I am frequently asked by parents and practitioners how can they ‘solve’ children’s behaviour. My answer to this is there is no ‘quick fix’ or solution as it is an essential learning process which needs support and guidance from adults. Effective long term results stem from consistency, whilst understanding the world from the child’s perspective. Understanding what behaviour is expected in any given circumstance is very complex and something we as adults are often still learning when faced with a new situation. This has led me to think about how many similarities there are between managing children’s behaviour and that of management within the workplace. There are so many skills that we need to draw upon when supporting children and their development that are also used at work – negotiation, reasoning, compromise, creativity, patience, assertiveness and the list goes on.
As children grow and develop they face new experiences, challenges and emotions that will affect their behaviour, making this an essential ongoing learning process which needs continuous support and guidance from adults. Whilst there are some methods, such as the ‘naughty step’ or ‘time out’, which may provide short term results, research from American Psychological Society (2015) suggests that the most effective long term approach to behaviour management is to reason with children rather than just using these discipline methods. It is this reasoning that allows children to learn about what behaviours are appropriate and why, rather than just what behaviours are not desired in one particular circumstance, ultimately allowing them to apply these ‘rules’ to any situation.
Using the workplace comparison, I wonder, would we use the ‘naughty step’ or ‘time out’ with our employees as a management strategy? I would hope the answer would be no as I cannot see this being an effective, or popular, approach with adults – so why do we use it with children? If you were to use this method with adults you would be likely to see resistance and a great deal of negativity from all parties (not to mention a possible grievance case!). In the short term there might be a change in behaviour, as it would be quite a shock, but long term are those employees going to be hard working, respectful and understanding of your decisions as a manager? Very unlikely.
We all look for an environment where we feel respected, whether this is at home or within the workplace. So what does respect look like when supporting children? Should children be expected to automatically respect us just because we are adults, adhering to behaviours we ask of them rather than them understanding why? If this is the case then this is not respect, this is power. Respect is defined by Oxford Dictionaries (2016) as “a feeling of deep admiration for someone or something elicited by their abilities, qualities, or achievements”. Respect is something that is earned and gained over time, not something that happens overnight because of seniority. Power on the other hand is defined as “the capacity or ability to direct or influence the behaviour of others”, (Oxford Dictionaries, 2016) and can be forced upon others. All too often I have observed the adult vs. child power battle. The child wanting to assert themselves but the adult, not wanting to be ‘outdone’ or beaten by the child and often feeling frustrated by the challenging behaviour, asserting their ‘power’ simply because they are the adult. This often results in the use of phrases like “because I said so” and does not show respect to, or encourage respect from, the child but rather demands obedience in that circumstance. Consider this in the workplace, if you have a manager who asserts power, who is determined to be the one who ‘wins’ the situation without any consideration for the employee’s viewpoint, this can be frustrating and demoralising for the employee. If this happens week after week then this does not make for a collaborative or mutually respectful environment just, potentially, an obedient employee.
Whalley (2011) discusses the importance of modelling fair approaches to children and treating children, parents and staff with equal concern. As we all know, children are looking for role models and will reflect the behaviours that are demonstrated to them. If children are exposed to adults who do not listen and who control situations with power, not respect and reasoning, surely we are going to see this in the children’s approach and retaliation to disagreements, and thus the power battle begins.
Another example, where a management technique has been adapted for children, is the transactional management style, in which those working for the manager will do something for an end reward. Sound familiar? When used with children, namely reward / sticker charts, it is often effective in the short term – a child displays the behaviour that the adult wants and they get rewarded. Win, win it seems, we all enjoy a reward, however in the long term have the children learnt anything other than ‘if I do this I will get a treat / sticker’? I am not saying to never use a reward chart with children, and I have certainly used my fair share of them over my years of nannying, but it has to be supported with much longer term techniques that teach children why they should be displaying some behaviours and not others. When considering this when managing adults, do we need constant rewards such as a pay rises, bonuses and time off to make us work harder? Yes they are a lovely incentive and are gratefully received, however they won’t necessarily change the way we work in the long term. On the flip side, what does it look like when we create a working environment which supports and nurtures the individual? How do we as adults feel when we are given choice and autonomy? Feeling valued in our roles can lead to much higher levels of job satisfaction and commitment. Having our opinions listened to and simple acts of appreciation from our managers and leaders, such as a thank you at the end of the day or recognition of something well done, can be enough to give us a boost. We feel confident to try things (perhaps not getting them right first time), empowered and valued. This environment is also likely to promote more creative thinking and problem solving. This is the same when we are supporting children. Children seek praise and acknowledgement for their achievements with a “well done”, a high five or the anticipation of telling mummy or daddy when they collect them at the end of the day, who in turn provide verbal praise, can be reward enough.
