Foster positive and respectful interactions and behaviour in children
1. Introduction
The critical importance of fostering positive and respectful interactions in children is highlighted in the introduction. Interactions refer to the behavior and the input that we share with others. The way in which we communicate with others and the way in which we behave in others is contingent on the feeling state of each person. That is to say, if a person is feeling positive, the interactions that that person has with others are likely to be positive. However, if a person is feeling more negative, the way that person behaves and the communication process will be different. Although a wide range of factors can cause children to display challenging behavior at any given time, this is simply not acceptable and proper intervention strategies must be put in place. Challenging behavior can be described as any repeated and persistent behavior that has an impact on the following: the child’s day to day functioning, the child’s relationships, or the child’s long term development. Our main aim is to teach others how to behave. If we display positive behavior, there is a good chance that positive behavior will result, leading to positive interactions. Displaying appropriate behavior for children to learn from is therefore a constant challenge for all adults. The whole area of behavior management is vastly complex and has been explored by many researchers and practitioners. Helping children learn how to interact and relate to each other is no easy task. Yet, for children’s social and emotional development, it is one of the most important. Active support, such as encouragement and praise, can significantly help children develop positive interactions. It is demonstrated that the adult giving support will often frame the interaction within a positive light. This encourages the child to learn appropriate interaction skills; therefore, it makes the definition of positive interaction clear. Well-supported children are generally happier and more settled in their learning, and less likely to show behaviors associated with distress. Over time, this also means that practitioners and parents will find he’s been in a stronger position to interpret the causes of behavior and how children take different strategies to self-regulate and communicate their needs. Also, it’s important to maintain a positive and respectful environment and ensure that children are given the responsibility to lead certain activities and allowed to make choices. When children are given the opportunity to explore and have fun, the opportunities for developing positive interactions are greatly increased. Through experiencing their own positive interactions with others, children are more likely to understand and respond to the process of building positive relationships. However, for this to be successful, it’s important that practitioners and parents engage in a positive example of behavior, respect, and relationship building so fostering positive interactions can become infectious among children as well as adults!
1.1 Importance of positive and respectful interactions
Positive interactions with children are important in the development of a child. It is a two-way process where children learn from adults and adults can learn from children. A supportive environment where children can feel that they can try out new things without fear of failure is critical if positive interactions are to be developed. When adults react to children in a positive way, this shows children that they are valued. It also helps to build up their self-esteem. A child’s achievements can then be recognized and praised, however small, thus providing positive reinforcement and encouragement. This helps to develop the child’s confidence. When children and adults have positive interactions with one another, it is not just the child who is benefiting. The adult will feel rewarded and have a sense of fulfillment, knowing that they have helped the child at this important stage in its development. By having good relationships with adults and other children, this will also give the child a positive attitude towards interactions in later life. This aspect is very important in today’s society where good social skills are a must, not just for day-to-day life but in many types of work as well. This will set the child up for good relationships when they are older. A child will also learn by watching and hearing how adults or other children speak with each other. If they hear positive words and see positive actions, they are learning that this is the way to communicate effectively with others and this will have an impact on how they will eventually build relationships when they are older. I think this is important, especially in early years where sometimes children are finding their place in the nursery and learning required skills such as sharing and engaging in group activities.
1.2 Impact of positive interactions on children’s behavior
As a result, it is critically important for parents and staff to work together and address negative experiences properly in order to support children’s emotional and psychological problem.
On the contrary, children who experience hostile, rejecting, or inconsistent care at home or in settings may result in cognitive and language limitations, difficulties in problem-solving and self-control, and poor self-esteem. Also, what they learn from their bad behavior experiences could lead to a lack of confidence and feeling of sadness and frustration. However, different children may have different responses to negative experiences. For example, there are children who might suffer from traumatic experiences by displaying anxious and fearful behavior while some others may bully or act out aggressively.
As children grow, consistent, positive responses from adults will support the connections in the brain that encourage thinking and communication skills to develop. When children are engaged positively in their learning and building positive relationships with adults and peers, they will experience a ‘good feeling’ that may continue to support their motivation for achievement and learning. In other words, this will provide a strong foundation for forming relationships in the world and empower successful learning.
