Promoting children’s positive behaviour at playgroup 

Understanding children’s behaviour 

All children go through developmental stages that challenge their parents and caregivers. Biting, pushing, arguing, tantrums and problems with sharing are common behaviours that many children will struggle with at various times. It is important to remember that there is no definitive time when things like these will start or stop and that each child is different. People with more than one child will know how different children can often be even with the same parenting.   

While these behaviours are quite normal in young children, they can sometimes feel particularly disruptive and can impact on others in the session.  When this happens, it can be difficult to work through the issue as there is often disagreement about how to manage the situation and address the behaviour concerned.  Parents and other caregivers will also have different parenting styles and approaches to guiding their children’s behaviour. At times this may cause disagreement amongst the parents and caregivers about how you respond to and manage the situation. Having a playgroup policy or agreement about how you respond to and manage difficult or challenging behaviours of both adults and children, can help in resolving situations quickly with limited upset.   

Children can display challenging behaviours for a variety of reasons. They often try out new behaviour and the response they get from parents, other adults and children set patterns for their future behaviour. When young children feel hurt, frustrated, threatened or confused they are often ill-equipped to deal effectively with their emotions.  Maintaining a focus on the problem behaviour rather than a “problem child”, as well as having an understanding about things that can trigger unwanted behaviour, can help in changing both the behaviour and other families’ responses to it.  These triggers or conditions can include: 

  • Developmental issues such as language skills - the child may not be able to express their emotions verbally, or physical issues such as hearing loss or allergies 
  • Feeling tired or hungry 
  • Feeling unwell or having an illness  
  • Changes in the family unit or at home e.g. birth of a new baby, financial pressure, moving house, separation from loved family members  
  • Social isolation  
  • Experiences of trauma  
  • Feeling overwhelmed or over/under stimulated – see below

It is also worth remembering that all parents and children have good days and bad days.  Playgroups provide places where families can enjoy the company of others, knowing their experiences are understood and shared.  Offering understanding and support to others, rather than assumptions and judgements can make a huge difference in working through these kinds of challenges. 

Playgroup environment 

There may also be things happening at playgroup that are having an impact on children’s behaviour such as:  

  • Level of stimulation 

Finding the right balance between too much and too little stimulation can make a huge difference to children’s behaviour. Too much going on with toys, equipment and decorations can be overwhelming and make it difficult for children to make choices and focus on one activity. On the other hand, too few resources and things of interest can lead to a lack of stimulation and leave children feeling bored and frustrated. Getting the balance right is important and will need reviewing as children develop and their interests change.  

  • Age-appropriate activities and experiences

In groups where there is a range of ages activities need to meet the different stages of development. Remember giving children choices is important but more is not necessarily better. Offer a range of play experiences including sensory play activities.  For more information about developmentally appropriate toys click here 

  • Playgroup environment and routine 

Having a routine or structure for your playgroup session can help children know what to expect and provides a framework for helping children to move between different experiences and playgroup activities.  Changes to the playgroup environment or routine can create uncertainty or confusion for children and some children may need extra support to manage changes. 

  • Available space 

Each playgroup will have differences in the type and amount of space available for play. Having too many families in a crowded, noisy space may be quite overwhelming for young children and may lead to difficulties in managing their behaviour. Similarly, too much space can also present challenges for young children in knowing how to use the space effectively.  

  • Group dynamics 

Being part of a group, whether for work or play, requires social skills and takes time to master. It is important to acknowledge, that learning how a group works and what each person is like and how to fit in can be a challenge for children just as much as it is for adults. One of the benefits of playgroup is that it gives children an opportunity to practise these social skills but it can be unsettling at times as well. In can be confusing for children as they come to understand the order of things and that they need to negotiate with others, take turns and share. Tears, frustration, anger and even hurt are bound to occur from time to time. Children need the support of everybody to assist them as they grow in understanding  

  • Supervision and adult-child interaction.  

Supervision is more than just checking on children’s physical safety; it is also about ensuring that children are feeling emotionally safe and supported. Children need to feel confident that their needs will be met and that they have their parent or caregiver’s attention and support when they need it. 

Promoting positive behaviour in children 

Look for ways to promote positive behaviour in children such as: 

  • Model, notice and encourage desirable behaviour and language 
  • Teach children to use other ways to express themselves 
  • Have realistic expectations about what the children are able to do 
  • Think about things in your playgroup that can trigger unwanted behaviours 
  • Set clear, firm and consistent limits 
  • Listen to children. Respect their need for privacy and do not discuss with other children or playgroup members 
  • Redirect children - divert their attention or direct them to activities that will provide outlets for energy such as physical play, running outside, blowing bubbles.

The playgroup and families can help by: 

  • Making children and their parent or caregiver feel welcome, accepted and valued 
  • Talking with parents or caregivers to see how you can help 
  • Discussing ways to model and encourage desired behaviours 
  • Making adjustments to the physical environment if required 
  • Having a policy or agreement for guiding children’s behaviour and in responding to unwanted behaviours 
  • Having a process or agreement for resolving differences and conflict (see Managing conflict section) 
  • Having quiet spaces and calming activities such as water play and other sensory experiences.
Key points for playgroups 
  • All children and Parents/Caregivers feel welcome, accepted and valued 
  • Policy or agreement for dealing with challenging behaviours  and disagreements 
  • Review the playgroup routine  
  • Adjust the physical environment if required 
  • Include age-appropriate activities and experiences 
  • Supervise children at all times 
Other useful information  

Managing conflict at playgroup

Creating a stimulating playgroup environment  

Creating a welcoming playgroup environment

Further information and support on child development, behaviour and parenting support is available from: