Behaviour is context-specific; what is appropriate in one context may not be acceptable in another. Engagement in appropriate behaviours depends on children’s ability to understand what is expected in a given context or situation. In making expectations explicit, educators support children to set goals aligned with these expectations. By involving children in this process, educators can promote their understanding around why rules are necessary and enhance their motivation to comply with these. When children understand the reasons for these expectations, they may be better able to generalise and apply these across contexts.
Scenario: David and Beatrix have been working on constructing a ‘city’ for several days. At group time, the educator was talking to the children about being respectful of each other’s work and reminded them to be careful when playing nearby the construction so as not to knock it down. Later in the day, Michael was excitedly running around in circles despite David asking him to move away and crashed in to the construction.
Engage children in the process of developing and upholding the expectations for the setting. Provide opportunities for children to monitor their own behaviours and the behaviours of other children. For example, you might engage children in deciding room rules or expectations. This is particularly beneficial for children who may find rule-following a challenge.
Where possible, employ the use of clear visuals to serve as reminders for children. Discuss ways that children can support one another to abide by expectations before they involve an educator (although children should still be encouraged to seek the assistance of an educator where resolutions cannot be found).
Avoid negative talk, focusing more on the positives. Frame instructions as telling children what you would like to see rather than what you don’t want to see (e.g., rather than saying ‘don’t knock down David’s tower’ instead you might say ‘when you go outside please walk carefully past David’s tower’). The same applies when displaying expectations on signs around the room (i.e., provide visuals showing what you do want to see, rather than what you don’t want to see).
Be prepared to follow up. An important part of setting expectations for the setting is ensuring consistency. Young children have a rudimentary sense of causality. It is important for them to understand the link between actions and outcomes. When children are not successful in complying with expectations, ensure that the focus of follow-up is on the behaviour not the child.
This principle and associated practices are referenced in the following sources of evidence in the EYLF: