When rules or limits are broken, address the behavior using these guidelines:


Stay calm

Working with children is rewarding, but it can be stressful, especially when dealing with their behavior. Remain in control of your feelings, especially frustration or anger. Losing your self-control, yelling at children, using threats, etc., will negatively impact your relationship with the children and could also jeopardize your job.

Step away if you need to maintain your composure. It’s important to model for children to remain calm and in control of yourself, to give them a positive example of how to deal with anger or frustration. Remain calm, evaluate the situation, and proceed with caution.


All behavior has a reason. Children aren’t mature enough to tell us their needs in words. Without the words and self-control to communicate with them, they act out to get their needs met. By dismissing the child or giving in to their demands without analyzing the behavior, we’re not acknowledging their feelings, and not helping them to get their needs met.


Children deserve respect. Use words that demonstrate your respect, such as please, thank you, and I’m sorry. Tell children what to do, not what not to do. Using the word ‘instead’ to rephrase helps. The focus should be on what we want to happen.

A word about words

Children need frequent reminders of what is expected (remember the ratio of 5 positives to 1 negative). Choose your words and tone carefully and use empathy! As much as possible, educators must offer these reminders in a helpful tone, and avoid:



Describe what you see or the problem (“When you ran through the block area, you knocked down Anna’s tower.”).

Remind the child of the rule

For example, “Remember our rule that we only run when we’re outside,” “Are you remembering to use your inside feet?”

Allow time for compliance

Children’s brains are still forming. They need to hear, process, and respond to requests and guidance.

Give voice to children’s feelings

Recognize and respect children’s feelings when discussing their behavior (“I see you’re very frustrated.”). Encourage children to express their feelings in words and resolve problems peacefully.

Use positive solutions

See if the child can come up with their own positive solution. If not, direct the child toward positive activity and away from potential problems:

Provide choices

Simply giving children choices can reduce problem behavior. Although children will naturally choose things that are reinforcing to them, research shows behavior improves even when both choices are not preferred or when the assignment is not preferred but the child gets to choose aspects of it, such as the sequence of tasks (“Do you want to clean up the toys first or hang up your coat?”).


Helping children learn about natural consequences fosters learning because they appeal to their sense of logic and desire for control: “When I do this, this is what happens.”

Natural consequences

Imposing negative consequences for undesirable behavior works to control behavior for about 80 to 90 percent of children. But using punitive measures doesn’t help children develop personal responsibility or life skills. Furthermore, they do not work for children at risk for or those who already have chronic behavioral challenges. Therefore, use consequences carefully.

When possible, instill natural consequences for behaviors. When you use consequences, think ahead. Don’t warn a child of the consequences ahead of time as this becomes a threat. Instead, have a plan in mind for what you will do in a certain situation. Some negative behaviors and their natural consequences may include:

Remove the child

Because a “time-out” doesn’t address behavior or teach a child to redirect their behavior to more positive channels, we don’t use time outs at First Circle. However, children may need to be removed from a situation if they are having difficulty. You can help children develop their own coping skills by guiding them to “take a break,” and “pick another activity.”

Examples are:


Include a brief explanation and a dose of empathy as you remove the child or implement a consequence. Be as consistent as possible and use similar wording each time to redirect. Keep the following guidelines in mind:

Remove the choice

Offer two options matter-of-factly which result in the desired outcome. For example, “You can pick an empty sink, or I will pick it for you.” Make sure you don’t use a threatening tone.

Encourage peer feedback

When children are at odds with each other, encourage appropriate peer feedback. For example, one child takes a toy from a second child – help the second child express themselves by asking, “How does that make you feel?” Then help the child give feedback to the first one, such as “I don’t like that!” or “I want you to give that back to me.”

Engage the child in reparation

Children can and should be involved in solutions to problems or conflicts, especially when behavior is aggressive or destructive, involving them in repairing any damage. Some examples are:


Ignore some kinds of inappropriate behavior

Sometimes it is better to ignore behavior clearly intended to attract attention. This strategy should only be used when a child displays minor inappropriate behavior and when you’re confident the child will stop on their own. This strategy is more appropriate for children at least 4 years old. Things to know about planned ignoring: