What is your Behavior Management Policy?

← All Topics

Ask Melinda is a Playvolution HQ column offering thoughtful answers to family child care questions written by Melinda Marshall.

Your questions, comments, and answers are welcome in the comment section at the end of the post.

This week’s question:

What is your Behavior Management Policy?


“Disobedience is not an issue if obedience is not the goal.”

Daron Quinlan

One of the most important things children will learn to do during their time in our programs will be how to play and interact with other children. Learning social and emotional skills takes time and patience and will often involve lots of conflict.

Remember, the definition of discipline is “to teach” and not “to punish”. In our program, we strive to teach and support positive social behaviors and empathy.  We do not require obedience, nor equate “good behavior” with listening or cooperating. We want to teach children that they are powerful individuals, and we want to support and develop the child’s sense of autonomy and agency. We also want children to be intrinsically motivated to make the right decisions, and not to be simply doing so out of blind obedience or worse, fear.

We need to remember to have realistic expectations for children’s behaviors and the ability to meet their needs where they are developmentally.

We keep our “rules” simple.

Keep yourself safe.  Keep others safe.  Keep our materials safe.

If the child is not hurting themselves, hurting anyone else, or purposely destructing materials or property, then more than likely whatever they are doing is normal and developmentally appropriate behavior. Before you jump in to even say anything, take a moment to observe and ask yourself those three questions.

We don’t typically use time-outs either. Although on occasion it may be necessary to immediately remove a child from an escalated situation for their own safety or the safety of others, it’s not really an effective form of discipline. Time outs tend to impede our ability to help children through difficult situations. It draws their attention away from real issue and refocuses them on a new power struggle with US. Looking back, most time outs I’ve ever used have been more about my immediate needs and frustrations than about meeting the needs of the child.

What we typically do is a term called “sportscasting”. Instead of getting directly involved in the conflict, we describe it to them. Sort of like a sportscaster reporting on a game, we don’t make suggestions or jump in to “play the game for them”, but rather simply portray what we see objectively and without interpretation. This tells children that we see their struggle and we are paying attention to their needs. We trust them to be their own problem solvers and to find their own solutions. This gives children autonomy and intrinsic motivation. By sportscasting, we’re essentially handing the reigns back to our children to learn to solve their own problems while still having the benefit of our trusting support and attention. It also (just as importantly, if not more) gives us a reminder to step back from our adult agendas and controlling tendencies and respects our children’s ability and capability to figure things out.

We also feel that how the childcare environment is set up has a great influence on how most conflicts can be avoided. Sometimes just changing the routine, activities, or furniture placement and play space can have a great effect on how the children get along with each other. We also feel that children who are kept engaged and stimulated are less likely to become bored or frustrated. We continuously work on meeting the needs of each child by providing individual space, positive social interaction, quiet spaces, lots of loose parts and age appropriate materials to create and explore, and plenty of UNINTERRUPTED time to play, run and release energy. (Preferably outdoors and in nature! Children cannot climb the walls if you take away the walls, and its amazing how much the “wild” can calm a child.) 

When dealing with children’s behavior, the MOST important key is RELATIONSHIPS. Children DO NOT WANT to “misbehave” or disappoint the adults in their lives. When children have loving, trusting relationships with the adults “in charge”, are respected as individuals and are trusted as capable, and have a sense of true belonging, most behaviors tend to disappear or are nonexistent to begin with.

So, I’ll leave you with this final thought:

I’m convinced that the majority of people working in ECE are in this field to reclaim the power and autonomy they themselves didn’t receive as children. And the way I see it, there are two ways to fill this void. By giving it to the children. Or by taking it away.

Thanks To Our January 2021 Patreon Patrons

Support Playvolution HQ

creating free content isn’t free

If you find our content here useful, entertaining, or interesting, consider ways you can support the site and our efforts to keep the content flowing.

For example, using our affiliate link when shopping Amazon is a great way to help-you pay the same amount and we receive a small percentage that’ll help keep the site up and running.

You can also support our work by becoming a patron via Patreon

Owner at Mountaintop Family Child Care

Melinda lives in Upstate New York and is owner of her home based program, Mountaintop Family Childcare.

She has been a family child care provider for over 18 years and worked with children for over 27 years. Her program offers relationship based care that includes many aspects of farm life and nature/forest school with PLAY at the center of all they do. She firmly believes in slowing down childhood and allowing children to develop at their own pace.

Melinda believes family childcare programs offer unique settings that have much to offer to the early learning world. She strongly supports family providers in keeping a home like atmosphere in their programs. Backed by research, she continuously advocates for children's right to play.