Infants and toddlers develop secure, affectionate bonds with caring adults who build a trusting relationship with them. They require opportunities to experience predictable, positive, and responsive interactions with the main care provider, such as when they are being fed, changed, played with, talked to, and comforted. Such experiences will help the infant learn to manage his feelings and behaviors, and as a result, the infant’s trust in the care provider will be built up. Also, infants learn about social relationships, their own behaviors, and the behaviors of others in social situations.
Many studies have identified a robust and consistent link between the quality of child and staff interactions in early childhood settings and children’s social behavior. As children’s behavior is influenced by adults and their past experiences, constant, positive interactions with adults and peers can offer a great opportunity to encourage good behavior and key social skills across all ages.
1.3 Role of adults in fostering positive interactions
In creating and maintaining an environment that promotes positive interactions, adults have a crucial role to play. Here are some strategies that we as adults can adopt. First, we should model positive communication by using respectful and kind words. When children see that we respect their opinions and talk to them in a calm and gentle manner, they will learn to communicate in the same way too. Next, we should set clear and fair boundaries for behavior and apply them consistently. This means that we need to communicate the expectations to children and show them the appropriate behaviors that we want to see. At the same time, we need to make sure that we reinforce good behaviors with compliments and rewards. When children know that their effort in showing positive behaviors is being recognized and appreciated, they are more likely to continue doing so. However, when children misbehave, we should take the opportunity to teach them the right way to handle difficult situations. We should not scold or punish them but instead, listen to their concerns and discuss the matter in a rational and objective manner. Moreover, children should be involved in solving the problem by coming up with their own solutions. Last but not least, we should try to provide children with opportunities to make choices in a safe environment. This helps to build up their self-confidence and decision-making skills. Research has shown that providing choices for children has a positive impact on children’s mental health and well-being. By respecting children’s need and intention and providing them with developmentally appropriate choices, we can help to facilitate a positive and respectful interaction among children. By fostering positive interactions among children, we help to develop a strong and supportive community for learning and growth. As children learn to respect one another, a sense of belonging is being cultured and the fear for social exclusion will be eliminated. Positive interactions among children will also provide a valuable platform for character building. Children learn from each other in a positive environment and they are more likely to display positive behavior. Last but not least, when children get along well with one another, the work of managing behaviors will be much easier and enjoyable for adults.
2. Strategies for fostering positive interactions
Creating a supportive and inclusive environment is crucial in fostering positive interactions among children. When children feel that their individual needs and differences are respected and valued, they are more likely to engage in positive interactions with others. It is important to create a physical environment that is safe and provides enough space for all children to move and play. Furniture can be arranged in such a way that allows small groups or individuals to work quietly and privately. Materials and toys in the environment should reflect and respect the similarities and differences of children in terms of gender, race, and ability. In displaying children’s work, choose a variety of work from different children and avoid displaying a single child’s work exclusively. All children should be given the opportunity to become the helper of the day, the line leader or the door holder on different occasions. This would help them to feel that they are well-liked and respected by their peers and the teacher. In addition to environmental preparations, collaborative and cooperative learning activities can be carried out to make children feel included and supported. When children work or play in small groups, they have the chance to express themselves, to listen to their peers, to share the materials, and to cooperate with the group goal. The teacher should take the opportunity to guide children through problem-solving and help them to communicate and negotiate with each other. This not only promotes a supportive and inclusive climate, but also helps to foster positive interactions among children. By recognizing that each child is a unique individual with his own specific needs, and by taking the initiative to create such an environment, teachers and caregivers can create a very positive setting for young children to grow and learn. On the one hand, children are encouraged to support each other, to be attentive and to respond positively to their peers. On the other hand, they will learn to trust others and to feel competent and proud of themselves as well. When children learn and practice positive interactions and inclusive behaviors in a well-supported and well-respected learning environment, it is more likely that these experiences will be transferred into other situations in the society. In simplest terms, if we can promote and maintain a supportive and inclusive environment, we have created a setting that is conducive to children’s sense of belonging, and their abilities in developing self-discipline and pro-social skills can be enhanced.
