We must understand why children lose control, and use our knowledge of them as individuals when we respond, says Barbara Isaacs…
It was Maria Montessori’s view that practitioners should create environments which nurture young children’s natural tendencies and support their sensitive periods.
In such conditions there should be minimal need for behaviour modification. She believed that when children are engaged in activities which interest them, their levels of concentration increase and their involvement and capacity to problem solve grows.
We now know that just preparing the environment to serve a child’s interest isn’t enough. Adults’ engagement is vital. Focusing on sustained shared thinking is highlighted by the EPPE project and part and parcel of the Early Years Educator training.
This approach is viewed as one of the more significant contributing factors to effective early learning.
Bearing these theories in mind, we also know that most children experience moments where they lose control and become distressed. Some experience this distress more often than others.
However, in all situations, we need to unravel the causes, particularly if it becomes a regular occurrence in the setting or at home. Montessori tells us to treat the child as if s/he were ill, needing extra care and attention, but doesn’t provide a guide on how to achieve it.
It’s generally agreed that fostering positive behaviour by positive role modelling, positive use of language, predictable routines and consistent expectations makes a significant contribution to fostering a harmonious atmosphere in our settings.
Regular reviews of your behaviour policy and training in positive use of language, as well as exploration of your own attitudes and practice, should be added to the list of ‘what needs to be done’ when considering children’s behaviour.
Montessori also tells us to look at what we can do to facilitate positive learning experiences. This reflection is vital. Often I hear practitioners blaming children or their conditions for poor behaviour. Yet, most children respond best to encouragement and recognition of their unique gifts rather than their ‘faults’.
I believe firmly that the key to conflict resolution is ‘getting to know each child and oneself’. As both Montessori and the EYFS tell us, each child is unique.
Therefore, how we apply our behaviour policy to achieve the desired outcome will be influenced by the unique characteristics of the child and our flexible approach to their individual needs.
None of this is ground-breaking theory, but what do these principles look like in daily life of the nursery?
Communicating clearly: providing regular verbal explanations of what’s expected and why (reminders of how to behave displayed on walls are often above child’s-eye level and refer to children who don’t read).
Role modelling: behaving in the manner we expect children to behave. Shouting at a three-year-old to be quiet doesn’t achieve the desired effect. Respect from the children is fostered by our deep respect towards them.
Praising effort: acknowledging a child’s effort in behaving well. All children want to be accepted and liked, and will try to do their best. Our flexibility and knowledge of each child is vital, because what we commend as positive behaviour in one may be considered normal behaviour for another.
Establishing what happened: listening and giving a voice to each child following a conflict. Often the child who transgressed has a reason for doing so. This approach offers an opportunity to reinforce what’s expected and why.
Agreeing rules: ensuring consistency across the setting. Agreeing on your ‘non-negotiables’ is important in this regard. In Montessori settings, the non-negotiable is the expectation that a child who has chosen an activity freely will return it to where they found it, ready for another. This is key to children’s growing social awareness and responsibility.
To ensure all children understand our expectations we must help them develop the habit of returning the activity, and this means sometimes helping, cajoling, reminding or insisting. However, in all scenarios the activity must be left ready for another child to use. I believe these principles will work well in any setting, as they do at home.
MCI offers distance learning Level 3 & 4 Diplomas in Montessori pedagogy – Birth to Seven (Early Years Educator).