Is behaviour good or bad?
There are obviously behaviours that are ‘bad’ and it’s clear that the behaviours that impact others physically or emotionally, destroy property or abuse others, are not acceptable and not the way human beings treat each other.
However, many behaviours seen as ‘inappropriate’, ‘bad’ or ‘not acceptable’ within schools and early years settings are based on children not conforming to expectations placed on them by the educators without a deeper understanding of the reason behind the behaviour, or the child’s response to the environmental stimulus.
I wonder why?
All behaviour is a form of communication, when we are supporting a child who is feeling or presenting as dysregulated our first question should be why and what can we do to remove or reduce the stress, not what sanction needs to be placed on them.
Behaviours predominantly come from a place of an unmet need or the need to get away from something, this could be a perceived physical, emotional or sensory danger. Our job as educators is to identify what function the behaviour serves – what do they want, what are they trying to escape from, what are they trying to gain in order for us to support the child.
For our neurodivergent children the sensory stimulus that they are faced with day in day out is exhausting. Just getting through the day can be an achievement in itself.
The stimulus before they even get to the building in the morning will have an impact, a potential lack of breakfast, the rush through the noisy bustling traffic, the weather or the anxiety of a different teacher or room leader.
We need to consider how we support the transitions on arrival, time aside in a quiet area or sat with a weighted blanket where they can regulate before the day starts, time for a walk with an adult to chat, prepare and plan for the day, use of visuals to explain how the day is going to be to remove any further anxiety, then regular check ins throughout the morning with a trusted adult.
What could it be?
We can do this by first knowing our children as individuals, how they respond to situations, stimulus, directions, or expectations. Understanding causes of behaviour is crucial to increase engagement and participation.
- Do they feel heard and understood?
- Is the environment too bright, or overstimulating?
- Have they been given an example of the task?
- Is there a new adult in the room that they don’t yet trust?
- Do they have the tools, skills to effectively communicate their emotions?
Enabling self regulation
Self-regulation is the ability to manage your emotions and behaviour effectively, including being able to emotionally fight off highly emotional reactions to unwanted stimulus, to use calming strategies when you get upset, to adjust to a change in expectations, and to handle frustration without dysregulation.
We learn these skills from trusted, consistent and emotionally available adults, starting the process of co-regulation.
- Providing a calm, responsive environment
- Trusted adults who know their children and their triggers
- Naming emotions and strong feelings
- Modelling strategies
Self regulation strategies to help children manage their own behaviour
- Mindfulness activities
- Sensory/movement breaks
- Fidget toys
- Naming emotions and discussing the physical responses
- Providing a place of enclosure/escape