2.1 Creating a supportive and inclusive environment
Last but not least, the use of glass windows and doors to link indoor learning environments with the outdoor environments can help create a sense of belonging and provide visual extensions of what children learn and discover indoor to the outdoor spaces.
When it comes to outdoor environment, it is essential to offer wide spaces and a great variety of large and small muscle experiences for the children. The provision of natural elements such as grass, trees, shrubs and mud can help create a calming and peaceful environment and children are able to appreciate and respect the beauty of the nature. Also, the natural shades and wind breaking provided by trees and shrubs support outdoor play and learning regardless of the weather. Different playground markings such as target games, number grids, board games and etc. can be used to create different play zones with specific emphasis, catering for children’s various interests and ages.
In addition, it is important to provide sufficient materials that support various learning areas and development domains so as to cater for individual differences in children. These materials can be sorted and stored in labelled containers, making the environment looks more organised and sending a positive message to the children that it is their responsibilities to keep the environment clean and tidy.
The wall can serve as another medium to make the environment supportive and inclusive. Posters with children’s rights, class rules, routines and etc. can remind children and adults to respect these rules and practice these rights as well, making the environment a safe and fair place for each and every one. Also, labels for different sections of the classroom, such as the quiet area and the noisy area, can be placed to take the guesswork out of where to go or not to go during certain times. This can help minimise the likelihood of conflicts among children and promote smooth and positive interactions among them.
A supportive and inclusive environment can be created in both indoor and outdoor places. In an indoor environment, comfortable and functional furniture arrangement is important in ensuring effective supervision and creating different spaces for children to be engaged in various activities, either individual or group activities. Soft furnishing which includes cushions and rugs can also create a warm and inviting environment. Besides, displaying children’s work and resources on shelving at the children’s height in each and every classroom can help create a sense of belonging for the children in the environment. As children get the idea that this is their place, they will begin to show more ownership and their behaviours become more positive and respectful in this space.
Creating a supportive and inclusive environment is the first strategy step to foster a positive and respectful behaviour in children. It serves as the important foundation that helps develop children’s self-regulation and pro-social behaviours, enhancing the possibilities for positive social interactions among children and between children and adults. By focusing on creating an environment that supports children’s mental, physical and emotional well-being, the children are more likely to feel safe and secured and this is fundamental to the manifestation of positive and respectful children’s behaviours.
2.2 Promoting effective communication skills
Practice active learning and decision making: Engage children with choices in play, learning, and everyday routines. Ask open-ended questions so that a child can engage in thinking and decision making. This will help the child to develop independence and the ability to express their opinion and their emotions.
Use visual supports: Visual aids such as picture charts, emotion cards, and daily planners are effective tools to promote communication and help children to understand what is happening and what is expected of them.
Teach problem-solving skills: Work with children to identify their options when solving problems and encourage adult help when needed. Use each problem as a learning opportunity and praise and support children when they try to resolve the issue alone.
Conversation and language modeling: Always talk to children in a respectful manner, using eye contact and active listening. Children learn by copying what they see and hear. Engaging in meaningful conversations and modeling good language will promote a child’s ability to express themselves.
