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Prevention of Challenging Behaviors

Prior to beginning work on this discussion, read Setting Up your Classroom to Prevent Challenging Behaviors (Links to an external site.).

After reading Chapters 7 and 8 of the course text, and the resource listed above, choose one of the following topics to address within your discussion prompt this week:

· Physical space (environment)

· Schedules, procedures, and transitions

· Curriculum

Once you have selected a topic, discuss the items you must consider about your chosen topic when working to prevent challenging behaviors in young children, 2 and 3 years of age. Additionally, share how you will promote prevention in your classroom. Based on your choice, address the following prompts below:

· Physical space (environment): Describe three factors to consider when you are arranging the physical environment of your classroom.

· Schedules, procedures, and transitions: Describe three techniques for easing transitions.

· Curriculum: Explain how one of the curricula described in Chapter 8 may prevent challenging behavior.

· Make sure to cite the class text in your response.

Prevention of Challenging Behaviors

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Children engage in behaviors adults find challenging for a
variety of reasons. Challenging behaviors might include
hitting, kicking, crying, shouting, or running away. In young
children, these behaviors are not always a cause for serious
concern and might be considered age-appropriate. As
children mature and gain social-emotional competence,
challenging behaviors often decrease.

As an early childhood teacher, there are many things you
can do to prevent challenging behaviors and teach children
skills to promote their social-emotional development.
Current models to promote social-emotional competence
and prevent challenging behavior emphasize core teaching
strategies that focus on prevention, promotion, and, in the

case of the persistent challenging behavior, intensive
intervention (Brown, Odom, & Conroy, 2001; Fox, Dunlap,
Hemmeter, Joseph, & Strain, 2003; Hemmeter, Fox, & Snyder,
2013; Webster-Stratton, 1999, 2011).

In this brief article we discuss some key strategies to
promote children’s active engagement and to prevent
challenging behavior. These strategies include:

� setting up the classroom for success.

� planning dynamic activities.

� showing children how to play.

Let’s meet Miss Garcia

Setting Up Your Classroom to
Prevent Challenging Behaviors
by Tara McLaughlin and Crystal Bishop

Miss Garcia has two part-time assistants and a group of 18 high-energy four-year-olds in her classroom. She feels like she is dealing with
small problems and conflicts between children all day. Before activities begin she tries to remind children about the classroom rules and
expectations, but she often finds herself following up with children after an incident has occurred. We join Miss Garcia and her class as
music and movement ends and it’s time for learning centers to begin. Music and movement is a very energizing activity with children
jumping, dancing, and singing loudly along to songs they know well. When the activity ends, children are still energetic as they move
among the different centers.

One little boy, Tim, starts out in the dress-up area playing with a group of girls pretending to be veterinarians. Tim is pretending to be a
dog. He sees the easel in the art center and crawls under it to pretend it is his cage. He begins to bark and jump in his ‘cage.’ When he does
this, he knocks over the easel and paint goes everywhere! Miss Garcia hurries over to clean up the paint with Tim.

At the same time, Miss Garcia notices Jemma and Sienna arguing at the computer. Jemma is playing on the computer and Sienna is
waiting for a turn. Sienna leans over the desk watching Jemma play, repeatedly asking for her turn. Jemma says, “No! It’s my turn now.”
Sienna pushes Jemma off the chair. Jemma stands up and starts shouting. Miss Garcia comes over to find out what’s wrong. She reminds
Sienna that she has to wait her turn, but Sienna wants to know when it will be her turn. Miss Garcia tells Jemma to finish her game and
then it will be Sienna’s turn.

Simon is crying at the modeling clay table. Simon tells Miss Garcia that Chase threw clay at him. Miss Garcia asks Chase why he threw his
clay at Simon. He grumbles and says he didn’t mean to and tells Simon he’s sorry. He tells Miss Garcia he wanted to make a bug, but didn’t

have anything to make a bug with so he got mad. Miss Garcia tries to
show him there are rollers, stampers, and a pair of scissors for him to
use when a loud crash comes from block area.

The large block tower Liam and Rachel were making is in pieces all
over the floor. Both Liam and Rachel are crying, and Tim has a big
smile on his face. When Miss Garcia goes over to see what happened,
Tim says he asked if he could play and they both said yes before he
kicked over the tower. Miss Garcia starts to explain why Liam and
Rachel are so upset.

Tara McLaughlin, Ph.D., is a Senior Lecturer at the Institute of
Education at Massey University. She has worked with young
children and children with disabilities and their families in inclusive
learning settings in the United States and in New Zealand for over
10 years. She has experience as a teacher, trainer, and researcher.

