Part 2: 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.

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 part one, we covered the importance of promoting positive behaviour and some tips to support these (click here to read).

This part will identify typical behaviours and suggest how best to work in partnership with your child’s nursery to combat these.

Typical behaviours in young children

There can be a wide range of underlying reasons to why a child behaves in a certain way and unfortunately, for parents there is no single answer to ‘fixing’ these.

There is a wide spectrum of behaviours. Some may be due to changes in a little one’s life, for example, a new sibling or loss of a family member.

Alternatively, the child may have needs that have not been identified, e.g. underlying educational or physical needs/disability such as a hearing impairment.

Many children have patterns of behaviour that practitioners refer to as schemas.

Often these can appear as negative to adults, but they are just part of your child’s development. Examples that you may have observed in your child might include:

· Your child repeatedly dropping items from their highchair. This is known as a trajectory schema,

· Repeatedly filling and emptying boxes, bins and bags. This may result in you losing important items in your home such as car keys. This is known as an enveloping and containing schema.

Some reasons for challenging behaviour may be your child trying to tell you something but not being able to use the correct words yet or may not be able to communicate at all.

This can lead to challenging behaviour due to frustration, fear, hyperactivity, discomfort, a lack of understanding or a lack of attention your child needs at the time.


The development stage for ‘learning to share’ can be complex and take time. Some children will understand this concept earlier than others and this can cause conflict.

Having positive role models that support and encourage sharing is important as well as supporting children to take turns in play and conversation.

During early stages, your child may have a favourite toy that they do not want to share. Role modelling and encouraging them to share as well as praising others who are sharing are ways to encourage this.

It will not happen overnight and sometimes if this toy is also a comforter for your child, it may not be appropriate for the child to share, but instead share another.

As children get older, they begin to understand what sharing is. Sand timers or timers on your phone are useful to support them in understanding when it is their turn or when they need to give someone else a turn.

This can help with arguments between children about sharing toys, games or books.


Biting other children and adults can be quite common in young children - many children pass through this stage as part of their development.

This can occur out of frustration because they want something that another child has or because they are teething.

Biting incidents can be a difficult time for parents. Your child may bite a sibling or other children at nursery or in play, or your child may also be bitten by another child.

Often there is no known cause as to why the child is biting and, in some cases, children may continue to bite for an extended period.

If your child bites, it is important to redirect the attention to the child who was bitten first and give them comfort and support so that the biter can see that they do not receive the attention for biting.

You should then speak to your child who has bitten afterwards (in terms they can understand) that you cannot let them hurt others and it makes the child who has been bitten and you really sad.

If your child is bitten while at nursery this can be upsetting, no one wants to hear that their child has been injured, especially by another child.

Nurseries will have behaviour policies that should include biting incidents so you can ask to see them and ask what the nursery are doing to support both children and to minimise any future incidents.

If your child is the one who is biting at nursery, the nursery team should invite you to talk about how you can work together to minimise it happening.

They shouldn’t make you feel that it is yours or your child’s fault. Rather, identify triggers and strategies, e.g. when your child is tired or hungry, are helpful to gain an understanding of when and why they may bite.

Strategies to support your child could include having biting rings, relaxing and sensory time, encouraging all children to be kind to one another and praising positive behaviour.

You can read our in-depth guide on biting by clicking here!


Young children may display inappropriate behaviour but usually with the right support and strategies these do not lead into anything more serious.

The word bully and bullying are usually a bigger concern during primary and secondary school.

There are many definitions of bullying, but most have three things in common. These are:

· Deliberately hurting behaviour

· Repeated over time

· An imbalance of power, which makes it hard for those who are being bullied to defend themselves.

Young children are very unlikely to include deliberately hurting others time and time again.

They are usually due to young children testing out boundaries or exhibiting their frustrations.

A safe environment with appropriate and consistent boundaries provides children with the right foundations for the future.

Getting this right for children in the earliest years is vital because it will enable children to develop the understanding of right/wrong and begin to have empathy for others.

Embedding this lays the foundations needed so your child does not go on to bully others in the future during their school or working life.

Inappropriate language

Children’s vocabulary is expanded through direct experience. If children hear inappropriate language more than once, then they may repeat it.

Children could hear this from familiar adults, other children, others in their local surroundings or even accidently through over hearing conversations on TV.

If the inappropriate language incident is a one-off, you may choose to ignore it and instead reinforce what has been said with an alternative word.

Where the inappropriate language becomes a repeated behaviour, you need to acknowledge the words rather than ignore them - as this is unlikely to be effective.

Children need to know that the words are not kind or that we don’t use those words and give an alternative example.

Children need positive role models. If you accidently stub your toe, you may be tempted to use inappropriate language.

You need to be aware of how you respond to these situations and use alternatives because, as we know, children will copy you.

If you do use inappropriate language, then you do need to explain to your children. If they copy you, explain that this is not the right word to use and that you were wrong when you said this and won’t say it again.

Positive role modelling does not stop at the behaviours/language you use - it also includes admitting when you are in the wrong and correcting your own behaviour if you need to.

Working in partnership with your child’s nursery

If you’re already with us, then your little one will have a designated key person assigned to them.

The role of the key person is to initially settle your child, share information as well as inform you about your child’s day and what they have been doing.

If your child displays any unwanted behaviour the key person should inform you in private and depending on the issue you may be asked to sign an incident form.

All nurseries in England have a duty to follow the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS). This includes all the legal requirements that early year’s providers must meet and are inspected by Ofsted on.

The EYFS states that, “providers are responsible for managing children’s behaviour in an appropriate way”.

Nurseries may have a policy showing how they will work with you to manage this and should share this with you when you start (or have this on display, so you can see how the nursery promotes positive behaviour and approaches unwanted or inappropriate behaviour).

Nursery staff must not give corporal punishment to a child and must take all reasonable steps to ensure that corporate punishment is not given by any person who cares for or is in regular contact with a child.

Additional needs

Children who have additional needs may have greater frustrations, especially if they do not have the words or signs to express themselves.

This can sometimes result in tantrums, screaming, hurting others, breaking things, feeding problems and lack of sleep.

If you are worried about your child’s behaviour, you should seek further support by speaking with your nursery manager/key person or GP.

You should try to record any incidents, so you have a log of how often these occur and any potential triggers.

These can then be shared with health visitors and doctors who may be involved in the referral process.

It is important that you work together and share information with the nursery, especially your child’s key person.

The nursery will conduct observations that will also identify any triggers that may be affecting your child’s behaviour.

Supporting children’s behaviour is easier when everyone works together and implements the same strategies.

This provides consistency for your child and makes any strategy easier to implement at home as your child is used to the approach.

Some further information and support

Department for Education (2017) The Early Years Foundation Stage London

NHS guidance Child Mind institute


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