Every day care should have a discipline policy that spells out how disruptive behavior is dealt with. When choosing a day care for your child, the center's discipline policy should be front-and-center in your decision-making process.
These policies are not meant to be arbitrary, but there for the good of the group and day care community as a whole. They give directors and teachers a concrete means of addressing behavioral issues and provide parents with the knowledge of what's acceptable and expected -- of the child, the parents and the center.
According to Carolyn Stolov, family life expert at Care.com, "discipline means to teach, not punish." Look for guidelines that emphasize that.
Claire Haas, vice president of education at Kiddie Academy urges, "When evaluating a new child care provider, parents should review the center's discipline guidelines and ask questions to clarify how the provider addresses conflicts."
A day center should provide all parents with a written copy of their policy -- often included in the handbook you receive when touring the facility or registering your child. Sometimes they're even right on the center's website. And you should be told when there are any updates. Make sure you fully understand how problems are handled before you enroll your child. Here are a few of the things that a good policy should address, along with questions you may want to ask the director.
If you spot it early enough, sometimes inappropriate behavior can be stopped before it has a chance to spiral out of control. What are the center's policies for averting problems?
"Our approach focuses a great deal on prevention," reveals Haas. "When dealing with young children, preventing behavior is always easier than trying to deal with it after the fact."
Questions to ask: What do you do if you notice a child is particularly cranky or disruptive? How do you prevent it from becoming an issue?
Expectations and Consequences
"Every action has to have a concrete consequence, and expectations must be clarified within policies," says Ashley Martin*, director of a private preschool. This prevents "chaos and confusion."
Questions to ask: How are consequences given? What is appropriate for different bad behaviors? How do you deal with a child having a tantrum, biting or hitting? Does the teacher have appropriate expectations and understand that kids learn, work and develop at different rates? What sort of behavior would warrant a child being asked to leave the center altogether?
No licensed day care center should advocate the use of physical or mental punishment. Again, it's hard to prevent children from having bad days or displaying inappropriate behavior -- and young kids are still learning right from wrong. When something arises, teachers should provide positive guidance and help them to realize how to make safe, healthy choices.
Questions to ask: What situation, if any, would warrant the removal of a child from the room or group? Where would that child go? What would be the protocol for reintroducing the child to the group again? How do teachers encourage kids to behave appropriately?
Teachers should be able to redirect a child's attention, offering a different age-appropriate activity than the one they are struggling with, or having trouble cooperating with peers on.
"Children feel empowered when they make the right choices, and this encourages them to keep on trying," says Martin. "This may mean that the teacher has to find new ways to be flexible and to acknowledge that a child is attempting to make these choices."
Haas suggests parents ask how choices are presented. "Some children will be able to handle having access to all of the materials present in the room," she says. "Other children may feel overwhelmed and need teacher guidance to make appropriate choices. It's important to find the right balance for the group."
Questions to ask: Are the activities developmentally appropriate in order to reduce frustration? Does the program provide a balance of active and quiet time?
Time out can be an effective disciplinary policy when redirecting a child or offering positive guidance fails, but it must be used appropriately. Children who need a time out should be supervised at all times. And they should only sit for about one minute per their age in years (three minutes for a three-year-old, for example). Before being reintroduced to the group, the caregiver should get down to the child's eye level and explain what the child did wrong to land in the time out spot.
"Time out was really developed as a time for everyone to cool off, not as punishment," shares Stolov. The current trend is actually "time-in," where you focus on the child and their actions.
Questions to ask: Do you use time outs? Where is your time out spot located? How long would my child sit in time out? What warrants a trip to the time out chair? How many time outs are there in an average day? What do kids learn from the experience?
Parents should be notified immediately in case of major or reoccurring behavioral challenges. Teachers should provide a detailed account of any incidents and parents should be required to sign the documents, indicating that they have read and understand what happened. The director should be aware of any ongoing issues.
Questions to ask: How will the teachers communicate with me if my child is having problems at day care? How will consistent behavioral issues be discussed and dealt with?
Parents should ensure they understand the policies and ask questions of teachers or administrators for necessary clarification. If you feels strongly enough that a policy should be changed, approach the program's owner or director and express your concerns and possible solutions. Communication and involvement are key to ensuring the best care for all children.
Martin concludes that, "When teachers and administrators work with parents to teach and reinforce appropriate behavior, and when children and parents understand the classroom rules and the teacher's expectations, it makes for a much more effective learning experience. Children enjoy going to school and they thrive within a safe, comfortable setting."
*Name has been changed.
Sharon Damon is a freelance writer in Las Vegas, Nevada. She writes about various topics, and you can find examples of her articles here.