Crystal Bishop, Ph.D., is a postdoctoral research fellow at the
University of Florida Anita Zucker Center for Excellence in Early
Childhood Studies. She has 10 years’ experience working with
infants, toddlers, and preschool children with disabilities and their
families. During this time, she has worked as a teacher and
researcher, and has provided professional development to families
and practitioners in a variety of inclusive settings.

Copyright © Exchange Press, Inc.
All rights reserved. A single copy of these materials may be

reprinted for noncommercial personal use only.
Visit us at www.ChildCareExchange.com or

call (800) 221-2864.

Beginnings Professional Development Workshopwww.ChildCareExchange.com BEHAVIOR 43

Clearly, Miss Garcia seems to have her hands full during
center time, but she reports other times of the day are chal-
lenging as well. In order to support the children in her room
to be more successful, Miss Garcia might want to consider:

� how the classroom set-up and activities help or hinder the
children’s engagement and behavior.

� what supports are in place to help the children know what
to do at each learning center.

� what she might do before learning centers to help children
be successful.

Setting up the Classroom for Success

The physical layout of the classroom space and the flow of
activities, routines, and transitions have a big impact on
children’s behavior (Lawry, Danko, & Strain, 2000; Strain &
Hemmeter, 1997). When the environment and schedule are
working for both children and adults, the day feels calm,
smooth, and fun.

A schedule should be designed to:

� keep children active and engaged, without over- or
under-stimulating them.

� provide a balance of structured and routine activities, as
well as activities where children have freedom and choice.

� include time with small or large groups of peers and time
for children to play on their own or with peers of their

The design of the classroom should allow children to move
within and between activities comfortably. Learning areas
need clearly defined boundaries so children know which
activities occur in different areas and teachers are able to
see children in all areas when scanning the room.

Reviewing the daily schedule and physical set-up of your
program space is an important part of preventing challeng-
ing behaviors (Bangeree & Horn, 2013; Lawry, Danko, &
Strain, 2000). To get more information about how her
schedule and classroom space might be related to children’s
behaviors, Miss Garcia wrote out her daily schedule and
classified the types of activities that occur during the day
(active/quiet, large group/small group; see Table 1). She also
made a classroom map (Figure 1). She used the schedule to
record when challenging behavior occurred and will use the
map to record where challenging behaviors occurs each day
for a week.

Table 1 — Schedule Review

Daily Schedule
Is the activity

active or passive?

How long does
the activity



behavior occur? Notes
Arrival/Morning Activities Active 15-20 No
Breakfast in the room Passive 15-20 No
Morning Circle Passive 20 Sometimes If introducing a new topic,

go 10-15 minutes longer

Music and Movement Active 20 No
Free Play Active 45-55 Yes At different times in different areas

Snack Passive 15-20 Yes Depends on snack options
Outside Active 45-55 No
Lunch Passive 30 Sometimes If no outside play
Nap/Quiet Time Passive 30 No
Story Time Passive 20 No
Group Activity Passive 20 Yes Children rolling on floor
Small Groups/Centers Active 40 Sometimes Depends on activities
Closing Circle Passive 15 No
Pack-up/Dismissal Active 10 Sometimes When rushed

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Take a look at what she found. Based on what you see in
Figure 1 and Table 1, what changes might you recommend?

When Miss Garcia looked at her schedule (Table 1 on previ-
ous page), she noticed that children have two high-energy
activities in a row in the morning and several quiet activities
in the afternoon. Mixing active and quiet activities might
help keep children from getting over-stimulated in the
morning and help them stay actively engaged in the after-
noon. Miss Garcia considered how she might adjust her
schedule to create a more balanced flow to the day.

When Miss Garcia looked at her classroom map (Figure 1
above), she noticed she has a very small area for dress-up,
and a lot of challenging behavior happens in this area. She
realized the dress-up area gets crowded and children start
pushing and shoving. Children often move dress-up play
into other areas, which occasionally causes problems.

She considered how she might make more room for dress-
up and create some natural boundaries with furniture and
other equipment that will help children stay in the area
when they are playing in this area.

When challenging behavior occurs regularly at certain times
or in certain areas, it might be helpful to consider changes
to the schedule or the environment. To determine if your
schedule and classroom space are designed to prevent
challenging behavior, check out the Tips for Setting up the
Classroom for Success. If you think you might need to make
some changes, consider collecting more information to
identify potential ‘hot spots’ — spots challenging behavior
occurs regularly. When you identify a concern and make
changes, remember to continue monitoring activities and
areas to make sure the changes are working.

