Guiding the behavior of young children is a skill early childhood educators use countless times each day. Unlike punishment, which issues an arbitrary consequence for undesirable behavior, guidance provides children with an appropriate model for behavior. According to Foundations of the Teaching-Learning Process by Dr. Janet Gonzalez-Mena, guiding behavior provides children with a correct script, which gives them the necessary information to behave appropriately the next time.
Redirection is positively directing the child's behavior by telling him what he should do instead of what he shouldn't do, explains the Montana Center for Childhood Inclusion. For example, if your child is flinging small pieces of food on the floor, instead of saying, "don't put that on the floor!" redirect his behavior positively by saying, "please keep all your food, including the parts you don't like on the side of your plate." If your child is purposefully poking his peer sitting next to him, redirect his behavior by saying, "please keep your hands to yourself."
Guiding young children's behavior requires helping them handle their emotions. When 3 year-old Brian his 2 year-old sister's purple block without asking, she feels angry and resentful and retaliates by snatching back the block and hitting him across the back. While it's tempting to scold his sister for hitting, reprimands won't give her the guidance about how to behave appropriately in the future. Instead, explains Dr. Janet Gonzalez-Mena, it's more effective to guide her behavior by acknowledging her anger toward her brother and discussing how she could handle things differently the next time she becomes angry with him.
Setting limits guides children's behavior while allowing them to play and explore within certain confines. Limits turn restrictions into positive guidance, as opposed to restrictive directions like, "don't leave this room" or "don't take any more than two cookies." Some limits you set might be physical, such as "please stay in this room with me," others might be quantity related, "you may have one cookie, but that's it until dinner."
Allowing children to experience natural consequences, and then requiring them to participate in correcting the problem, guide their behavior by helping them understand the reasons behind your requests and rules. A child who is pretending to be a flapping bird at the snack table is told, "Please keep your hands to yourself and your bottom in your seat," when she doesn't listen, and spills her neighbor's cup of milk on the floor, she must then help clean up the resulting mess. As Dr. Janet Gonzalez-Mena the guidance of allowing natural consequences means "I told you so!" or "look what you did!" is unnecessary.
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