Show, not tell: guiding behaviour


When children have warm, caring and responsive relationships with their educators, they play, make friends and learn best.

Ashley Lindwall, an early childhood teacher at Mother Duck Childcare and Kindergarten in Eatons Hill, said children notice everything you do, so positive interactions and role modelling are important.

'It's not about the negative, but building them up on those positive relationships, making sure that they know you're a safe, secure support person for them.

Your relationships with people around you are what make you the person you are – building that connection with children, building that positive relationship, guiding them through challenging behaviours.

You are shaping them as a person.’

Children learn how to socialise appropriately with others and manage their feelings and behaviours when educators take a positive, strengths-based approach to behavioural guidance.

‘Children are full of emotions and it can cause challenging behaviour but it's important to recognise that they are children,’ Ashley said.

‘They haven't mastered their emotions like we have so we have to role model to them.

Or it's giving them the option of: “I can see you’re really frustrated, maybe we can go and read a book and we can feel our body calm down and do some breathing”.’

Sarah Jensen, also an early childhood teacher at Mother Duck, said it’s important to support children to build social competence, including treating others with care, empathy and respect.

‘We're continually focusing on and observing their kindness, their collaboration, their decision making and their compassion with others,’ Sarah said.

‘Documenting that and then providing experiences that complement that documentation.

What we want to teach the children is that it's okay to have emotions and provide strategies for them to cope with feeling that way.

Strategies that they can pull from their backpack to use in the future.’

Watch how the team at Mother Duck Eatons Hill creates a safe environment for the children at their service on YouTube (transcript​).

Guiding behaviour

Children of different ages and developmental stages need different levels of support.

Educators should work collaboratively with families to provide consistent behaviour guidance strategies at the service and at home to improve children’s learning and development.


Babies don’t need discipline. Babies cry because they’re hungry, wet, tired, in pain or need to be held.

Distracting a baby or changing activities to encourage positive behaviour is more effective than saying ‘don’t’ or showing anger.

As babies grow, they need routines but it’s important to remain flexible.

Toddlers and kindy children​​

Say what you mean

Say ‘do’ instead of ‘don’t’ and speak in short, simple sentences, such as:

  • ‘slow down and walk’ instead of ‘stop running’
  • ‘use a quiet voice inside’ instead of ‘don’t shout’.

Praise positive behaviour

It is better to acknowledge a child’s good behaviour than give negative feedback for misbehaviour.

Ignore minor m​isbehaviour

For minor attention-seeking behaviours that aren’t hurting anyone or damaging property, it is best to ignore what the child is doing, for example, turn away and respond only when they stop. Constantly responding to negative behaviours can teach a child that this is a good way to get your attention.

Distract and divert

Children can get emotional when things aren’t going their way or are struggling to express themselves. Distract them with a change of location or activity.

Be a positive role model

Children watch the people around them. They see how you talk to other children and adults. They see how you cope with anger or frustration, sadness and happiness, and use this as clues on how to behave.

Cool-down time

Educators can encourage a child who is having a difficult moment to find a space, near them or another educator, to ‘cool down’ and regulate their emotions in a quiet, safe environment. This strategy can support children to adjust their behaviour and can be an example of appropriate discipline or behaviour guidance.

Cool-down time is different to time out because an educator stays with the child and reassures and supports them to regulate their emotions. It is viewed as a learning opportunity, not as punishment (taken from ACECQA’s information sheet on inappropriate discipline).

More information

​For educators

For sharing wi​th families

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Last updated 29 September 2022