Positive Behaviour Management Strategies: A Nursery Practitioners Guide

Learning Environments

A child writing on a piece of paper

Positive behaviour management in nursery is a key stepping stone to learning what behaviour is appropriate, and what behaviour is unacceptable.

Before children can progress, they need a nursery environment that facilitates the right opportunities for behavioural learning and development.

Positive behaviour management is key in preparing children to enter a more formal education setting after nursery, as it sets realistic expectations for how children should behave between the ages 0-5.

All behaviour is based on communication, and it takes time for children to learn how to communicate with you, and other children, about how they’re feeling and why they have acted in a certain way.

This post will outline the importance of positive behaviour management and will explain the strategies that you can use to provide the best environment possible for young learners.

What Is Positive Behaviour Management?

Ensuring positive behaviour in an early years setting, involves using strategies that focus on prevention, support, and skill development.

This means that children should be provided with the right support to develop their communication skills. This will prevent challenging situations in the future, as they will be able to communicate how they are feeling and will learn how to respond appropriately.

Providing a caring, calm, and safe environment is central to positive behaviour management as this ensures that children are treated with respect.

Furthermore, definitions of acceptable and unacceptable behaviour need to be consistent among staff and parents, as this provides children with a solid role model. Therefore, it’s important children are provided with consistent examples of positive behaviour as this allows them to understand what is deemed as acceptable behaviour.

The Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS), outlines that positive behaviour consists of:

  • Emotional intelligence
  • Social skills
  • Cognitive skills

This means children must be able to manage their own feelings, form respectful relationships, and have self-confidence and self-awareness, before moving onto the next stage of learning.

Therefore, it is important that nursery settings facilitate this by including strategies that encourage positive behaviour such as:

  • Asking for the behaviour you want
  • Being a role model
  • Rewarding good behaviour
  • Making clear and age-appropriate consequences
  • Creating an environment for good behaviour
  • Catering to the needs of children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND)

There are of course other strategies you can use to help with positive behaviour management in your nursery setting, but we will focus on the list above further in this post.

a child smiling in a classroom surrounded by classmates

What Does Positive Behaviour Management Look Like in Early Years?

Positive behaviour management in early years settings involves recognising that different strategies work for different children.

All children are different, and have different experiences prior to nursery as some children may be used to socialising, whilst others might be used to playing on their own.

It is important to recognise that children are still learning as they go, and therefore need extra guidance when it comes to understanding the difference between positive and negative behaviour.

As such, positive behaviour management can be encouraged for all children, however, it may be that some strategies aren’t always effective with some children in your class. Therefore it’s important to discover the strategies that do work for each child to avoid neglecting their needs.

It is also important to set realistic expectations in early years behaviour management. For example, if a child demonstrates violent behaviour such as hitting or biting, using a raised voice isn’t the best way to steer the child away from this or to promote more positive behaviour.

Instead, you should calmly direct the child away from the situation, and sit with them in a quiet thinking area and gently tell them why that behaviour is not appropriate. This allows the child to calm down, and then you can let them know that their next step is to apologise to the child that they have hurt, as saying sorry when you hurt someone is an example of good behaviour.

Why Is Positive Behaviour Management Important?

During this early stage of learning, adopting a positive approach to behaviour management helps to improve wellbeing and ensure positive outcomes for the children in your care.

By creating a cohesive, happy, learning environment, children are able to make mistakes as they go, and understand that they are supported in their learning journey.

At this young age, children are constantly developing and are starting to learn how to self-regulate and express their emotions. Children deserve to be in a safe environment where they can experiment with how they react and interact with others without fear of blame, judgement, or punishment.

This is why positive behaviour management is absolutely key.

For example, when demonstrating to children that violent behaviour towards others isn’t acceptable, it is important to stay calm and to ask children how they’re feeling. This is a better way to deal with the situation, as it prevents violent behaviour from escalating, and better prepares children for their next step in education.

Additionally, behaviour management helps to empower you in your role. It is important that you feel confident with the strategies you are using to encourage positive behaviour in children, and that they are successfully helping children adopt better behavioural habits.

As a nursery practitioner, seeing children do well and improve their behaviour management is highly rewarding, as you are a core part of this journey.

teacher talking to a child on carpet

Strategies for Successful Positive Behaviour Management

In early years settings, there are multiple strategies you can put in place to manage negative behaviour and encourage positive behaviour instead.

These different strategies can be put into place, to ensure that positive behaviour is encouraged and recognised at all stages of learning and development.

When using these strategies, it’s important you keep everything clear and positive – even when you are dealing with challenging behaviour.

The strategies outlined below, can help to create the right environment for the children in your care so that they can learn positive behavioural habits for nursery and beyond..

Know your Children

As well as knowing what your children express interest in and where their strengths lie, it’s important to know what triggers or upsets each of the children in your care.

