Child Development

Guiding Behavior

The Associated Students Child Development Lab follows and practices the “Guides to Speech and Action” developed by Katherine Read Baker. These guides are the focus of separate training.  In addition to those guides, several other additional strategies are used. 

Active Listening

The first tool is active listening. Active listening is when listen to what a child is really trying to tell you. The objective is to listen for the feelings behind the words and to listen reflectively to children’s feelings, needs and wants, often mirroring them. The reflection is based what is observed observing, without an attempt to label.

When children are experiencing and demonstrating strong feelings, work to identify in your mind what the child might be feeling. Approach the child by “mirroring” what he or she might be feeling. For example: “I see you are crying, you might be sad,” “Looks like you might want a turn right now,” “It looks like their might be a problem here.”

Avoid saying: “I know just how you feel” or “You must be feeling angry” or assuming that the child feels the same way you would in any given situation.
Especially avoid the temptation to give little “lessons” in your guidance like “That’s not nice,” “You are angry, but it’s not nice to spit,” “Be a good girl and share,” “Be a big boy, you don’t need to cry now,” or “I hear you want a turn but, everybody has to share here; and if you don’t, nobody will want to play with you.”  Remember to practice active listening and mirror what you see and hear. 


Our second tool is modeling. Another way to guide behavior is to model behavior we want children to learn. We teach best by example. Let’s use clay to demonstrate. When you greet children, families, and other staff by name, children will want to do the same. When you blow your own nose and wash your hands afterwards, children will watch you do so. When you sing along at Circle Time, children will be more likely to participate. When you try all the food on your plate, children might try something new too!

When you sit in a chair and not on the table, children are more likely to follow your example. Children will follow your lead during clean-up. When you offer a hug to a hurt child, other children will see you do so. When you use “please” or “thank you”, children will want to, as well.

Remember that children are very watchful and observant. So, be careful of what you say and do!  When children see you yelling across the environment, they might try doing so to get a peer to comply with their requests.
When you chew gum at school, children will ask to do so, as well.
If you run in the halls, so will the children. When you kick your shoes off and drop your coat, children will do so too!

Physical Environment

How can the environment promote positive and safe behavior? What can be added so adults will not have to state rules or limits to children? For example, are there enough materials for children to use? Is the direction we want children riding their tricycle visually represented? How about adding child size brooms and dustpans near the sensory tables so that children can assist in cleaning up spilled sand, flour, or rice?

Are their visual signs for everyday routines and regular expectations for children? For example, are there hand washing or nose blowing signs showing children what we expect? Is there a walking sign in the hallway reminding children not to run?

Other questions to consider when looking at the physical environment would be:

What might be removed from the environment so that adults are not constantly correcting children? For example, are the amount of toys and materials in the environment appropriate to the developmental level of the children? Are there too many materials for children to realistically pick up and put away before moving on to something else?  Do we need to add more toys and materials to the environment?  In summary, it is often true that adding or removing materials, or changing the environment, will provide for change in children’s behavior and optimum learning and developmental opportunities


The fourth tool is consequences, or the act of supporting  children in experiencing natural and logical consequences for their behavior. The goal of this is for children to see the logic of “what happens next.” When you do this, this happens next. To use the valuable principle of cause and effect or natural/logical consequences, the adult often needs to think about what might happen next and ask himself, “what is the consequence of this behavior?”

Sometimes, the adult may need to arrange the experience so that the child sees the logic of what happens next. It is important for the adult to guide the child through this process, not lay it out verbally and then expect the child to “do it” or “get it.” It is also important for adults to remember that when guiding children to accept logical consequences, the children are experiencing a learning process. So, the likelihood of a child again experiencing the same cause and effect behavior may occur within the same hour! Be ready!

Some examples of natural and logical consequences are:
A positive consequence of a child sharing his sand toys, blocks or dolls with a peer is that the child has a friend; and, is developing positive social-emotional skills. Adults can point this out.

When a child spills macaroni and cheese or sand on the floor a teacher can help the child use a broom and dustpan to clean-up. When a child is demonstrating frustration with trying to pull a wagon through the sand, guide the child to an area where the wagon can be pulled.

Remember, some consequences are beyond a child’s developmental ability to understand; like breaking a drum head by pounding on it with a stick (instead of using hands) or riding a tricycle into something without noticeable damage. Children may not recognize the wear and tear or safety issues related to this behavior. Adults will need to step in to give simple explanations (not moralizing) and to redirect behavior, always involving the child in the process of coming up with alternatives.

Generally, when we practice those guides, children are developmentally responsive in their behavior with the adults and peers who surround them.