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Challenging Behaviors in Early Childhood Settings

Challenging Behaviors in Early Childhood Settings

Creating a Place for All Children
Authors: Susan Hart Bell Ph.D., Victoria Carr Ed.D., Dawn M. Denno Ed.D., Lawrence J. Johnson Ph.D., Louise R. Phillips   Invited Contributors: Sheryl Quinn Ph.D., Anne M. Bauer, Mary B. Boat Ph.D., Andrea Cefalo, Amy Clancy, Connie C. Corkwell M.Ed., Mef Diesel, Erin N. Gaddes, Christine M. Gilkey Ph.D., Helene Arbouet Harte M.Ed., Joyce Hensler M.Ed., Sally Moomaw Ed.D.

ISBN: 978-1-55766-682-6
Pages: 232
Copyright: 2004
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Size:  7.0 x 10.0
Stock Number:  66826
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Learn to manage a wide range of challenging behaviors in early childhood settings with this strategy-filled resource for teachers and other professionals. Based on the latest research and the authors' classroom experience, the book helps early childhood teams assess the classroom environment and link effective behavioral interventions to developmentally appropriate curricula and teaching practices. Preservice and in-service professionals will discover how to
  • understand the needs of individual families and foster strong partnerships with them
  • design classrooms with customized supports for children with challenging behaviors, from establishing schedules and setting limits to developing curricula and designing the classroom space
  • address specific behavioral challenges during selected times in the daily schedule—group, nap, play, lunch, and more
  • pinpoint each student's challenges and needs and develop appropriate informal interventions
  • decide if and when a formal intervention plan is needed and collaborate with other members of the team—including therapists, administrative personnel, parents, and classroom aides—to develop and implement the plan
  • evaluate the intervention plan for consistency, ease of use, acceptability, and effectiveness, making revisions if necessary
  • plan for a crisis and decide whether to seek outside support

Filled with classroom-based strategies for working with students with or without disabilities, realistic vignettes, and checklists that help readers assess their current practices and implement the suggested strategies, this book gives early childhood teams invaluable guidance on working with children with challenging behavior and building positive relationships with their families.

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Review: Young Children
"Includes methods for assessing and understanding the causes of challenging behaviors, ways that administrators can develop centerwide support, and ideas for engaging families as partners. Clear, concise language and questions in each chapter help staff determine if solutions and new strategies have been applied, making this book especially useful to those new to teaching young children."
About the Authors
Invited Contributors
  1. Clarifying the Elements of Challenging Behavior
    Susan Hart Bell and Sheryl Quinn
  2. Developing Centerwide Support
    Victoria Carr, Lawrence J. Johnson, and Connie C. Corkwell
  3. Engaging Parents as Partners in Changing Behavior
    Anne M. Bauer, Monica Battle, and Lawrence J. Johnson
  4. Creating a Supportive Classroom Environment
    Dawn Denno, Louise R. Phillips, Helene Arbouet Harte, and Sally Moomaw
  5. Seeing the Challenge More Clearly
    Louise R. Phillips, Joyce Hensler, Mef Diesel, and Andrea Cefalo
  6. Determining the Teacher's Role in Further Assessment and Intervention
    Susan Hart Bell, Amy Clancy, and Erin N. Gaddes
  7. Implementing Individualized Behavior Plans
    Susan Hart Bell and Victoria Carr
  8. Evaluating and Revising Intervention Plans
    Susan Hart Bell and Christine M. Gilkey
  9. Planning for Crises
    Victoria Carr, Helene Arbouet Harte, and Louise R. Phillips
  10. Determining When Outside Help Is Needed
    Mary M. Boat, Victoria Carr, Lawrence J. Johnson, and Dawn Denno
  11. Putting it All Together
    Susan Hart Bell

Excerpted from Chapter 7 of Challenging Behaviors in Early Childhood Settings: Creating a Place for All Children
By Susan Hart Bell, Ph.D., Victoria Carr, Ed.D., Dawn Denno, M.Ed., Lawrence J. Johnson, Ph.D., and Louise R. Phillips, M.Ed.
©2004. Brookes Publishing. All Rights Reserved.