Tips for Setting up the Classroom for Success

� Establish a balanced schedule for daily activities

� Consider the length of activities (e.g., are children getting
bored? Are children disappointed when they’re told to
stop in order to transition to another activity?)

� Establish a routine and follow it consistently; prepare
children for changes

� Create clear boundaries for activity areas

� Avoid wide-open or long narrow spaces that encourage
running indoors

� Limit the number of children who can play in an area if you
have space restrictions

� Minimize obstacles and other hazards and ensure visibility

� Ensure equipment and materials are ‘child-size’ and
accessible for children

Planning Dynamic Activities

Designing dynamic activities that captivate children’s inter-
est and offer a balance of opportunities for play, language,
emergent literacy, self-expression, exploration, interactions
with peers, personal routines, and fine- and gross-motor
activities supports children’s engagement and learning. In
addition, having a range of materials that support different
types of engagement helps make activities more accessible
to all children, supports ongoing involvement in a range of
activities, and helps prevent challenging behavior
(Hemmeter, Ostrosky, & Corso, 2011).

Photograph by Bonnie Neugebauer

Figure 1 — Classroom Map

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The Tips for Planning Dynamic Activities can be used to
determine whether activities are designed to promote
children’s engagement. Doing an activity analysis is also
a helpful way to examine classroom learning experienc-
es (Snyder, Hemmeter, Sandall, McLean, & McLaughlin,
2013). To conduct an activity analysis, it is important to
examine several features of the activities children expe-
rience in the classroom. These include: a) the purpose,
b) the structure, c) the materials provided, d) how
children engage, and e) what children experience
during an activity. This information helps facilitate
reflection about the design of the activities and what
changes might be needed.

Miss Garcia conducted an activity analysis (see Table 2
on next page). We can see she that she reviewed the
activities she has available for the children and consid-
ered how the design, materials, and expectations pro-
mote the children’s engagement. She noted she might
need to make some changes at the modeling clay table.
In Table 2, we see clay is a daily activity in Miss Garcia’s
classroom. On most days, the set-up is the same, with a
few pre-selected materials set out for children. Miss Garcia
decides to vary the materials and incorporate fun themes to
help engage the children in different ways and bring new
experiences to their learning.

Miss Garcia also realized from the incident with Jemma and
Sienna at the computer that it is not clear how children are
expected to take turns at the computer. What changes might
you recommend for this learning area?

Identifying patterns and reflecting on our activities in this
way helps us consider what children experience in the
environment and whether we are offering a full range of
dynamic activities to engage them and contribute to their
learning. To determine if your activities could use a refresher,
check out the tips below and consider doing an activity
analysis to inform how you might enhance your learning

Tips for Planning Dynamic Activities

� Plan the intended learning outcomes for the activity, but
be flexible when children take their learning in a different

� Integrate a variety of skills as part of an activity

� Build on children’s interests and ideas

� Be aware of timing (not too long or too short for children’s

� Rotate relevant materials and themes to keep activities

� Allow children to have different ways of being or doing

� Support children to be successful and challenged within
activities (not too hard and not too easy)

Showing Children How to Play

Sometimes children need information about how to play. It
might be easy to assume that Tim kicked over the block
tower to destroy his friend’s creations, but it is important to
consider this might be the only way he knows to play with
the blocks; knocking down blocks is fun, makes a loud noise,
and then you get to build the tower back up again. Tim
might need some extra support to learn other fun things he
could do with the blocks. This will not only help him stay
engaged with the materials, but will help him have positive
inter actions with his peers.

Teachers can demonstrate play sequences to children or
support children in gaining skills so they can participate
more meaningfully in activities (Fox, & Lentini, 2006;
Hemmeter, Ostrosky, & Corso, 2011). This might include
playing with children and modeling different ways to play,
giving ideas, and pointing out what peers are doing. For
some children, this might include more specific information
or visuals (see Figure 2 on next page). Giving children ideas
about how they might use materials in their play can help
expand their imagination.

To identify areas in which you might help a child learn to
play, consider the different ways children could use the

Photograph by Bonnie Neugebauer

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Figure 2. “How to” Play Visuals

Table 2 — Activity Analysis


How is the activity

What materials
are available?

What do children need
to know or be able to
do to be engaged in

the activity?
What do children do or

experience in this activity?
Blocks Fine-motor


Socially-oriented and

Set materials
(wooden blocks,
cars, people figures)
Occasionally bring
out different block

Create and build
Share with peers or work
together (communicate)
Examine shapes and

Some children know how to build
and have ideas for building new
things, but other children do the
same thing each time.