This can ensure that the strategies you are using match up to each child’s needs, and the correct support is provided for every circumstance.

For example, if you know a child has no siblings, this may affect how well they can play and share toys with other children.

This means you must adapt your strategies for individual circumstances by encouraging this child to get involved in group activities. As a result, this increases the time they spend with other children, and allows them to feel more comfortable taking turns and thinking about other people’s feelings.

Ask For the Behaviour You Want

By outlining to the children the kind of behaviour you expect while they’re at nursery, this allows them to gradually understand what positive behaviour is.

It is important to tell children the behaviour you would like to see, instead of highlighting what ‘isn’t allowed’. For example, using the phrase ‘kind hands please’ instead of ‘no hitting’, is a clear way of explaining that hitting isn’t acceptable behaviour, but using more positive phrasing.

To avoid overloading children with too much information, keep the phrases that you use short and simple, so they understand what they are being asked and what is expected of them.

Be a Role Model

Children learn from others, therefore it is part of your job to set a good example of positive behaviour by following the behaviour expectations you are setting.

During play with others for example, demonstrate sharing and using a calm voice to show children what positive behaviour looks like during play.

This then provides a solid example for children to watch and directly learn from, meaning they are seeing and understanding how they should be playing with other children. At this early learning stage, children will then replicate what they have seen, and this ensures that they are learning how to behave in situations the right way.

nursery practitioner with children reading

Reward Good Behaviour

When children are acknowledging your expectations and behaving positively at nursery, it is important to reward this behaviour.

It is also important to be specific when rewarding good behaviour, for example, the phrase ‘well done for playing nicely and sharing’, allows children to link this behaviour with encouragement and praise.

Verbal recognition and reward is effective for early years settings, particularly when children are very young as they learn best through communication.

However, introducing a sticker chart can also be useful when it comes to rewarding good behaviour. This encourages children to keep up positive behaviour as they can associate this with stickers on the chart, which may add up to small rewards such as extra outdoor play or a certificate.

Make Clear and Age-Appropriate Consequences for Behaviour

Whilst consequences are important to encourage positive behaviour, it’s key to make sure they are clear and age-appropriate.

For children in early years settings, it may be that ‘thinking time’ is used rather than the ‘naughty step’ or ‘time out’ – both of which have negative connotations.

This reinforces the idea that this is the time for the children to move away from an activity so that they can sit and talk things through with you. This prevents children from feeling isolated, and lets them start fresh rather than feeling as though they are being punished.

It’s important not to use shame or humiliation when explaining consequences or dealing with challenging behaviour, as the emphasis should be on the positive aspect of calming down and rejoining play when the child is ready.

Create an Environment For Good Behaviour

Creating a safe space for children to learn good behaviour is an important step in encouraging good behaviour in early years learning.

The environment you create should allow children to make mistakes along the way and learn from these mistakes.

For example, if a child refuses to leave an activity, it’s important to recognise how they are feeling by using phrases such as ‘I understand it’s hard for you to stop playing in the sandpit, but it’s time for someone else to have a go now’.

This allows you to acknowledge the child’s challenging behaviour in a positive way, as the child’s feelings are recognised, and at the same time, it is demonstrated to them that taking turns is positive behaviour.

Consider SEND

Within early years settings, it is important that you cater to children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND).

It is possible that challenging behaviour may be due to SEND, and if this is suspected, it is important you have strategies in place to specifically support these children.

For example, maintaining a good relationship with parents allows you to discuss some alternative behavioural strategies with them. This way you can include the strategies they use at home that will help behaviour management within your nursery.

Review your Strategies

It is key for you to set time aside to think about and assess how well your positive behaviour management strategies are working.

As we have previously mentioned, all children are different and will therefore require different strategies in order to learn positive behaviour habits.

In order to be effective with your behavioural strategies, they should develop and grow over time based on the needs of the children in your care.

For example, you should make time to review strategies at regular intervals throughout the year so that you can adapt accordingly if certain strategies aren’t working.

Positive Behaviour Management Strategies: A Nursery practitioners Guide

To recap, we have discussed the importance of positive behaviour management and how to work several behaviour management strategies into your nursery plan.

These strategies will ultimately help the learning and development of the children in your care, as they will be demonstrating the expected and appropriate behaviours for their age group.

Therefore, children will be better prepared for the move to the next stage of education, as you will have set examples of how to regulate their feelings and act accordingly.

We created the Learning Journals platform with this in mind, as the platform allows nursery practitioners to share a child’s progress with parents. By capturing moments of positive behaviour, for example, when a child plays well with other children, this gives parents reassurance of their child’s positive behavioural development.

Essentially, with this platform, we make it easier for nursery practitioners to communicate with parents about the development of their child, so positive behaviour management and development can stay on track.

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