A well drafted and clear behaviour policy is a public statement about your teams commitment to support childrens learning in terms of their behaviour.
The content of the policy should answer these three important questions:
What are the key values that inform your teams overall approach to childrens behaviour
What are your expectations for everyones behaviour in the setting A constructive policy is as much about the behaviour of adults as the children.
What are the strategies you will use to guide childrens behaviour How will you help children to behave within the boundaries that are set
A policy is a working document; it should not be fixed forever. You need to test-drive the details and then modify them in the light of discussion within the team, with parents and with the children. A helpful policy is not too long.
Try for no more than three or four pages and organise it into short paragraphs and bullet points that are easy to digest.
Your behaviour policy can communicate the positive context in which you approach childrens behaviour. The key points are:
Children learn how to behave. A constructive approach is grounded in realistic expectations of young children and the adult role of helpful guide.
Your approach is part of the early years curriculum and consistent with key principles in your work, such as equal opportunities.
Your setting is committed to working in partnership with parents. A behaviour policy should have close connections with the rest of your work.
You will have goals for childrens development that shape adult behaviour just as much as your expectations of the children. A policy could explain briefly that you want the children to develop in:
Self-respect and growing self-esteem
Pro-social behaviour including consideration and empathy for others
The ability to guide their behaviour
Social skills such as negotiation and problem-solving.
These learning goals will influence which strategies you use to guide childrens behaviour and those you will avoid. For example, adults who are genuinely concerned to support a childs self-esteem will keep a childs behaviour separate from the child as a person and resist any temptation to label them, for example, as aggressive or mean.
Some policies focus on childrens behaviour. But it can be more productive to outline the behaviour that is expected from everyone in the setting. It can be tempting to make a long list of all the behaviour that is not allowed. However, most behaviour you want to stop from children (or from adults!) can usually be rephrased towards what you want to happen.
Try setting a few ground rules, phrased positively, such as:
We treat other people with consideration and safety
We take care of the play resources
We take turns when there is not enough for everyone
We listen to each other and work together to solve problems.
You can then consider, through discussion in the team and with parents, how children of different ages could manage the ground rules. Equally important, everyone in the team needs to consider, What does this ground rule mean for my behaviour
Your policy needs to address adult strategies on two equally important areas:
How do you encourage the behaviour you would like from the children
How do you discourage behaviour you do not want from the children
A policy would not need to list all your options, although it is useful to cover these in team discussion. Give some examples in the policy, for instance:
You show children you have noticed their assistance to another child.
You encourage childrens efforts, helping them when it is hard to do the right thing.
You show what you want from children by setting a good example in your own behaviour.
You recognise the adult responsibility to organise the environment, so that it is easier for young children to be patient or to take turns.
Give a brief review of the approaches you will take when children are breaking the ground rules or putting themselves or others at risk. You could mention:
That you intervene as a calm adult to stop children hurting each other or behaving in an unsafe way.
That after a necessary No or I dont want you doing that, you offer a simple explanation or offer an alternative to the child. n You work to help children to negotiate or solve problems.
You use the consequences of childrens actions to help them learn.
Recent media stories have shown how much people can misunderstand the positive approach to discipline. A policy can show that you are committed to setting boundaries for children and that, of course, you do not let them run wild. You could mention the strategies you definitely do not use in your setting and why.
You will not hit or shake children because this is a misuse of your adult strength and is utterly contrary to your ground rules for the childrens behaviour. You will not use verbal humiliation or insults, because such a strategy undermines childrens self-esteem, it blocks their learning to behave differently and sets a grim example to all children.
A good policy is not created in a marathon meeting; think more about a series of discussions and informal conversations. You also need to revisit an existing policy from time to time. You could ask, We say that we help children to negotiate, but do we really Perhaps some expectations for behaviour do not make sense now that you accept children as young as two years old, whereas previously your youngest were three years. A useful policy emerges from discussion with everyone who has a stake in creating a positive atmosphere.
Discussion within the team
A behaviour policy that is properly discussed and then implemented will support teamwork and promote consistency in adult behaviour. Think carefully about what is a genuine full team discussion. Domestic staff in a day nursery can be a real support, so long as they are treated as team members and understand what you are doing and why. A workable behaviour policy in primary schools must include playground assistants; they are crucial for any positive approach to childrens behaviour in the school.
Discussion with parents
A behaviour policy acknowledges partnership, and any team needs to discuss how you will work with parents to support childrens behaviour. Parents often have useful comments on a policy. Their questions, including, What exactly does this sentence mean, can be the best way to remove early years jargon as well as to explain some whys and hows that you assumed were obvious.
Discussion with children
Children have expert comments as the small people on the receiving end of any policy in practice. If children tell you in words and expression, Thats not fair, they probably have a valid point. You may not be able to do exactly what the children would prefer – but what is happening in daily practice of the policy that makes children feel an injustice has been done Many children can be active problem solvers with your help and will help to develop workable ground rules.
However well it is drafted, any policy can only work when it is put into practice with commitment. A health and safety policy, for instance, does not itself keep the children safe. It only works because everyone follows in practice what the policy describes. In the same way, a behaviour policy will work when the expectations for everyones behaviour are realistic and when the responsible adults follow their own principles and ground rules.