All policies should be discussed with those who will be involved in carrying them out and should be easy to understand so that they are not interpreted in different ways. Here we look at how to write an effective behaviour policy

Before you start to put this policy together try to determine for yourself what you mean by behaviour. Here is one definition you could use:

Behaviour is the way we act and respond to people and to situations we find ourselves in.

You may want to discuss this with your staff and write your own definition.

None of us behaves perfectly all of the time. We all behave differently in different situations; at home we can sprawl across the sofa, but if we were in a high class hotel we would sit with more decorum. We probably wouldn’t tell the same joke to our grandparents that we might tell our friends. But we all have standards below which we try not to slip.

As you write this policy, and talk about it, remember that this is not called a discipline policy. It will contain some of the sanctions and rewards that you will use to encourage positive behaviour, but it is much more than that. It is about taking the children from where they are now, and helping them to find socially acceptable ways to behave.

There are a number of headings you should have in your policy. These could be listed as an agenda for your initial discussion.

Here are some notes about each of these agenda items. Read through them before the meeting with your staff, think about them and relate them to the situation at your setting.

Meeting to discuss the Behaviour Policy

  • What do we hope to achieve by having this policy?
  • How will we go about achieving these goals?
  • What do we expect to see happening in our setting?
  • What do we not accept in our setting?
  • What will we do if we see things that we don’t expect to happen?
  • What will we do if we see things that we do expect to see in our setting?
  • Are there any regulations or laws that we have to follow?
  • Are there any people outside the setting who will be able to help us to achieve our aims?
  • What should parents do if they are not happy with any actions that we take?

– What do we hope to achieve by having this policy?
This is the ultimate aim of a behaviour policy. It is about the standard of behaviour that you would like to see. Not everyone will be there, and some may have days when they don’t attain this standard. It describes the perfect situation that you are all striving for.

How will we go about achieving these goals?
This is about the expectations that you have of the adults in your setting as they help the children to achieve these standards of behaviour. The adults’ own behaviour will be a model for the children to copy. Adults will also help the children to develop in the way that they respond to the children’s behaviour, good or bad.

– What do we expect to see happening in our setting?
Describe the sort of behaviour that you want to see from the children and the adults. Be positive in this section.

– What behaviours do we not accept in our setting?
This is the place where you can think of the negative aspects of behaviour that you might see and that you won’t accept. As you discuss this, try to think about why you don’t like these particular behaviours. Make rational decisions about why you won’t accept this behaviour. You will probably find that they all cause hurt or distress to another person.

– What will we do if we see things that we don’t expect to happen?
This is about the sanctions that you will take. It should include how you will deal with adults who behave in unacceptable ways, as well as describing how you will deal with the children. Sanctions should be progressive:

On the first occasion we will… If the behaviour is repeated that same day we will……

If the behaviour continues we will…..

Think about the way that adults are dealt with: a verbal warning, a written warning, three written warnings and you’re out! Or some such pattern. Or think about footballers, and the yellow and red card systems.

However, it is most important to remember that we are dealing with very little children. Sometimes their behaviour is simply immature. They are often not being deliberately cruel, they are simply being three years old. It is our responsibility to correct them when they get it wrong, but more in a sense of making them think, helping them to see alternative ways of responding and reminding them over several occasions about it, rather than as a strict punishment.

The children may see this sort of behaviour at home, and as fast as you are demonstrating one way to handle a situation, they are seeing another way at home. For this reason, you should include the point at which you will inform the parents about the unacceptable behaviour and talk to them about approaches that they can make at home, ways that match what you are doing at pre-school.

– What will we do if we see things that we do expect to see in our setting?
Part of the important work of pre-school education is to help the children move from being ego-centric to recognising that others have feelings and rights, and recognising that we should all respect each other. This is set out in the PSE curriculum and should be reinforced throughout the day.

It is important that all staff and adults helping in the setting remember to reinforce good behaviour by acknowledging it, ‘I notice Sam helping James pick up the pot of buttons he’s just dropped’, praising it ‘Well done for helping put those books way, Nasim’ and rewarding it ‘This group have played so well together that they can sit on the bean-bags for story-time’.

Children are often told what they have done wrong, but are rarely told exactly what they did that was right. Encourage all staff to do this as a matter of course.

