When it comes to behaviour, educators should show, not tell
The Sector > Quality > In The Field > When it comes to behaviour, educators should show, not tell

When it comes to behaviour, educators should show, not tell

by Freya Lucas

December 14, 2023

Children notice everything that the caring adults in their lives do, early childhood teacher (ECT) Ashley Lindwall believes, encouraging others in the early childhood education and care (ECEC) profession to have positive interactions and behave as role models. 


To support other ECEC professionals and to guide professional development in the sector the Queensland Department of Education recently prepared some reflections from ECTs and a video of behaviour guidance tips in practice. 


An extract of the conversation with the ECTs appears below. To access the original coverage of this story please see here


“It’s not about the negative, but building them up on those positive relationships, making sure that they know you’re a safe, secure support person for them,” says Ms Lindwall. 


“Your relationships with people around you are what make you the person you are – building that connection with children, building that positive relationship, guiding them through challenging behaviours.


“You are shaping them as a person.”


She acknowledges that children are “full of emotions” and that these emotions can cause challenging behaviour, but it’s important for ECEC professionals to realise that children have yet to master their emotions in the same way that adults can, and therefore it’s important for the caring adults in their lives to be a role model. 


“Children learn how to socialise appropriately with others and manage their feelings and behaviours when educators take a positive, strengths-based approach to behavioural guidance,” she said.


Sarah Jensen is also an ECT who works at Mother Duck, and says it’s important to support children to build social competence, including treating others with care, empathy and respect.


“We’re continually focusing on and observing their kindness, their collaboration, their decision making and their compassion with others,” Ms Jensen says.


“Documenting that and then providing experiences that complement that documentation. What we want to teach the children is that it’s okay to have emotions and provide strategies for them to cope with feeling that way…strategies that they can pull from their backpack to use in the future.”


Tips for guiding behaviour


Children of different ages and developmental stages need different levels of support, the Queensland Department of Education notes


Educators, the Department says, should work collaboratively with families to provide consistent behaviour guidance strategies at the service and at home to improve children’s learning and development, offering the following tips. 




Babies don’t need discipline. Babies cry because they’re hungry, wet, tired, in pain or need to be held. Distracting a baby or changing activities to encourage positive behaviour is more effective than saying ‘don’t’ or showing anger.


As babies grow, they need routines but it’s important to remain flexible.


Toddlers and kindy children


Say what you mean. Say ‘do’ instead of ‘don’t’ and speak in short, simple sentences, such as:


  • ‘Slow down and walk’ instead of ‘stop running’
  • ‘Use a quiet voice inside’ instead of ‘don’t shout’.


Praise positive behaviour


It is better to acknowledge a child’s good behaviour than give negative feedback for misbehaviour.


Ignore minor misbehaviour


For minor attention-seeking behaviours that aren’t hurting anyone or damaging property, it is best to ignore what the child is doing, for example, turn away and respond only when they stop. Constantly responding to negative behaviours can teach a child that this is a good way to get your attention.


Distract and divert


Children can get emotional when things aren’t going their way or are struggling to express themselves. Distract them with a change of location or activity.


Be a positive role model


Children watch the people around them. They see how you talk to other children and adults. They see how you cope with anger or frustration, sadness and happiness, and use this as clues on how to behave.


Cool-down time


Educators can encourage a child who is having a difficult moment to find a space, near them or another educator, to ‘cool down’ and regulate their emotions in a quiet, safe environment. This strategy can support children to adjust their behaviour and can be an example of appropriate discipline or behaviour guidance.


Cool-down time is different to time out because an educator stays with the child and reassures and supports them to regulate their emotions. It is viewed as a learning opportunity, not as punishment (taken from ACECQA’s information sheet on inappropriate discipline).


More information


For educators



For sharing with families



Ms Lindwall and Ms Jensen, who work at Mother Duck Childcare and Kindergarten, shared their thoughts with the Queensland Education Department. Access the original coverage of this story here. 

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