Working With Challenging Behaviors in Early Childhood
Children naturally engage in challenging behaviors in early childhood, it is a part of their proper development. In their early years, toddlers experience a growing desire to separate from parents and caregivers and to initiate new-found independence. They test imposed limits, and yet have limited skills to communicate their feelings and experiences. All of this, coupled with a lack of impulse control, can create a perfect storm for tantrums and outbursts of emotion.
Thankfully, there are research-based, developmentally appropriate strategies to implement in the classroom to address the difficulties this can bring and to target any underlying issues that may escalate challenging behavior.
What Are Some Challenging Behaviors in Early Childhood?
Challenging behaviors are identified as those that become a repeated pattern, are tough for others to handle, interfere with optimal learning of everyone, and can potentially risk the safety of the child or others around them. Examples of such challenging behaviors include: meltdowns, aggression and physical outbursts, defiance, and excessive anger.
Understand The Cause of Challenging Behaviors in Early Childhood
Young children do not have the language to communicate their feelings or the maturity to handle feelings of stress and overwhelm. When a child’s big emotions are triggered by internal and/or external factors they can easily feel overstimulated or dysregulated. These feelings increase the chances for the challenging behaviors listed above. Although outbursts are typical to toddler development, to help deescalate the situation and prevent the formation of patterns, it may be helpful to identify potential root causes including:
- Stressful environments
- Major changes in a toddler’s life
- Demands made of them that are beyond their developmental stage
- Social and emotional delays
How to Assist Children With Challenging Behaviors
There are behavioral and social support prevention strategies to address challenging behaviors in early childhood. According to the Pyramid Model, prevention strategies should be regularly used in the classroom to diminish the frequency and intensity of challenging behaviors and to promote positive social and emotional development.
Prevention strategies include:
- Encouraging social and emotional development of all students
- Cultivating nurturing relationships
- Creating inclusive and supporting environments
- Utilizing appropriate instructional materials and schedules
In addition to these, a particular student may at times require more targeted interventions, or response strategies. Response strategies stress the importance of responding to, not reacting (using emotions) to students’ behaviors. Here is a quick overview of suggested responses to challenging behaviors as outlined by The Pyramid Model:
- Offer minimal attention to the challenging behavior.
- Interrupt the behavior and redirect using minimal explanation and emotion.
- Reinforce positive behavior exhibited by others.
- Once the behavior has changed, pay positive attention to the child.
- Focus most of your energy and time empathizing replacement behaviors and appropriate skills. Do not focus on correction in the moment.
- Focus on relationships and create a collaborative plan for all adults in the child’s life to respond consistently to all behaviors, both positive and challenging.
- Create an individualized positive behavior support plan for patterns of severe challenging behavior and address triggers and routines.
While challenging behaviors are of course challenging to all teachers and caretakers, there are prevention and support strategies available to make the learning environment inclusive and beneficial to all. Make sure to check out the additional resources below and, as always, keep an eye on the QSSB training calendar for the next applicable training.