How Should a Teacher Handle Bad Behavior With 4-Year-Olds?

Settling conflicts is a skill 4-year-olds need to learn.
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When 4-year-olds begin school, there may be a lot of adjustments to make. For many, it is their first time away from home, so they have to learn to conform to a new routine and increased accountability. Some might have no siblings, so interaction with other kids could be difficult until they learn to share and settle conflicts. Preschool teachers devote much time to behavioral issues. Their goal should be to help students recognize bad behavior, correct it, accept the consequences and make better choices in the future.

1 Discussion

Rules and expectations are necessary at every grade level, but are crucial for preschool. Since this will probably be the first formal academic year for students, teachers frequently have to remind them of the rules, reinforce and explain them. At the beginning of the school year, teachers should gather students together and explain each rule, specifically and clearly. Rules need to be simply stated. For example, "Be nice to your classmates," "Take turns," and "Share with one another." Teachers can facilitate discussions about why it's not good to be mean or selfish.

2 Modeling

Inevitably, many 4-year-olds will test the boundaries established by the teacher. When this happens, it presents an opportunity for a "teachable moment" in the classroom. For example, if a student hits a classmate who has a book the student wants, the teacher will immediately enforce the consequence for this behavior and then explain to the class that "Johnny" is sitting in the time-out chair because he let his anger control him and made a bad decision. During whole-group time, teachers can role play examples of bad behavior by interacting with a couple of students. They can pretend to be on the playground refusing to play with a new student or making fun of him. Afterward, teachers can ask students who are watching to suggest alternative ways of responding in this situation.

3 Consequences

When students break the rules with bad behavior, they and the others in the class will observe the teacher's reaction. Even at 4, children quickly learn that they can get away with something if their teacher is an inconsistent disciplinarian. Teachers should enforce the consequences as stated in the rules. Sometimes teachers want to keep giving students chances to correct their behavior before punishment, which might be acceptable in certain situations. However, students have to learn that there are positive and negative consequences for their actions. If a teacher has continually stated that hitting a classmate will result in 10 minutes in the time-out chair or the loss of 10 minutes of play time, she should enforce it.

4 Extremes

If a student continues to persist in bad behavior, the teacher should schedule a conference with the parents. There might be an underlying physical or emotional cause which can explain their child's actions. Teachers should also enlist help from the school counselor. It is not uncommon for kids to open up to someone who is not a direct authority figure. Teachers should not wait too long before addressing extreme behavior because of the potential detrimental effect it can have on the child and the class.

Karen Hollowell has been teaching since 1994. She has taught English/literature and social studies in grades 7-12 and taught kindergarten for nine years. She currently teaches fourth grade reading/language and social studies. Hollowell earned her Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of Mississippi and her Master of Arts in elementary education from Alcorn State University.