When looking at management and leadership models I think the statement ’managers have subordinates and leaders have followers’ (Changing Minds, 2016) is one that we can relate to supporting children and their behaviour. Subordinates are described as those who work for the manager and mainly ’do as they are told’ (Changing Minds, 2016). Is this what we want to foster in our children? Obedience but not understanding? Telling people, adults or children, what to do all the time does not inspire them to listen or follow; yet by appealing to, reasoning with and respecting them, we can lead them to ‘follow’ and ‘behave’ in a manner that we require.
As with all aspects of working with children, or in fact adults, effective behaviour management comes down to the need for effective communication. Children need to feel that they are being listened to, not just heard, and that they receive appropriate responses from the adults around them. When we feel that we are listened to, given choice, autonomy and a voice, we can feel empowered and valued within that situation. Poor communication can act as a barrier to effective working when it is not helpful or not used appropriately. Daly, Byers and Taylor (2009:188) state that ’effective communication promotes achievement and success’ which is not only something that we should aim for in our working environments but surely something that we strive for in our work with children?
We must also remember,’Communication is not just about the words you use, but also the manner of your speaking, body language, and above all, the effectiveness with which you listen’ (DfES, 2005:6). We can all be guilty, particularly when in a hurry, of not listening and trying to understand why a child is feeling and behaving a certain way. This brings us back to the need for reasoning, showing respect and giving time to our children so they are able to explore how they manage and cope with the many situations they encounter in their most formative years.
I believe that when supporting children and their behaviour we need to find our inner leader, the adult role model who will be engaging, responsive and respectful to the individual child’s needs and situation at that time. Reasoning and explanation need to be part of a child’s everyday world – the more that we explain the whys and why nots the less confusion and frustration is likely to occur. Yes this might take longer and not provide immediate effects, but over time this will lead to a child who is able to reason and hopefully provide explanations as to their own needs, wants and wishes.
Put yourself in the child’s shoes, imagine going into work every day not having had your job role explained to you, not really knowing what you need to do or the expectations of your employers and then being told that you are doing it wrong. You are likely to be resistant, stressed and unable to understand what specifically you did wrong, how to improve next time or even less likely to give it a go. Children are no different, they are living in a fast paced world which they don’t always understand.
In The Good Childhood Report (The Children’s Society, 2015:14), children state that they want “relationships that are good quality – that are loving, supportive, respectful, and strike a balance between safety and freedom”. Children are looking for the support of the adults around them to teach them the skills of being able to grow and develop skills so that they are able to become part of our society. They need the space and freedom to make mistakes (it is how we all learn regardless of our age or experience) and to have the adults around them empathise with them in the particular situation so the response is appropriate. Who wouldn’t want this within their workplace too? A place where you are able to make mistakes but with the support of colleagues and managers are able to develop your skills, knowledge and understanding. Where there isn’t blame or repercussions where you are ‘sent to another part of the office to think about what you have done’ with no explanation as to what you have done wrong.
So when thinking about how to ‘manage’ children’s behaviour, remember, it’s not just about ‘quick fix’ solutions. It is about teaching skills which will last a lifetime. Even if it takes a couple of months, or even years, for children to learn these skills and behaviours, surely it is worth the long term investment. Just think of yourself as a behaviour ‘leader’ rather than a ‘manager’ – teaching children the art of reasoning and compromise, developing the skills of the next generation of business, or even world, leaders.
American Psychological Society (2015) Punishing a Child Is Effective If Done Correctly. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/2015/08/punishing-child.aspx. [Accessed 22 April 2016].
Changing Minds (2016) Leadership vs. Management. [ONLINE] Available at: http://changingminds.org/disciplines/leadership/articles/manager_leader.htm. [Accessed 22 April 2016].
Daly, M., Byers, E., and Taylor, W. (2009) Early Years Management in Practice 2nd Edition Harlow: Heinemann.
Department for Education and Skills (2005) Common Core of Skills for the Children’s Workforce. Nottingham: DfES Publications.
The Children’s Society (2015) The Good Childhood Report 2015 Summary London: The Children’s Society.
Oxford Dictionaries (2016) [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/respect. [Accessed 22 April 2016].
Whalley, M.E. (2011) Leading Practice in Early Years Settings London: Learning Matters Ltd.