The following steps will help avoid challenging behavior before it begins:


Design play and learning areas with boundaries that teachers can see and children understand. Have organized and plentiful materials in good working condition. Set the classroom up for success by following principles of universal design.


Even when we think they aren’t paying attention, children are watching us carefully. If you interact with respect and courtesy, children will too. If children see their teachers sitting on furniture or eating outside mealtime, they won’t understand why they aren’t allowed to.


Encourage children’s participation in play by being nearby and available.


Reinforce positive behavior by recognizing children’s positive actions, or “catch children being good.” There are 5 major principles for using positive feedback:

  1. Positive-to-negative ratio. Spend more time using positive language than giving directions or correcting inappropriate behavior. The ratio should be 4 to 5 positive statements to 1 correction. This will teach children social skills and ensure the learning environment feels encouraging and positive.
  2. Contingent on appropriate behavior: “Thank you for hanging up your coat all by yourself.”
  3. Descriptive: Rather than just saying “good job” or “thanks,” describe the behavior you just observed. This helps children know exactly what behavior you would like to see repeated. (“Thank you for putting the blocks away on the shelf exactly on their spot.”)
  4. Conveyed with enthusiasm. Most children like feedback from adults and will do things to gain adults’ attention (yes, the positive and the not-so-positive behaviors!). Tone of voice, facial expressions, getting down on a child’s level, and when feedback is delivered all matter. Give plenty of “warm fuzzies” such as hugs, high fives, winks, and thumbs up.
  5. Based on effort. Children need to be encouraged for both their efforts and their successes. For example, even if a child is not successful in putting away the blocks, make sure to acknowledge the effort.