Implementing Individualized Behavior Plans

An early childhood teacher attempts to provide an orderly, engaging classroom environment for a group of children with diverse temperaments, skills, and experiences. Some children rush into the classroom with tales of weekend activities, excitedly sharing their stories with peers and teachers. Others trail in sadly, scolded by parents who are late for work, seeking the comfort of a warm lap and a good book. Still others experience cyclical changes in their moods and behavior and may be forced to adapt to the fluctuating expectations and daily schedules of divorced parents with joint custody. In turn, the classroom climate changes daily, mirroring the moods and activities of the children. As suggested previously, the early childhood teacher routinely assesses the goodness-of-fit among the classroom schedule, the physical arrangement, the curricular offerings, and the needs of the children, making changes as problems arise. These changes, although usually discussed with assistant teachers and staff, are informal and subject to revision. The teacher uses "gut feeling" in determining how the modifications contribute to the smoothness of the classroom routines.

As discussed in Chapters 5 and 6, an experienced classroom teacher follows this same process when addressing behavior that results in a marked disruption of classroom activities. The teacher begins to step up her involvement with the child, closely scrutinizing the child's behavior and providing more support during tough times of the day. The educator looks for patterns in the child's behavior, which serve as warning signs, and begins to group the child with different children or to modify his or her daily schedule. These strategies are followed intuitively but informally—almost on an experimental basis. When the teacher finds a strategy (or combination of strategies) that seems to resolve the problem, he or she can turn to other concerns.

However, when the teacher is faced with a child whose behavior 1) is resistant to these informal strategies, 2) appears to escalate or become more frequent despite accommodations and increased support, and/or 3) occurs apparently without warning, the time spent attending to the daily management of the child's behavior justifies further investment in the development of an individualized and formal intervention plan. Jackson and Panyan (2002) described behavioral intervention as a deliberate rearrangement of environmental conditions. This plan is based on a general understanding of the factors influencing the behavior to promote the child's growth and learning. The eventual goal of any behavioral intervention is to enhance the comfort of the child and those around him or her. This chapter highlights the factors that the classroom teacher should examine in planning for behavioral intervention: strategies for deciding when formal intervention is necessary, methods for convening an intervention team, techniques for gathering information related to the problem situation, and components of a successful intervention plan.


The following subsections examine possible indicators of the need for a formal intervention plan.

Factors Beyond the Teacher's Control

As part of initial intervention planning, the classroom teacher should determine whether the challenging behaviors stem from medical conditions or characteristics of the home environment that are difficult to address with classroom interventions (Barnett, Bell, & Carey, 1999). If health conditions are present, then the appropriate response is to refer the child to a medical practitioner. If home characteristics are an issue, then the plan must effectively target parent consultation rather than individual child behaviors. Additional factors that may require involvement of other professionals (e.g., psychologists, physicians, social workers) have been addressed more thoroughly in Chapter 1. Parent factors are highlighted in the following vignette.

Jamie, age 4, yawns as he turns the pages in the book. He is slumped in the beanbag chair in the book area, his eyes drooping. As the teacher begins singing the cleanup song and encourages the children to wash their hands for snack, Jamie's eyes finally close. The teacher approaches him gently, touching his shoulder and repeating, "Jamie, it is time for you to put the book away and get ready for snack time." Jamie only snuggles more deeply into the beanbag chair and asks the teacher for his blanket, saying that he is sleepy. The teacher insists, "Jamie, it's time for snack. I'll help you put the book away." Jamie begins to sob, and the teacher holds him as he quickly falls back to sleep.

Concerned that Jamie is ill, the teacher leaves him in the care of an assistant and calls Jamie's mother at work. Jamie's mother tells the teacher that Jamie did not go to sleep until after midnight the night before. She confides that it is hard to get Jamie to bed, so she usually gives in and lets him stay up with her while she watches television. Jamie's mother works long hours, and early evening is the only time that she and Jamie have together during the week. She reveals frustration with the nightly bedtime battle and regrets that this is causing Jamie to be sleepy at school. The teacher suggests a parent–teacher conference to discuss some bedtime suggestions, and Jamie's mother immediately agrees.

