INTRODUCTION Addressing children’s challenging behaviors can be one of the most emotional and difficult
activities you face as an adult working in an early childhood setting. You bring your own
beliefs and experiences to every situation, which can make it hard to be objective. Inap-
propriate or emotional reactions to children’s challenging behaviors can turn potential
learning situations for children into unnecessary crises. Focusing on helping children learn
the skills they need to be successful, instead of focusing on your own feelings, is easier said
than done. But it’s important to strive toward this goal. Children imitate behavior they see,
so you must be able to model self-control and show children how you want them to act in
times of conflict or frustration.

This Redleaf Quick Guide suggests strategies you can use for handling some of the most
common behavioral issues of young children. It does not, however, provide comprehen-
sive recipes for responding to all situations. Children’s behavior is complex. It results from
many causes, such as health, physical environment, temperament, experiences, skills, risk
factors, and development. Therefore, all adults working with young children should partici-
pate with an open mind in ongoing professional development about positive guidance for
children. Administrators, teachers, drivers, monitors, substitutes, and volunteers can all
benefit from learning more about helping children develop social skills and self-regulation.

Many Challenging Behaviors Represent
Typical Development
Your expectations for young children’s behavior should be reasonable for their ages and
developmental levels. Often the behaviors adults find challenging are typical for certain
ages and developmental stages. Young children are learning vocabulary and how language
works, so they do not always have the words to express themselves to adults or to one
another in socially acceptable ways. Adults like to think of childhood as a magical, carefree
time. But it can be frustrating for both children and adults, because children have not yet
learned many problem-solving, coping, or self-control skills.

Children’s emotions can be intense. Children may not be able to control their actions associ-
ated with strong feelings, so they need outlets for their feelings and support in learning
self-control. Although children may be curious about others and want to have friends, they
may not know how to befriend one another. Their social skills are still evolving. Young chil-
dren are focused on themselves. They see things from their singular points of view. They
also have a naturally increasing need to be independent, which can disturb the routines of
a group of children. As typically developing children carve out their identities, they may

exhibit every challenging behavior described in this book. During traumatic times, children
may temporarily regress and display challenging behaviors that they have previously over-
come. The frequency and intensity of children’s challenging behaviors can alert you to the
possibility that the behaviors are outside the typical developmental framework, and that
additional support may be necessary.

Developmental screenings may help determine whether children have potential develop-
mental delays or other issues that impact behavior. Some programs offer developmental
screenings with informed consent from families, and other programs make referrals.

Screenings alert you only to possible concerns. If screening results indicate a need, more
in-depth assessment should follow. Even so, information from screenings may help guide
initial action plans to support children in reaching their potential in all areas of devel-
opment. If challenging behaviors persist and increase during the preschool years, and
consistent prevention techniques are unsuccessful, an assessment may need to be consid-
ered. Working together, families and teachers can provide positive guidance and support to
help young children through challenging times.

Behavior Is Integrated
This Redleaf Quick Guide is intended to be used as needed, not sequentially. It is organized
into twelve topics representing common challenging behaviors to help you quickly identify
a behavior and useful strategies. But remember, each behavior is related to others. For
example, aggression can also be demonstrated through biting, defiance, language, and
tantrums. A behavior may begin one way and escalate to include many challenging behav-
iors. Children may present a challenging behavior in one area or many. Children may also
demonstrate a challenging behavior rarely or regularly. If one section of this book is not
helpful, consult related areas.

Staying Calm through the Storm
As you use this book to work with children during challenging times, remember to stay
calm. Maintaining your composure is your best strategy for dealing with challenging behav-
iors. Don’t get upset, raise your voice, shame children, or make threats. These techniques
do not work and will make everyone involved feel more out of control. If you are relaxed,
you will be better able to look at the situation objectively, problem solve, and model appro-
priate behavior. Identifying and using stress-management techniques for yourself is an
important behavior-management strategy.