Clay Fine-motor Structured (by

Set materials

Use hands to roll, kneed,
or stamp different shapes

Use the stampers, rollers, scissors,
and their hands to push, press,
mash, and shape the clay. Some
children often make figures or
shapes and engage in pretend play
with them.

Dress-Up Imaginative


New materials and
themes weekly

Create a pretend play
Communicate with peers

Get in costume. Some children play
out different roles and scenarios in
character, but some children put on
their costumes and play their typical

Computer Cognitive

Unstructured (first
come, first served)
Novel (open 2-3 days a

Set games
1 computer

Access games
Use mouse and keyboard
Wait turns

If their turn, play until they are
finished. Different children play
different games; some longer, some
shorter. If waiting, watch other child
until their turn.

*Structure refers to features of the activity that will affect what children do or how children experience the activity. These might include whether the activity is:
• Whole group, small group or individual • Teacher-directed or child-initiated
• Structured (children do the same thing) or unstructured (children do different things) • Novel (new to the children) or routine (occurs everyday)
• Socially-oriented, materially-oriented, or both

Note: Tips, Figures, and Tables reprinted with permission from the first author.

Beginnings Professional Development Workshopwww.ChildCareExchange.com BEHAVIOR 47

materials and engage in activities. Create visuals to help
show children what to do, or spend time playing with
children and model the different things they can do. As you
show children how to play, be flexible, have fun, and build
off children’s interests and abilities. For example, Miss Garcia
might show Tim how to build a garage for his favorite red
sports car in the block area. Building on children’s interests
and helping them learn new ways to play can expand the
skills children have to engage in appropriate play with
materials and peers.

Tips for Showing Children How to Play

� Observe children in play activities to see what they do

� Build on children’s interests and skills when considering
new ideas

� Join children in play activities to support and extend their

� Offer encouragement when children try new activities and

In Review

Challenging behavior can be very frustrating and stressful
for early childhood teachers. The good news is that many
challenging behaviors can be prevented when teachers use
strategies that focus on prevention of challenging behavior
and promotion of new skills as a first response:

� Set up the schedule and environment for success

� Design activities that promote active child engagement
and learning

� Use observation and data collection to identify patterns,
make changes as needed, and identify areas for teaching

� Focus on teaching children what to do


Banerjee, R., & Horn, E. (2013). Supporting classroom
transitions between daily routines: Strategies and tips.
Young Exceptional Children, 16, 3-14.

Brown, W. H., Odom, S. L., & Conroy, M. A. (2001). An
intervention hierarchy for promoting young children’s peer
interactions in natural environments. Topics in Early
Childhood Special Education, 21, 162-175.

Fox, L., Dunlap, G., Hemmeter, M. L., Joseph, G., & Strain, P.
(2003). The Teaching Pyramid: A model for supporting social
competence and preventing challenging behavior in young
children. Young Children, 58, 48-53.

Fox, L., & Lentini, R. H. (2006). You got it! Teaching social and
emotional skills. Young Children, 61, 36-42.

Hemmeter, M. L., Fox, L., & Snyder, P., (2013). A tiered model
for promoting social-emotional competence and addressing
challenging behavior. In V. Buysse & E. Peisner-Feinberg
(Eds.), Handbook of response-to-intervention in early childhood
(pp. 85-102). Baltimore: Brookes.

Hemmeter, M. L., Ostrosky, M., & Corso, R. (2012). Preventing
and addressing challenging behavior: Common questions
and practical strategies. Young Exceptional Children,15, 32-46.

Lawry, J., Danko, C. D., & Strain, P. S. (2000). Examining the
role of the classroom environment in the prevention of
problem behaviors. Young Exceptional Children, 3, 11-19.

Snyder, P., Hemmeter, M. L., Sandall, S., McLean, M., &
McLaughlin, T. (2013). Embedded instruction practices in the
context of response to intervention. In V. Buysse & E. Peisner-
Feinberg (Eds.), Handbook of response-to-intervention in early
childhood (pp. 283-300). Baltimore: Brookes.

Strain, P. S., & Hemmeter, M. L. (1997). Keys to being
successful when confronted with challenging behavior.
Young Exceptional Children, 1, 2-8.

Webster-Stratton, C. (1999). How to promote children’s social
emotional competence. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

Webster-Stratton, C. (2011). The Incredible Years parents,
teachers, and children training series: Program content,
methods, research and dissemination, 1980–2011. Seattle:
Incredible Years Inc.

For more ideas and resources check out:

Pyramid Model Consortium:

Center on the Social and Emotional Foundations for Early
Learning (CSEFEL):

National Center for Quality Teaching and Learning:

Technical Assistance Center on Social Emotional Intervention
for Young Children: