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Best Discipline Strategies for Preschoolers

Updated on July 31, 2009

Best Discipline Strategies for Preschoolers

Preschoolers are a fun and challenging bunch to teach. A classroom full of three, four and five year olds can spell "chaos" and disorder which can lead to tears, messes, noise and frustration for both the teacher and the children. It is important for a classroom teacher to have a discipline plan in place preferably at the beginning of a school year, but more importantly a discipline philosophy.

A teacher needs to ask, "What it is that I believe about a preschooler and discipline?" In answer to that question, I believe that the best discipline strategies have underlying principles attached to them. In this article, I will focus on three main principles: helping a young child feel secure, using the power of praise, and being consistent in routine, schedules and following through with consequences.

The first principle is that a young child needs to feel secure and trust his caregiver and his environment in order to have "good" behavior. A preschooler who is secure and free from anxiety will be more peaceful and enjoy his learning environment and peers. I also believe that most young children want to please their caregiver and do the right thing.

One strategy that can be used in the environment to help instill security in the young child is maintaining an orderly classroom that has routines. Most children benefit from structure and order in their schedule.

A young child does not know what time it is, but learns the order of the day when an event occurs consistently over a period of time. A good schedule to follow has rhythm and follows a pattern of active and passive play. The day may start with quiet play, then there is group play, next is outdoor play. Next is bathroom, lunch, nap and center play.

The days repeat in this pattern day in, day out. A child learns the order of his day and quickly realizes that mommy or daddy will be home after story time. In these routines is found the security a child needs. There is less "acting out" when a young child knows his needs will be met. Three, four and five year old children need this security to overcome fears of being away from home.

The teacher can also provide a structured and ordered classroom. It's easier to achieve order when a child is taught about the order and set up of the toys and materials. It's best to begin the year with as few items as possible, but not bare bones.

Classroom centers invite children to play. The centers usually include a home living center, the art center, a reading corner, a science area and a building area. These centers need to be introduced to children in an ordered fashion. A teacher can open up one area at a time during the beginning of the year to train a child on how to use it. Often new teachers make the mistake of putting too many materials in centers thinking that they need plenty of things to keep children busy. If there is no instruction on how an object is played with and what to do with it when finished, the classroom can end up a huge mess.

Young children need to see how toys are to be played with and where the items are placed when not played with. Taking the time early in the year to establish the routine of center play will lead to less messes and chaos and more enjoyable play.

Another strategy in the disciplined classroom is to use the power of praise. As stated earlier, the preschool child enjoys knowing they are pleasing the caregiver.  A child perceives this by listening to the tone a teacher uses.  A teacher needs to be careful to "catch" a child doing good and to verbally and sincerely praise the child.  When a teacher sees a child cleaning up, she can say, "Randy, thank you for cleaning up the legos." Or to another, "Ryan, thank you for raising your hand before speaking."

Verbal, specific praise often encourages the other children to imitate the praised behavior. Praise also creates a positive classroom environment. Some teachers have charts where a child can place star stickers by their name when positive behaviors happen. This is fine, but hearing a compliment goes a long way for a child as well.

Finally, I want to include that consistency in a classroom will be key to having a solid discipline plan. For example, a teacher needs to have simple rules with simple consequences. The rules might be, use a quiet voice, be nice to others, and follow directions. These three rules can
be talked about and practiced in the beginning of the year. Role playing the rules can be a fun way to involve the children in learning the rules. The children can't read a sign, but will remember what being nice looks like.

As far as consequences, the key again is consistency. If the child hits another child, what will happen? Will the child go to a "thinking" corner? How long? Will the child need to apologize before playing? What if the behavior repeats? Will this lead to a note going home to a parent?

Whatever the consequence is, the children need to know it ahead of time and the teacher needs to follow through with the consequence consistently. Giving a child chances may be kind, but young children need the security of knowing that what a teacher says will happen, will actually happen. Again, this creates the secure environment a child needs. The child can trust that if they act out and break a rule that a consequence will follow. They also feel protected by consequences should another child try to hurt them. The teacher's tone should remain calm and free of criticism. It is ok if the teacher asks the child, "Why did I put you in time out?" "What should you do next time?" This will help the child see the care of the teacher and encourage the positive behavior.

These three strategies followed consistently will result in good outcomes for both the teacher and the students as well as bring joy and peace throughout the school year.


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      Brenda 7 years ago

      Thanks for reading!

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      tarub 7 years ago

      very well said!

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      Brenda 7 years ago

      Your very welcome. Glad to help.

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      Ilyn 7 years ago

      Youre writings are very helpful and helps me a l0t. Thanks