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Smarty Pants believes in a positive guidance approach to behavior management and is committed to providing an environment where children feel safe, comfortable and have a great time.  Children learn by what we say and the way we act. Positive guidance involves setting clear, consistent limits that have reasons and striving to foster self-esteem and independence. Guidance is NOT, however, letting a child “go free.”  These policies shall be followed in order to protect the safety of all children and staff persons. 


Smarty Pants uses the positive guidance strategies listed below to ensure safe, challenging, and joyful learning.


Know the child

Watching, listening, and learning about a child’s temperament, interests, and learning styles often demystifies behavior and helps us guide the child. We find it invaluable to take the time to learn and remember the uniqueness of each child.  This enables us to greatly enhance the guidance we provide by respecting, responding, and building a relationship with each child.  



When an issue arises, it is sometimes beneficial to avoid a struggle with the child by directing his attention elsewhere. This strategy is very successful with toddlers. For example, sharing is an abstract, difficult concept for young children to understand. So, when Sarah pulls the toy dog away from Charles, it is helpful to remind her, “Charles has the dog, here’s one for you.” If there is not another stuffed animal around, the teacher may take Sarah’s hand and say, “Charles has the dog right now; let’s find something special just for you.” 


Give Choices

Giving choices will help solve conflicts. Smarty Pants Teachers keep in mind that too many choices are confusing. The younger the child, the fewer the options he can handle. Instead of asking a three-year-old, “What center would you like to work in today?”We may ask, “Do you want to work in writing or art today?” In addition, it is important to make sure the choices provided are ones we can live with. Making choices is one of the best ways for a child to develop a sense of autonomy (Crosser, 2003). Furthermore, children are often told there are so many things they may not do (e.g., because of safety issues) that having opportunities to make a choice gives these young children a chance to be independent and helps their need to have a feeling of control (Crosser, 2003).


Evaluate Your Environment

At Smarty Pants we are constantly evaluating the space.  We look at how the room is set-up to determine if spaces are clearly delineated.  Is there too much open space, which may invite running? Or, is there not enough space for children to move around without bumping into each other?   The classroom is also often physically rearranged to fit where children are developmentally. 


Be Kind

Preschoolers get embarrassed when they think they have done something wrong. Smarty pants teachers will be discreet and gentle, yet firm and consistent, when guiding them. The goal is to make sure children know they are being guided not reprimanded. Therefore, our messages will be empathetic (e.g., “I know you want to continue playing, but it’s clean-up time. You can play with the toys tomorrow”). Our messages will be purposeful for the individual and community (e.g., “I want to make sure you are safe, so please walk”). When accidents and mistakes happen, as they inevitably will, we convey messages such as “these things happen” to the child.


Keep it short

One key component to clear communication with a preschooler is to keep the message short and avoid overusing the word “no.”  At Smarty Pants, we believe that when children hear long, lengthy commands they often “tune out.” In addition the word “no” is so overused that it is rarely effective. Instead of “no running,” for example, the child hears “running.” Thus, the expectation is more clear when the desired behavior is accentuated. So instead of saying “no running” at Smarty Pants we say “please walk.”


Make Clear Statements

While it is good to offer choices, when feasible, it is also important not to imply there is a choice when one really does not exist. Asking Emily, who is busily playing with her new wagon, “Would you like to come inside?” will not be as effective as saying, “Emily, it’s time to come inside.” Putting “OK” at the end of what you say is one way unintentional questions are asked. Consider what a child hears when a teacher says, “We are going to get our coats now,” versus, “We’re going to get our coats, OK?”


Child-directed turn-taking

Here’s what it looks like in real life. Instead of the teacher saying “Five more minutes, then it’s Ella’s turn” we teach children to say “You can have it when I’m done.” This teaches positive assertiveness. It helps kids stand up for themselves and learn to set boundaries on other kids. What a terrific life skill.


