A good teacher is a good problem-solver.  An Early Care and Education classroom bubbles with human growth and emotion … and sometimes it bubbles over!  To orchestrate a smoothly running classroom, the teacher anticipates rough spots with preventive strategies and can step back (in her mind, if not physically) from the heat of the moment to note challenging times in the day for later consideration.

The teacher knows that when a child’s behavior is causing stress or discomfort to the child, the teacher, or the class, it is time to analyze and strategize to create a more successful experience for the child.  Ideally, another teacher or trained professional objectively observes the interplay of the child’s behavior and the teacher’s behavior, also factoring in the effects of the class group and classroom on the child’s behavior. Realistically, the teacher in the classroom may need to be a “teacher-observer” and try to gather data at the same time that she is teaching.


Essential Basic Assumptions

An important set of basic assumptions provides the foundation for the teacher’s analysis.  The teacher’s understanding of the individual child’s development, and the teacher’s compassion for the struggles the child is experiencing, are key ingredients to successful resolution.


  1. Young children’s desire to please those adults with whom they have trusting relationships is the first impetus to moderate their behavior. So the first assumption is that the child has formed such a relationship with the teacher; if this is not the case the teacher needs to start actively building that relationship.


  1. The teacher must honestly believe that the child is not ABLE (rather than UNWILLING) to conform to expectations in the current situation. Some aspect of the situation, either internal to the child or in the external environment, interferes with his ability to manage what the other children can manage.  (If many children are experiencing the same struggles, it is likely that the classroom environment or the teacher’s practices need to be better aligned with the children’s needs.)


  1. The teacher must accept that it is her job to make the classroom run well, and that if it does not work it is up to her to make changes rather than blame the child(ren). The teacher who believes this will be able to reflect on and identify the aspects of the classroom and her teaching which can be altered to facilitate a better experience for the child, knowing that what happens during the child’s time in the classroom is best addressed in the classroom.


Areas of Analysis

Analyzing an area of challenge for a child often starts by looking not at the child but at the environment surrounding her.  This follows from the teacher’s assumption that something is interfering with the child’s ability to manage the situation.  The teacher’s observations of the child begin to yield insights into situations that are difficult, and one by one she attempts to modify the situations until she can find the appropriate fit for the child’s needs.  Three major areas must be considered in this process; the child is only one of them.

  • The classroom
  • The teacher(s)
  • The child


Reviewing anecdotal notes on the child and any prior developmental assessments will provide background for analysis of the current situation.


  • The Classroom includes many aspects such as group size, play materials and their accepted uses, furnishings, arrangement of space, and daily routines and transitions. The teacher notes whether the child manages better in a smaller group than in a larger one; if that is the case, she attempts to reorganize the child’s time so more of it is in a smaller group.  Is the child bored or frustrated by the level of challenge presented by play materials?  How is the traffic flow in the room—does the need to “protect” play space interfere with the child’s ability to focus on play?  Can the child comfortably move around the room without disturbing other children’s play?  Are the children taught to respect others’ play activities?  Does the classroom provide a neutral palette for the children’s play or is it full of noise and visual distraction?  Are routines respectful of children’s play (e.g., is there enough time for children to engage in their play deeply, and the flexibility that allows them to complete activities)?


  • The Teacher
Understanding of Start with These Questions
Typical Child Development Does the teacher understand what is normal behavior for this age group?  Is this behavior just pushing normal limits or is it truly out of bounds?
Appropriate Expectations Can a child at this developmental level manage what is being asked of him?  For example, if the infant room has furniture that is not safe to pull up on the teacher has to fix the environment, not the infant’s behavior.
Unconscious Biases/Judgments Can the teacher reflect on her feelings regarding the child’s behavior?  Are her expectations based on objective or subjective perceptions? Is there a mismatch between teacher and child temperaments?
Approach Does the teacher act as if the child just made a mistake, or as if she is deliberately misbehaving?


  • The Child
Aspects Start with These Questions
Needs Are the child’s basic needs being met?  Does he feel seen as an individual or is he seeking attention?
Temperament How does this child generally approach life?  Is the teacher sensitive to his style?
Developmental Level, Particularly Regarding Emotional Development Are the teacher’s expectations based on the developmental level indicated by behavior, or only on age?  Has this child had solid attachment experiences?  Has she formed a sense of trust that her needs will be met?  Has she achieved a sense of autonomy?
Developmental Stumbling Blocks Attachment disorder?  Learning challenges?  Incomplete mastery of a preceding developmental stage?  Low confidence?  Incomplete sense of self?
Rhythm Is there a pattern to the behavior?  Time of day, day of week, setting, group of children?


The teacher who makes all the reasonable adjustments within her control, without achieving improved experiences for the child, accepts her responsibility to share her concerns with the child’s parent(s) and to look more broadly for a way to assist the child.  In that conversation the parents can be asked if there are new stressors at home, and if appropriate the teacher and parents can work on some joint strategies to support the child.  The teacher and parents may also need to consider whether the child has special needs which require a different professional intervention; if so, the teacher must make appropriate referrals.