Behavior Management Strategies for Kindergartners

Keep it positive! Praising good behavior.

Rather than coming up with punishments or time-outs to achieve desired behaviors, why not think of some positive ways to reinforce good behavior? Children in Kindergarten look up to their teachers and older family members and often respond quite well to praise and verbal acknowledgement.

Before you go out and buy stickers, toys, and prizes to reward your child/students, simply try verbal praise. Tell your students as a group that you appreciate "How quickly and quietly Johnny came to the rug when I asked". This gives Johnny a sense of pride and accomplishment amongst his classmates, as well as re-stating to the other children what you, the adult, expect.

If you notice a child who is not listening or mis-behaving, rather than nagging that child to behave, first try praising another child who IS doing the right thing. This will often catch the attention of the student who is not on task and may inspire her to change her behavior. Children quickly learn to tune out nagging and negative comments, but constant praise sets a positive tone and inspires children to work towards that positive recognition.

Finally, if you work with a group of children, try to find opportunities to praise the entire group when you see positive behavior. This builds a sense of community and teamwork, and will also inspire the children to keep each other on task. Remind them that you want to see everyone trying their best and children themselves may take the initiative to remind each other to follow expectations.

Using a Behavior Chart

Young children often need visual aids to help them gauge their behavior. Behavior charts can be quite effective. A color coded chart is a favorite of mine for small children. Each child has a pocket or hook containing three cards. I usually use green, yellow, and red, as these are easily recognizable symbols of go, slow down, and stop. Students will receive one verbal warning, and if negative behavior continues, the child will be asked to change his/her color to yellow. This is an opportunity for the child to change negative behavior before receiving a punishmet. It also allows the child to see his/her behavior in contrast to the rest of the class. Finally, if innapropriate behavior continues, a child will change the color to red and the appropriate consequences will ensue. By physically changing the color themselves, the students are taking responsibility for their actions, as well as processing the effects of positive and negative behavior. More colors can be added to charts for older children or as needed as the school year progresses.

Kindergarten Behavior Chart
Kindergarten Behavior Chart

Rewards System: Using a Sticker Chart

You can implement many different types of reward systems in the classroom or at home, but a personal favorite of mine for young children is a sticker chart. Its quick to assemble and very inexpensive, always a plus for moms and teachers on a budget! Kids love stickers and putting them up on the chart gives them a great visual guide for monitoring their own behavior. In my classroom, each time I "catch" someone being good, they receive a small sticker for the chart. The child is responsible for placing the sticker in the row next to his/her name. This helps children practice name recognition, counting, and fine motor skills, as well as allowing them to "show off" a little for their classmates.

Once a child has earned 5 stickers, he/she gets to choose a prize from the classroom treasure chest. The children are responsible for reminding me when they have accrued 5 stickers. This chart also works great at home as a motivator for keeping on task, completing chores, or simply exhibiting good behavior.

Remember, when working with small children keep the goals within reach! Asking a small child to accumulate 20 stickers puts the goal too far off in the future and will ultimately cause him to become frustrated and give up. When a child sees that a reward is almost within his grasp, he is sure to step up his positive efforts!

Games for Good Behavior

Rather than nagging children to behave, try playing a game instead! The quiet game is an oldie but goodie that works well for young children. Basically, tell everyone to be as quiet as they can and then pick the quietest, stillest child to be the next "chooser". Kids love the competition and will work hard to be chosen!

When the Quiet Game wears thin, try my other favorite "1-2-3 Statue!" To play this game, the children wait to hear "1-2-3 Statue!" and will then freeze/pose in a statue position. The child who is the stillest and quietest will be chosen and he/she will get to say the command and pick the next "statue". Kids absolutely LOVE this game!

I Spy is another option for focusing attention on the teacher and having a little fun at the same time.

I also use a whisper version of Simon Says when we are in the hallway or a place where we need to be quiet. Kids love to play this game and it keeps them from finding other, less desirable, ways to entertain themselves.

Remember, rather than fighting an uphill battle, find fun ways to engage children and attain desired behavior!

Time Outs: When to use them and why

We often hear the term "time-out" used in behavior management, but the key to employing this strategy successfully is knowing when to use it. I try to reserve time-outs as a chance for the child to extract himself from the situation and take some time to reflect on his behavior and make the appropriate changes. Time outs should never be used for a first infraction, UNLESS the child is endangering himself or others. In these cases, a more severe punishment than a time-out (such as a visit to the principal's office or losing privileges) may be necessary as well.

A good use of a time-out would be after a child has received a warning and continues to deliberately display negative behaviors. When warning the child initially, make sure to clearly state that if behavior does not improve and the child has to be reminded again, a time-out will ensue. Then, in order to gain respect and authority, you must follow through! Do not let the child engage in a debate, rather calmly direct her to the designated time out spot.

How Long? A good rule of thumb for time-outs is to make the time equal in minutes to a child's age. Thus, a 5 year old would receive a 5 minute time out. When time outs carry on for too long, the child becomes restless, frustrated, and often forgets why he is in time-out to begin with. This can lead to a cycle of continued negative behavior. It often helps young children to set a timer, so that they have a visual aide to help them understand how long they should stay in time out.

Where? It is key to have one designated spot for time-outs. Children crave routine, so knowing that time out will occur at the same place, for the same amount of time, each time, is actually comforting to children. A good time-out spot would be an area of the room that is away from a lot of activity and free from distractions for the child. Designating a chair, mat, or carpet square will help to define the time out spot and keep the child from wandering. Set the child up for success and do not surround him/her with things to get into. Some children may benefit from putting their heads down while in time-out.

Don't Give In! Children may often resist time out and respond with tears, screaming, pleading, negotiating, and other negative behaviors. Do not give in! Do not let yourself get pulled into an argument, debate, or negotiation with a child. Remember that you are the authority figure and the child must abide by the rules you have stated. Calmly direct the child to time out and then walk away. If the child leaves time out, physically assist him to the spot again and walk away. Repeat this until the child stays in time out for the desired amount of time. If the child is resistant or you feel uncomfortable physically moving the child, ask an administrator for his/her support and assistance.

Remember that time outs exist to correct negative behavior and help a child achieve desired behavior. Use them only when needed and be clear with your expectations. If you are clear and consistent with your time outs, many children will not continue to need them after they understand you will follow through with your expectations. For those that do, it will be a time where they can modify behavior and come back to the group.

Super Stars!

A whole group reward that I have used successfully is the "Super Star" system. When the whole class or group has completed a task successfully, exhibited good behavior, or met a goal we have been working towards, they are are rewarded with a "Super Star", a large cardboard star placed in a prominent place in the room. When the group earns 10 super stars, they are rewarded. A typical reward might be a lollipop for each child during rest time or extra recess or game time for the whole class.

Super Stars may also be taken away when the class as a whole is exhibiting negative behavior. Removal of a super star is often all the class needs to get back on track. Its important to remember that super stars are rewarded or removed for whole group behavior, and the class should not be rewarded or penalized for the actions of one or two children.

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