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Pinvin Community Preschool

Nurturing hearts and minds on a path of possibilities

Behaviour and self regulation

At your wits end, managing your child's behaviour,  maybe 'managing' behaviour is not the solution?

Self Regulation

Reframing behaviour

Historically it has been considered that unwanted behaviours need to be 'managed' but it can be argued this is not conducive to raising confident, emotionally resilient children, ready for the wider world. Our approach is to teach children the life long skill of self regulation. Self regulation is fundamentally the ability to manage ones own emotional responses and consequent behaviours until we reach a place of calm. A big ask, when most adults struggle with the very same! However by understanding the science behind behaviour we are better equipped to support children as co-regulators.

The human brain

If we are to support children to self regulate then we need to understand how the brain works when responding to stress.

When a child has 'flipped their lid' their brain becomes dysregulated. This may present in changes to mood, attention or physical well-being. It is this dysregulated behaviour that is often labelled, 'bad, defiant or challenging'.

A child at this point needs a sensitive adult to help them regulate the brain to avoid them entering the fight or flight mode.

The Train Analogy

How many of us as parents use gentle bribes to avoid children feeling disappointment? 

A child not wanting to leave the park, bribed with a sweet treat. 

We may believe we are avoiding upset, but in reality, it is the adult wanting the crying to stop not the child. 

In fact, we are depriving the child the opportunity to experience disappointment, and the affirmation that it is okay to be upset. 

The Train Analogy

This analogy quite simply suggests our emotions are tunnels and we are the trains

travelling through them. We have to go through the tunnel to get to the peaceful light

at the end of the tunnel.

When a child is struggling with difficult feelings – sadness, anger, guilt, fear,

loneliness, embarrassment, we can often find ourselves trying to reason them out of

it. We are of course trying to help the children as their pain hurts us deeply, and we

can become extremely uncomfortable and anxious ourselves. However, it is these

diversions/distractions that prevent the child from continuing their journey and getting

to the end of the tunnel.

A child mid tantrum will not learn from a punitive response, or a down play on their

emotions i.e., ‘you’re ok’, ‘stop being silly’, ‘stop acting like a baby’. We must respect

the emotion they are experiencing as this is real to them. Instead, they need time

and space to reach calm. This can take time and as the adult we must be

comfortable to feel uncomfortable as they go through this process.

At Pinvin Community Pre-school we support children when experiencing powerful

emotions by allowing them to go through this process. We will quietly and sensitively

support them by listening, acknowledging feelings and allowing them to go through

the motions. Using soft voice, body language, touch and visual calmers

Talking about emotions

Labelling emotions is an easy but very powerful strategy to use with children. A child that is experiencing emotional dysregulation no longer has the capacity to understand their feelings and may feel unheard or misunderstood, causing more anxiety. Using clear, calm simple language we can support the child through a feeling of connection.

'I can see that made you angry, I would feel angry too if someone took my toy'

'You look frustrated, would you like me to help you?'

'I think you are feeling very cross about not wanting to eat your broccoli'

'I can see that your friend sharing the toy made you happy'

I'm Angry, I'm Sad

Just breathe video

At Pinvin Community Preschool we use visual emotion cards for children to access throughout the day. We also use resources such as books and activities to encourage children to express themselves better.

Emotional Visuals to Print


An emotionally safe place

If we think back to the train analogy and the importance of children going through the tunnel to enable them to practice self-regulation skills and build resilience, then we need to provide a safe place where this can happen.

A safe place is one where adults are responsive and sensitive to the emotional needs of the child, treating them with respect,  emotions are talked about and children are praised for the attempts they make at managing such overwhelming feelings. 

There are clear boundaries and routines but an acceptance that children will make mistakes. The safe space is where the child can practice self regulation with a supportive adult by their side.

Reward and Consequence

Extrinsic reward for positive behaviour such as stickers, promises of treats, may work initially but is not a long-term strategy. Similarly, colour charts used to score child's behaviour will not make a child behave better. 

Our approach is through instant verbal gratification which requires no props, and can be done in the moment. We are teaching children that we value them and their efforts. By using intrinsic methods children’s motivation is driven by the learning experience and not for extrinsic reward. This supports us in our overarching ambition to help children to become life-long learners.

In terms of consequence, punishing a child through exclusion i.e. sending them to the 'naughty step' when they clearly need connection can be counterproductive. A better idea is to explain what the behaviour was that you didn’t like and give them alternatives to show how they could have managed that better. Use clear language, 'You made me sad when...'. Always remember to label the behaviour not the child. If children are constantly described as 'naughty' they will begin to believe this and give up trying to be anything else - a self fulfilling prophecy! 

Remember as adults we are the child's role model, shouting and losing control with them is not showing them how to handle disappointment. Instead you are disconnecting further from them and not demonstrating the skills they are trying to learn to themselves.

Tools to support Self-Regulation

Adult's need to move towards a ‘connect before correct’ approach to supporting positive behaviour. This approach invites us to pause and think about the child’s needs in that moment, to put ourselves in their shoes, attempting to understand their reality.

1. Reframe the behaviour

2. Recognise the stressors 

3. Reduce stressors

4. Reflect (enhance stress awareness)

5. Respond (develop personalised strategies to promote resilience and restoration)


Children who become dysregulated need;

  • the adult to understand and articulate what is wrong
  • they need safe clear boundaries
  • they need connection not disconnection
  • they need time and space to go through these emotions

The adult needs;

  • time and space to support child 
  • confidence in self - do not worry what others think
  • to be comfortable to feel uncomfortable
  • to be sensitive - don't talk about the child where they can hear, either during or after event
  • patience and time to reflect and offload away from child

Here to help

Many of the Pinvin Community Preschool team are parents and between us we have experience in dealing with a number of challenging behaviours. Please do come and speak to us for non-judgemental, practical help.

Rest assured if we were to observe your child struggling with emotions in the setting we would firstly speak with you to ensure we have a consistent approach and use your parental insight to understand the child better.

You are not alone

Emotional outbursts can be an expected part of child development but when the child is older it can be equally, if not more challenging. Neuroscience tells us the brain rewires itself from the onset of puberty up until 24 years old, explaining the similarity of adolescent behaviour to that of a two year old. Understanding is therefore key when supporting our older children as they navigate this difficult time. Despite behaviours often pushing adults away it is again, connection that they need.

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