When the first child drops the toy and moves on, remind her that Ella’s waiting for a turn (a great lesson in courtesy and awareness of others). The best part of all is when the first child willingly hands over the toy—it’s a joyous moment for both kids. That’s the moment when children experience the rush of good feelings that comes from being kind to others. It’s true generosity. It’s a warm feeling. One they will want to repeat over and over – whether a teacher is watching or not.


What about the waiting child? Waiting is hard, especially for impulsive 2-5 year olds, but just like assertiveness, waiting is an excellent life skill. It’s OK for the waiting child to feel frustrated, sad or angry for a time.   We model and teach children to ask others, “Can I have it when you are finished?”  In the beginning there can be a few foot stompings or tears. Learning to control behavior and express intense feelings appropriately is really hard for a preschooler but essential.  Impulse control (waiting for a toy and not grabbing) is a vital part of brain development and gets stronger with practice. The more practice kids get, the better. Turn-taking provides excellent practice.

Words we say:

You can play with it until you’re all done.                                                                                   Positive assertiveness

Are you finished with your turn? Max says he’s not done yet.                                               Positive assertiveness

Did you like it when he grabbed your truck? Tell him to stop!                                                Positive assertiveness

Say: “I’m not done. You can have it when I’m done.”                                                                Positive assertiveness

She can have a turn. When she’s all done, you can have a turn.                                            Positive assertiveness

I see Bella still has the pony. She’s still using it.                                                                        Positive assertiveness

You’ll have to wait. I can’t let you take it out of her hands.                                                      Positive assertiveness

Oh, it’s so hard to wait!                                                                                                                        Waiting and awareness of others

You’re so mad. You really want to play with the pony right now!                                            Waiting and awareness of others

You can be mad, but I can’t let you take the toy.                                                                           Waiting and awareness of others

Will you tell Max when you’re all done?                                                                                            Waiting and awareness of others

I see you’re not using the truck any more. Go find Ben. He’s waiting for a turn.                  Waiting and awareness of others

Thinking Station

When used calmly, consistently, and respectfully, the Smarty Pants “Thinking Station” can be valuable strategies for helping students develop self-control while keeping the classroom calm, safe, and orderly.   It is called the “Thinking Station” but is often called “Taking a Break” or a similar term that separates it from the negative associations some students may have formed from prior experience.  Smarty Pants then uses it judiciously, as just ONE of several strategies that can help children stay focused on learning and working productively with others.


The “Thinking Station” is modeled after a Responsive Classroom Time Out.  It is a positive, respectful, and supportive teaching strategy used to help a child who is just beginning to lose self-control to regain it so they can do their best learning. An equally important goal of the “thinking station” is to allow the group’s work to continue when a student is misbehaving or upset. Giving that child some space from the scene of action where they can regroup and reflect on their behavior while still seeing and hearing what the class is doing accomplishes both of these goals.


The “Thinking Station” is carefully introduced early in the school year.  At that time we talk about, model, and let students practice how to use the “Thinking Station.”  We cover these key points:

  • Going to the “Thinking Station” promptly, quickly, and calmly


  • How to regain focus and control while at break (we teach a repertoire of techniques that will help, such as taking deep breaths, reading a book, doodling, squeezing a stress ball, and observing a calming “glitter bottle”—our Thinking Station is stocked with several items to help them accomplish this)


  • Use the time to reflect on action and/or think of better choices


  • When they come back from the “Thinking Station” (the ultimate goal is to teach children to know when they’re calm and ready to return, but if you decide that your class isn’t ready for the responsibility, make the decisions yourself)


  • Coming back quietly and rejoining the group’s work


  • Helping a classmate in a break by leaving them alone, going on with classroom activity as usual, and quietly welcoming them back








Each year the students brainstorm a more specific list of what these rules “look like.”  The list is displayed in the classroom as a reminder of their thoughts on the basic rules.  The list often includes child perspectives of the rules such as:  “Use walking feet”, “Keep your hand to yourself”, “Be a good friend”, “Clean up the toys”, etc.

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