– Are there any regulations or laws that we have to follow?
You may have rules and regulations that you have to follow. Use this opportunity to remind all of the staff about them. There are guidelines related to child protection, and handling children.

You may have children from racial or religious backgrounds who would find some particular behaviours offensive. Find out about these and make sure that everyone is aware of them.

– Are there any people outside the setting who would be able to help us to achieve our aims?
If you have children who display behaviour that is especially difficult, threatening, uncontrollable etc, you may need to seek outside help. Who can you contact and for what purpose? List them by profession and contact number. People change jobs so don’t rely on personal names.

You may want to have some professional development on this subject, and you could identify those who could provide such a service for you.

– What should parents do if they are not happy with any actions that we take?
Any policy should include a simple statement referring parents or other adults to the complaints procedure that you have in place.

What happens to the policy after we have written it?

As you think about each of these questions remember: this policy applies to children and adults alike. All staff – and any parents on the premises – will be expected to keep to the policy.

You should include a copy of this policy in your prospectus or handbook, or in the pack you give to new parents. They have two choices; they can accept your policy or they can take their child to another setting. If they know about the policy before they register their child with you, you can refer to it should they complain about the way that you respond to their child’s behaviour, or if you ask them, for example, to moderate their language when on your premises.

Put a copy clearly visible on a notice-board which can be seen by parents and visitors. If parents volunteer to help out or you have trainees with you, point it out to them on their first visit and ask them to read it through and take notice of it.

You could make a child-friendly version of the part where you describe the behaviour you want to see, and place it around the setting, indoors and out. Use it when you notice something good: Point to the line that says we will all look after each other, and say ‘I noticed that Sam and Grace let our new friend, Ellie, join in their game this morning. Well done. I hope you all had a lovely time making friends.’

Refer to it if you see unacceptable behaviour: ‘Nicky, do you remember that it says here we share our toys? Well, that means that if you have all of the dough and someone else wants to play with it, then you should give them some of the dough, as well as keeping some of it for yourself.’

Here is a sample of what your policy could look like. Remember that these are only ideas and that you should use the contributions from your own staff when you put your policy together. Use the notes from the meeting to fill in each of the sections and hand copies to all those involved in the meeting. Give them a chance to read through it, mark on it any ideas that they have and collect the copies in again. Redraft as necessary and then hand out final copies. Remember to add the date on which it was compiled and the date when you will review it. It’s probably worth looking at your policy again at the start of each year, as it is a reminder to all staff about the culture and atmosphere in which you and your children will be working.

A sample behaviour policy – What you hope to achieve

Our aim is that all of the children should be able to behave in socially acceptable ways.

Explain what that means in easy-to-follow language
To be socially acceptable, we believe that children should be able to:

  • treat other children and adults with respect
  • speak politely to other people
  • have self confidence and high self-esteem.

Explain what you will do to achieve this
To encourage this, the staff will:

  • treat all children and adults with respect
  • speak politely to all other people
  • praise children’s efforts and achievements as often as they can
  • explain to children what they should have done or said when they get it wrong
  • tell parents about their child’s efforts and achievements
  • avoid using critical or sarcastic language.

Explain what you won’t accept
We will not accept the following behaviour from children or adults:

  • use of rude or unkind language
  • hitting, kicking, biting or other such physical responses
  • racist or sexist remarks.

Explain what you will do if this happens
If such behaviour occurs:

  • We will tell the child that it is wrong and explain what they should have done or said [or not said].
  • If the behaviour is repeated, the child will be reminded once more as above.
  • If the behaviour continues we will remove the child from the activity and speak to the parent when the child is collected.
  • We will try to find out why the child is behaving this way and then treat the situation accordingly.

Adults [parents or staff]:

  • The leader will speak to the member of staff in private as soon as possible.
  • If it continues…
  • the leader will ask the parent to speak to her away from the children or other parents… find out the problem…

Explain any regulations or laws you have to follow
We follow these regulations..

Identify any support systems/people you can call on, when, how, why

We can get help from …

Complaints procedure
If you are not happy with the way that you or your child is treated by any member of the staff or other parent at the nursery you should …

Written by …. on …..
To be reviewed on ….