In order to promote positive behavior and respect in children, it is imperative that the child is able to understand what is expected of them and has the ability to communicate and express themselves in a positive and respectful manner. It is through effective communication that a child finds the ability to understand and regulate their own emotions and develop the ability to listen and consider the feelings and needs of others. By promoting and supporting a child’s communication skills, adults can make a significant impact on the emotional and behavioral development of a child. Here are a few strategies that may help adults to foster an effective communication environment for children:
2.3 Encouraging empathy and understanding
Children start to develop empathy from quite an early age. There are many strategies that can help to nurture and encourage this response. First and foremost, it is important to praise children when they do show empathy for others. By letting them know you have noticed and are pleased with their behaviour, they are more likely to repeat this response in the future. In some cases, you may want to help a child understand another person’s feelings by describing them. This can help to build up their emotional vocabulary and the appreciation of how different actions can lead to sadness, happiness, anger or other emotions. You should also take opportunities to encourage empathy between the children themselves. When a situation arises where one child has been unkind to another, try to talk about how the child who has been hurt might feel. This can help the child, who has been in the wrong, to understand the impact of their behaviour and learn to empathise with others. Also, narratives such as these can be a good way to develop empathy in children. By describing a scenario and asking the child to talk about how each character might be feeling, children are being encouraged to think about the emotions of other people. These sort of discussions can help foster a habit of mind which is empathic and understanding of others. It is also much easier for adults to encourage empathy in children if they are able to recognise those teachable moments that occur. When a child comes to an adult upset because another child has taken a toy from them, for example, this is an opportunity to emphasise with the child who has been upset. By providing an example of how empathy has helped to resolve a conflict, you can show the child first hand the benefits of understanding and sharing in the feelings of other people.
3. Implementing behavior management techniques
3.1 Setting clear expectations and boundaries
3.2 Positive reinforcement and rewards
3.3 Consistency and modeling desired behaviors
4. Addressing challenging behaviors and conflicts
While it is important for educators to teach their students with useful guidelines in creating a positive environment in children, they may sometimes find it difficult to manage and address challenging behaviors. According to Dr. Maria Montessori, each behavior has its own reason and roots and there is no altruistic behavior. This concept is well explained in her language “help me to do that alone” where she emphasizes on nurturing intrinsic motivation within each child to guide them in their own learning and personal growth. Therefore, the first step in managing children’s behavior is to identify the causes that lead to those actions. In the presence of inner psychological treatment, Dr. Montessori also mentioned that children undergo three phases of different behaviors. First, they may totally ignore the materials provided and this is identified as maladaptive behavior that should not be ignored. Then, once they could not withhold any more, a spontaneous explosion of activity, showing immense joy and wholehearted participation in the surroundings may be noticed. This is known as normalization where children start to focus and concentrate on the activities and it is the most important sought-after outcome from using Montessori methods. Last but not least, once the child could persist in the self-regulating and restricting work, this normalization widens and is prolonged. In the long run, children will manifest a calm, reflective mood and the ability to sustain deep concentration which lays a solid foundation for inner peace and the joy of learning. By understanding the nature and the process of different behaviors, a team may work with the children to discover the causes so as to provide a more effective consequence and support. On top of addressing challenging behaviors, work as a cohesive team with common understandings in creating a positive environment in children. “Positive environment” is a kind of classroom atmosphere where a whole list of positive activities and behaviors such as helping behaviors, sharing and solving problems is appreciated and encouraged. Positive environment such as physical safety, free expression of ideas, positive relationship between adults and children as well as among children and intellectual pursuits may enhance and foster self-regulation and intrinsic motivation to the learning tasks (La Paro & Pianta, 2003). In achieving this, adults should model positive behaviors and solution-seeking skills, provide encouragement in children’s effort to behave positively, manipulate the environment in such a way that promotes and supports application of positive behavior and use a positive approach in guiding children through problem solving and time-out (Raver, et al., 2009). Adults’ attention to problem behaviors and the use of real and imagined negative outcomes as interventions within ongoing child behavior minimized children’s probability of engaging in those problem behaviors (McIntyre & Eckert, 2010).
