Acceptable and Unacceptable Behaviour in Child care

What is Acceptable and Unacceptable Behaviour in Child Care?

Both acceptable and unacceptable behaviour in childcare need to be recognised and appropriately managed. One of the constant challenges for childcare providers is to manage children’s behaviour in the childcare environment.  At Kids Kinder we have a range of management strategies in place to encourage acceptable behaviour while discouraging unacceptable behaviour.

Addressing Acceptable and Inappropriate Behaviour In Childcare

an angry young child getting counseled by her caregiver

Obviously a childcare centre has to treat behavioural issues fairly and in a holistic manner. The holistic approach can be expected to differ from those of a parent and their child. However the broad principles of  promoting acceptable behaviour while endeavouring to alter unacceptable behaviour remain.

The following broad principles can be applied when managing behaviour in childcare facilities:

  • Intervene before things get out of hand. Vigilance is golden. Watch children at play and if a child is becoming agitated, intervene early and work to coach them through the issue.
  • Work to provide rationales and teach coping strategies. Simply telling a child to stop acting a certain way won;t address underlying issues. Working to prepare them for the next problem by discussing situations, responses and feelings while working at ways for the child to handle the problem better next time is investing in good behaviour.
  • Be prepared to look for underlying causes affecting the child’s behaviour.
  • Be sure to provide attention to any injured parties. Sometimes aggressive behaviour is a way of seeking attention. One way to circumvent this is to deal briefly with the aggressor and devote more time to attending to the person who has been the target of the aggression.
  • Teach naturally aggressive children ways to keep their hands to themselves – this can be done by teaching them to clap their hands, stamp their feet or put their hands in their pockets when they feel the need to hit out at others.
  • Discourage games that involve “play wrestling” or hitting
  • Learn to keep calm. Witnessing children’s aggressive behaviour can be quite frustrating. It is important though to keep cool and to model the behaviour that you want them to emulate. Losing your temper won’t help anybody.
  • Work to solve problems arising between two children. Try not to dismiss “tale telling”, but seek out both sides of the story and work to get the children to collaboratively seek a solution with your guidance and help.

Tips That Will Help You to Improve Child Management

a young female child has her behaviour explained by an adult caregiver

Creating an environment where all children can feel safe and secure is a key aim of all childcare management facilities. To that end it is necessary to implement a number of strategies that will help to foster a better environment and improve child management.

Staff need to understand that each child is unique in their own way and that they are likely to experience the full spectrum of emotions while in childcare and that in many instance coping strategies to deal with these emotions may not yet be fully developed. Carers need to be both empathetic towards  and understanding of children displaying behaviours that are not in line with their overall development.

Additionally, careers need to be able to reflect on their ability to interact with and monitor children in their care. 

Boundaries and Limits Need to Be Set in a Positive Framework

Limits should be framed positively to encourage appropriate behaviour rather than framed in a negative fashion. Instead of sending a negative instruction such as “don’t leave the blocks on the floor,” frame the instruction positively “it’s a good idea to pick the blocks up so we’ll know where to find them next time.”

Provide clear rationales for set limits.

It’s much easier for everybody including children to comply with an instruction when they understand the reasoning behind it. The example above contains a clear rationale as to why the blocks should be put away.

Boundaries need to be clear and defined

 Simple clear boundaries that leave no room for interpretation make it easier to define what acceptable behaviour is – a simple easy to understand boundary is a statement like “chairs are for sitting on.”

The focus should always be on the behaviour

It can be easy to fall into the trap of focusing on the child  rather than the child’s behaviour, this can lead to having negative impacts on the child, generating feelings of guilt, shame and potentially even leading to feelings of low self esteem.

Instead of being judgemental we need to be able to explain why the behaviour is not appropriate. Calling someone bad leads nowhere – explaining how their actions have an impact on others can lead to long term positive change.

Give the child choices

Giving the child opportunities to exercise choice is a good way to avoid getting into energy sapping power struggles with the child. Instead of commanding them to perform a specific action – frame the conversation in the form of a question. A simple example would be to offer a choice of cleaning up – where do you think we should start- with the blocks or the pencils? 

Reinforce positive behaviour

Much like when dealing with negative behaviours positive behaviours should be reinforced by focusing on the behaviour – calling someone  a good boy doesn’t define what the good action was. Whereas if you congratulate them for the specific action and reinforce that behaviour by outlining what positives come from that action, thereby encouraging future similar actions.

State clear expectations when appropriate

There are some times when it is necessary for children to act in certain ways. In these instances it is vita that expectations are stated in a clear but non confrontational manner.  An easy example here is “Mum is here to pick you up – it’s time to go home now,” instead of “Do you want to go home?”

It’s a good idea when stating expectations to give the child a reasonable amount of time to respond rather than to expect immediate results. Prepositioning them by stating that it will be time to pack up in five minutes works well.

Encourage children to seek help

Creating a secure environment where children feel comfortable seeking help in any matter helps to reduce conflict situations arising as well as promoting confidence and good behavioural actions.

Supervision and responses to minor issues

Supervision of children in childcare requires a mix of tolerance, empathy, boundary setting and constant observation.  It is important to recognise that as long as children are not disrupting or upsetting others that a certain amount of mess and clutter is perfectly acceptable. Observation is essential to ensure that you are well placed to intervene when necessary.

Examples of Acceptable and Unacceptable Behaviour in Childcare

From a child carer’s perspective acceptable behaviour is engaging with the child, promoting a safe environment and actively working to foster the child’s development.

Examples of unacceptable behaviour in childcare include such unacceptable behaviours as 

Hitting, isolating, humiliating, belittling, depriving children of food or drink, negative labelling, blaming and shaming.


A well run childcare centre will have a clear set of guidelines and practices that all staff can follow and practice to ensure uniform behavioural standards are maintained.

Establishing clear defined boundaries and creating an environment that reinforces positive behaviours helps to foster individual children’s social physical and intellectual development. This safe learning environment can help to foster a lifetime love of learning.