A guide to promoting positive behaviour

Updated: Nov 19, 2021



Being a parent is an amazing experience with many magical moments that create a lifetime worth of memories. However, it is likely there will be some challenges you have to overcome – these aren’t always easy.


Supporting your child’s behaviour can be challenging at times, making it a difficult and stressful time.


It’s important to remember that every parent’s experience of this is different – some children may exhibit more challenging behaviours than others, but don’t worry – you’re not alone in experiencing this.


To help, we’ve written this guide with the support of the National Day Nurseries Association to:

  • Offer some tips to promote and support positive behaviours,

  • Identify some of the typical behaviours your little one may display,

  • Suggest ways in which you can work with your nursery to help combat these.

In this part, we will cover the importance of promoting positive behaviour and some tips to support these.


Part 2 will identify typical behaviours and suggest how best to work in partnership with your child’s nursery to combat these (coming soon!).



Promoting Positive Behaviour


But first… why do children display challenging behaviours?


All relationships are built on meeting emotional needs that we all have (e.g., attention, acceptance, approval etc.). When our needs are met, we feel happy and secure. When they are not met, we can feel anxious and insecure.


Young children can often display unwanted behaviour because their needs aren't being met in some way – for example if they are tired or hungry.


You might also notice this when your little one can’t communicate what they want (or if the adult doesn’t understand what they want).


It’s worth noting that adults can sometimes react adversely in these situations, for instance displaying signs of frustration.


In these instances, the adult should take time to calm down and step back to gain perspective. This is to ensure the child doesn’t try to model the behaviour themselves (as they may assume it’s acceptable after seeing it modelled by a grown-up).


Young children’s understanding of concepts such as ‘later’, keeping safe or someone else’s belongings are still in early development. Your child might hear what you are saying but may not yet have the knowledge or language skills to fully understand this.


This can sometimes result in tears and anger. This is usually a response to pent-up frustration.

Every child is an individual who develops at their own pace. Some children will go through development stages with ease, but others may need a little more support.


As children go through a range of different experiences, they begin to explore and test out boundaries with a range of behaviours.


Children may go through shorter periods of challenging behaviour, whereas some behaviours may continue.


These may be due to other undiagnosed needs where further long-term support is required (these will be discussed in part 2).


Looking at positive behaviour management


Positive behaviour management is all about using a positive rather than negative approach to encourage children to understand their behaviours and the impact they may have on themselves and those around them.


This encourages you, as a parent, to focus on the positive areas and praise good elements rather than focusing on the negative.


There will be times when you will have to use strategies to stop negative behaviour but its best to prevent this behaviour in the first place through praising, rewarding, and giving attention for good instead of inappropriate behaviour.


This encourages positive habits and behaviours in the long-term. Prevention in this way is better than the cure when it comes to managing behaviour!



Tips to encourage positive behaviour:

  • Be Consistent

Try to adopt a consistent approach to behaviour so your child can quickly develop their understanding of what is expected.


Have other family members such as grandparents follow this too, so your little ones don’t become confused about what is expected of them.

  • Provide Positive Role Models

Children learn from those around them. It is important for them to have positive role models who follow the rules and boundaries themselves as well as model appropriate behaviours.


For example, paying attention, listening when someone else is speaking, taking turns, saying please and thank you and using positive body language.

  • Have Clear and Realistic Expectations

Rules or boundaries that are achievable are a vital part of daily life. These may include walking safely inside, looking after toys and keeping their hands to themselves.


As children get older try to involve them in developing the rules as well – this will give them a better understanding of the ‘why’ behind these.

  • Positive Reinforcement

Positive feedback is the best and most effective way of promoting positive behaviours and minimising unwanted ones.


This encourages the development of self-confidence and self-esteem in children, which are vital life skills to enable them to be active learners as they develop.


Children need to know when they are getting it right through your positive body language, tone of voice, physical touch, praise and compliments, encouragement etc.


Children also need praise and encouragement for the process of tasks as well as when they complete a task - both are just as important. For example, giving your child praise for starting to put on their coat, even if you need to help them with the final part.

  • Pre-Planning

Children often misbehave when their routine is changed and they feel insecure, even if the routine is being altered because of something exciting.


Try to prepare your child wherever possible about any changes. For instance, if you need to change your plans on a Saturday because of a late party invitation, explain this to your child and tell them about the different kinds of fun they will have.


This will help them feel more at ease about the new experience.

  • Distraction

Many young children can be diverted from inappropriate behaviour by turning their attention to something else.


This can often be successful when diverting them to something that they are particularly interested in or a favourite toy or item.


For example, if your child is starting to become agitated in the supermarket, try distracting them by giving them responsibility for finding an item they like on your shopping list. Make it a treasure hunt!


This will then hopefully distract them away from the cause of their unwanted behaviour.

  • Choices

Offering choices can be used to take conflict out of situations.


If you would like your child to sit down at the dinner table and they are refusing to, offer them a choice, e.g., ‘you can either sit down here on that chair or on the big chair next to me, which one are you going to choose?’.


Giving your child this choice will encourage them to start making their own decisions and give them a better understanding of why you ask them to do something.

  • Problem Solving

You can begin to support your child in developing the necessary skills they need for later life.

As your child rushes over to you and tells you what their problem is, do not rush in to give them a solution.


Repeat back what they have told you, acknowledge how they feel about the situation and then ask them, ‘how are we going to solve this?’.


This will encourage them to begin to solve problems for themselves, rather than always running to an adult for support.

  • 1, 2, 3 Magic

When asking your child to do something say: ‘I will count to three and then... (give an offer of a positive reward or alternatively a boundary)’.


Just ensure you follow through for consistency or this approach will soon become redundant.

  • Structures and Routines

Young children find routines safe and reassuring and are more likely to behave appropriately within structures they feel comfortable with.


These need to be flexible and appropriate to the age of the child, for example, not expecting your child to sit at the table for too long, as this can sometimes result in them displaying unwanted behaviour when they may just be bored or frustrated.



To Conclude…

In summary, it’s best to focus on the positives (giving positive reinforcements and focusing less on the negatives), whilst keeping consistent with structures, routines, and expectations.


Part 2, which will identify some typical behaviours and suggest ways to work with your nursery to combat these, is coming soon!


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