4.1 Identifying underlying causes of challenging behaviors
One approach to understanding why children may engage in challenging behaviors is to examine the underlying reasons or causes for the behavior. This often requires adults to carefully observe and consider what happens before and after a behavior occurs. The ABC model is a useful tool for helping to understand the underlying cause of behavior. A stands for antecedents, or what happened before the behavior. This could include anything that may trigger the behavior, such as an instruction from an adult, a demand or request, or feeling unwell. B is for behavior, or the actual behavior that the child is engaging in. This can include obvious behaviors such as hitting or shouting, but it also refers to less obvious behaviors such as avoiding tasks, withdrawing from social contact, or not complying with an instruction. C stands for consequences, or what happens after the behavior. This can include the child getting what they want (e.g. attention, access to a desired item), the child avoiding something they don’t want to do, a physical consequence such as removal from a situation, or social attention such as being told off. By understanding the ABCs of behavior, adults can start to unravel the purpose or meaning of a behavior for a child, and what the child may be trying to communicate. For example, a child who is hitting out at others during a game may be doing so to get access to a desired toy, or because they are finding the game too difficult and need help. Similarly, a child who is refusing to do as they are told may be trying to avoid a demand, or trying to communicate that they find the task too hard, or too boring. Identifying the function of behavior can help to move adults’ attention away from just trying to stop or manage the behavior, and shift towards helping and supporting the child, so that the behavior is less likely to happen in the future.
4.2 Conflict resolution strategies for children
Conflict resolution strategies should always be seen as a way of educating children that it is possible to work through problems by listening and discussion with another person. By supporting children in understanding and processing their feelings and opinions, they can begin to develop self-regulation skills for the future. By providing a child with the vocabulary and reasoning skills to express themselves in a non-confrontational way, they can gain more independence in dealing with problems and encourage a harmonious surrounding for all.
The concept of thinking time or ‘cooling off’ is a simple yet effective strategy for dealing with conflict. Allowing a child who is beginning to become aggressive or a child who is in dispute with another, time to reflect can help them to rationalize and assess the situation. It is important that the child knows that this is not a punishment. The ‘cooling off’ approach is a non-confrontational way of managing negative behavior and providing a child with time to think. Gaining this sense of control can help them to eventually develop their own conflict resolution strategies.
The ‘I-message’ strategy is also an effective approach for children who are in dispute. This approach encourages children to talk about their feelings and to empathize with others. It also encourages the children to recognize the point of view of the victim and guide the child in an adult-directed manner. The ‘I-message’ strategy is most effectively used when the children are encouraged to take a solution-focused approach. This is where the adult helps the children to think about different ways to resolve the conflict.
In relation to conflict resolution, adults need to teach children how to have alternative solutions to disputes rather than resorting to aggression. One such strategy is the ‘win-win’ approach. This encourages children to resolve anything unfair and to make their own decisions in a peaceful way. The two or more children will have to ask each other questions about what they want and why they want it. This strategy allows individuals to win in the end and for the child to see the benefit in helping others.
4.3 Collaborating with parents and caregivers for support
As suggested by the research, there is solid proof that shows that parent involvement and support is essential for us to foster positive and respectful behavior among children. Although some of us may find it a very difficult and even impossible task to have a parent or caregiver involved in our program, we need to find ways to make it possible. At the same time, we also need to continuously educate the parenting group on the great impact that they may bring to their child as well as the influence that they may bring to other children in the program. It is vital to start building trust among the parenting group. We can organize some home visits to know the child better and to understand the family background. It is a good opportunity for you to build a good relationship with parents and caregivers. On the other hand, parents will start building up their trust in our professionalism where we always have the child’s best interest at heart too. We can also get parents and caregivers involved in the program planning. When they realize that their involvement is so important for their child’s development, they will be keen to give full support. Workshops, seminars, and sharing sessions on topics such as “How to manage your child’s challenging behavior” and “The importance of setting limits,” parent support groups, etc. can be organized. It is definitely a good way to disseminate the importance of parent involvement in different aspects of your program. By having parents and caregivers work hand in hand with us, we may provide mutual support to each other and be able to develop trust, understanding, and a sense of cohesion among parents, caregivers, and children. Well, it is important to draw our attention to those hard-to-reach fathers. Some may have the perception that children’s programs are always “mothers’ territories” and fathers’ presence is less welcome. With changing social patterns, it is essential to have fathers involved as much as mothers do since many fathers are single parents. Fathers are capable of nurturing children. By reaching out to fathers, it helps to strengthen the parent-bonding and also to enhance the fathers’ and children’s relationship. With the rapidly changing family societal pattern, engaging fathers in their children’s lives means helping to create better family outcomes for children, fathers, and mothers.

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