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How to handle disruptive behaviour in childcare

Children often behave in a way that is considered disruptive. Disruptive behaviour can be defined as 'behaviour which interrupts or interferes with the educational, social, emotional and physical wellbeing of those around them' (ITN, 2013).

Types of disruption can include acting out (e.g. hitting other children), talking out (e.g. talking during story time) and swearing (ITN, 2013). Any of these behaviours may be completely unintentional or they may be deliberate to gain attention from other children or adults.

A child's behaviour is not something that can completely be controlled by adults, so it is often necessary for them to learn suitable ways to express themselves. Not all people in the childcare industry will be experienced in how to deal with disruptive behaviour, but there are a few ways that an adult can manage the situation and help the child to feel safe and protected.

The first step should always be to identify what is upsetting or angering the child. What has caused them to behave in this way? Is it because they are hungry or tired, or is there something else that has affected them emotionally? By identifying the problem, the adult can begin to address it for example by giving the child a snack, taking them outside to calm down, etc.

It may also be necessary to talk through what happened with the rest of the children in the room to ensure that they know what is and isn't allowed. However, this must be done carefully so as not to upset the child further by having a chat about how naughty they were.

It can also help if the adult simply talks through their own feelings with the child. For example "I'm feeling very angry because you have just hit that other child. If I was you, I would feel very upset because you were not able to express yourself without hurting someone else". This may be hard for the child to understand immediately but by talking through their feelings, it can help them work it out for themselves as they get older.

The following list contains a few techniques which may be used when working with children who act out in the childcare industry:

  • Stay calm and approach the child slowly. Never frighten them by shouting or grabbing at them.

  • Speak to the child alone, away from any other adults or children so that they feel safe around you.

  • Ensure that they are not left sitting on the floor if they have been told to take a break. If they are not in an isolated space, ensure that you don't leave them with any objects which could be potentially dangerous e.g. large pencils or scissors so that they cannot hurt themselves and others around them.

  • Try to help the child calm down by asking them if they want to take a break outside or sit quietly with you.

  • If the child is not old enough to talk about how they feel, use action and touch to try and express what it is that they are feeling.

  • Don't allow them to hurt anyone else or themselves. This will be dependent on their age and size. If they struggle, ask another member of staff to help you.

  • Most importantly, if a child is actually hurting someone else and this makes them feel bad (e.g. hitting another child) then it may be necessary to physically separate them from the other children in the room by putting them in a safe area such as an isolated space so that they don't hurt anyone. If physically moving them is not necessary, another option may be to ask the children who are not involved in this situation to ignore or avoid the child so that it does not escalate further.

  • If all else fails, remove the child from the room completely by taking them outside for a quiet chat or asking them to sit with you in an isolated space.

  • Try to end the situation quickly by asking them if they want to go back into the room, otherwise ask them what they need (e.g. toy, snack etc.).

Taking these actions when dealing with disruptive behaviour can help children feel understood and cared for instead of further increasing anger or frustration.

In addition, it is important that the childcare industry recognises that the children themselves may have a difficult home life which can affect their behaviour in a nursery or daycare centre. Having a stable environment with caring and loving staff is therefore essential for all young children.

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