Disruption of Daily Activities

Another factor to consider in deciding whether to develop a formal intervention is the degree to which the daily classroom activities of the classroom are disrupted by the child's behavior. Jackson and Panyan (2002) described challenging behaviors as falling on a continuum from mildly inattentive and disruptive to severely disruptive and dangerous. Mild noncompliance (e.g., frequently leaving one's carpet square to sit near the teacher during group time) and ill-timed self-expression (e.g., responding enthusiastically and loudly to every teacher question during group time) may be supported with increased teacher proximity, quiet reminders (e.g., "It's Jeffrey's turn to talk now"), redirection, and the institution of logical consequences (e.g., "You left the art table, so you lost your turn at sponge painting"). Depending on the frequency of the minor disruptions, the teacher might consider the need for collaboration with classroom staff to develop a time-limited and simple behavioral intervention. When the child's behavior falls further along the continuum, involving severe and frequent disruptions to the classroom day and interfering with other children's learning experiences, the teacher should consider a more intensive assessment and formal intervention plan. The same is true for dangerous behaviors, regardless of how infrequently they occur.

Behavior that Differs from that of Peers

Another deciding factor is the degree to which the child's behavior departs from that of other children in the classroom. The teacher can directly observe during a classroom activity (e.g., free play) to assess whether the child's behavior of concern (e.g., hitting) occurs with greater frequency, duration, or intensity than that of his or her classmates. Peer micronorms are one way in which this can be determined. The teacher can define the behavior of concern, identify "average" children in the classroom of the same gender and age, and conduct a focused observation of the child and his or her classmates to document the occurrence of the targeted behavior during a specified time interval (e.g., 30 minutes of free play) (Bell & Barnett, 1999). If the teacher finds that all of the children are equally likely to display the inappropriate behavior, then he or she might consider implementing a classwide intervention (Siemoens, 2001). Classwide problems with the naptime routine are illustrated in the next vignette.

The teacher presses the button on the tape player, and the naptime song begins to play. She quietly calls the remaining children in the book area to their cots. Fifteen cots line the walls of the nap room, and children sit or lie on or near them. The song continues to play as assistant teachers move toward the children who have the most difficulty falling asleep. The teacher turns down the volume of the song and picks a naptime book to read. The children wait attentively as the teacher opens the book. The story is lively, full of animal sounds and actions, and soon Marquis has moved to stand on his cot. He bounces excitedly as the story continues. Ellen sees Marquis, and soon she is jumping, too, as the story builds in tension. Rachel begins to pull her cot closer to the teacher to better see the pictures in the book. The teacher notices that Marquis, Ellen, and Rachel are not lying on their cots. She stops reading, closes the book, and reprimands them by saying, "I'm not going to read unless you're lying on your cot." The three children lie down briefly, but soon are up again, joined by Lauren, Tommy, and Jacob. The children move to sit or lie on the floor at the teacher's feet. The teacher abruptly stops the story, closes the book, and says, "I can't read if you are not on your cots. I'll try this again tomorrow."
Severity of the Behavior

Finally, the teacher should determine whether the challenging behaviors are serious enough to require an individual behavioral plan. Running away can endanger the child's safety, and one occasion can persuade the teacher of an immediate need for intervention. Tantrums that last more than a few minutes and cause damage to classroom materials or physical harm to teachers or children warrant individualized planning as well. Durand (1990) suggested that the teacher ask the following questions to determine the severity of a behavior:

  1. Is the challenging behavior life-threatening, or does it pose a health risk?
  2. Will the behavior seriously interfere with future learning?
  3. Is the challenging behavior resistant to routine classroom strategies, or is it getting worse despite consistent efforts to intervene?
  4. Does the behavior hurt other children or staff or damage materials?
  5. Does the behavior significantly interfere with acceptance in community settings?
Answering yes to even one of these questions indicates the need to develop a comprehensive behavioral intervention plan.


Is an individual behavior plan needed for this child?

  • Are the current classroom strategies effective with this child?
  • Does the child's behavior disrupt the flow of the classroom day?
  • Does the child's behavior differ significantly from that of his or her classmates?
  • Does the child's behavior result in harm to self, staff, peers, or classroom materials?
  • Does the child's behavior seem to be intensifying or increasing in frequency?
  • Should any other factors be considered?