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“Our ‘challenging behaviour training’ consisted of a single, one-hour class”

Threats and time outs don’t work on challenging children – but many of us haven’t been equipped with the skills to try anything different, says the Secret Practitioner...

  • “Our ‘challenging behaviour training’ consisted of a single, one-hour class”

In every room in every childcare setting, there is always at least one child who can only be described as ‘challenging’ – and of course, some who are more challenging than others! Children who find it difficult to sit still or follow instructions are relatively commonplace, but slightly more taxing is the child who insists on cutting their own hair off with the paper scissors, or slathering everything around them with paint.

There’s a lot of advice out there on how practitioners can deal with these issues from a range of websites, books and magazines, and most childcare companies will provide some training on this area – but this can vary in quality, and it’s sometimes hard for staff to root out relevant information they can use and apply in their setting.

Doing what they thought was best

This is naturally a difficult subject to deal with. No matter how young, children are individuals with entirely different characteristics, and there can be no absolute approach to dealing with the various issues that might arise. But whilst challenging behaviour is always going to be a problem in any setting, I can’t help but feel it is being exacerbated by a corner-cutting approach.

Most practitioners cannot be expected to know how to act appropriately without the proper guidance, and putting barely trained staff members in a room with children who may require complex responses to their behaviour is not a good idea. Staff members who don’t know any better are, unfortunately, likely to resort to using crude, ineffective and profoundly unhelpful methods of discipline.

At my setting, like most others, we have had many children under our care with various degrees of autism, ADHD and other assorted learning difficulties. One child stands out in my memory – a preschool-age girl who had some developmental and behavioural issues. Although she was often happy and smiling, she would regularly attack her peers unless closely monitored.

Many of the practitioners were perplexed as to how to deal with this, and so began a seemingly endless cycle of time outs, threats, reprimands and other such punishments. Of course, these methods proved completely ineffective, and failed to affect the child’s behaviour for the good in any way whatsoever.

Right now, there may be some readers who are shocked by this lack of aptitude at dealing with challenging children, perhaps thinking that this demonstrates bad practice. Yes, it is bad practice – but what else can be expected? My colleagues weren’t acting in this way out of spite or through a lack of effort. They were only, misguidedly, doing what they thought was best in the situation.

To know otherwise, they would have to have been taught properly how to do their jobs, and it’s a sad fact that many practitioners simply aren’t. The training provided for us on dealing with challenging behaviour consisted of a single, one-hour behavioural management class delivered at the end of a long working day. Whilst there were some useful nuggets of information provided, 60 minutes hardly seems adequate time to cover such a broad topic.

Going with what works

Happily, however, there were other practitioners around who had better methods of dealing with such behaviour. Positive redirection and some considered communication with the child proved to be the way forward, and by the time she left our nursery, the girl’s behaviour was much improved.

When some of the more effective methods of behavioural management are put to staff members, it can seem like new-age, overly politically correct nonsense. I remember being sceptical myself on first entering the industry and being advised to steer clear of ‘Using any negative language.’ But these methods weren’t being propagated for no reason – they were being taught because they are proven to work well.

Perhaps the ‘challenging behaviour’ we really need to address is that of those in charge of settings who cut corners, those who feel it is appropriate to allow staff to wing it – and of course, those practitioners who refuse to take on board any of the newer, more effective, methods of behaviour management that are now available.

The Secret Practitioner works in a private nursery and preschool in Greater Manchester

Click here for more behaviour management advice articles for early years.

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