. Show the children how you are able to control your instinctive responses to stressful situations, and help them learn to do this too. If you make a mistake, be explicit about what it was, and talk about how you solved it. Don’t be afraid to apologise if your behaviour doesn’t live up to the model you wanted to present.

Tip 5

Finally, talk about how the learning that happens in your setting is closely linked to behaviour, stressing the importance of focus, concentration and effort. Show how learning links to the wider world, and the kind of long-term benefits it offers. Support children in accessing the curriculum, and find ways to engage them with the learning they do. Show them that the main ‘why’ behind good behaviour is a positive not a negative – it is the pleasure and joy that learning brings.

Sue Cowley is an author, teacher and trainer. She has helped to run her local preschool for the last eight years. Visit suecowley.co.uk to find out more.


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