how to document challenging behavior at preschool

How to Document Challenging Behavior at Preschool

A classroom full of preschoolers can be quite challenging in the best of times, and so challenging behavior can make a teacher’s job extremely difficult.

Before a solution can be found, it is important to first understand the full scope of what is happening. This can only be done through detailed documentation, which will help educators and parents understand exactly what is happening, how long it has been happening for, and identify patterns of what other circumstances have triggered this behavior.

Although most educators agree on the importance of observation in early childhood education, this can be easier said than done. Your observations will only be as good as the way they are documented. If you can’t find your records or they are not recorded in a consistent way, then they will not be of use when you need them.

In this article, we’ll go over best practices for creating detailed and helpful documentation in an early learning setting. Try these techniques to effectively record challenging behavior from your students so you can be on your way to helping work through these less-ideal behaviors and restore order to your classroom!

What is Challenging Behavior?

challenging behavior in preschool definition

In their aptly titled book, Challenging Behaviour, Eric Emerson and Stewart L. Einfeld define challenging behavior as:

“Culturally abnormal behaviour(s) of such an intensity, frequency or duration that the physical safety of the person or others is likely to be placed in serious jeopardy, or behaviour which is likely to seriously limit use of, or result in the person being denied access to, ordinary community facilities.”

It is important to note that although challenging behavior can be difficult to navigate, it is not unnatural for a child to begin exhibiting these behaviors especially during the toddler stage as they are developing responses to emotions. No one is perfect, and challenging behavior is a part of human nature. The goal is to identify and work through challenging behavior to encourage children to behave in a way that is of benefit to themselves, and enables them to have strong relationships with their classmates, teachers, parents and the larger community.

Examples of challenging behavior include:

  • Aggressive
  • Biting
  • Confrontational
  • Demanding
  • Distracted
  • Emotional
  • Frustrated
  • Grumpy
  • Impatient
  • Irritable
  • Lethargic
  • Sad

When noticing a child exhibiting one of these or similar behaviors, how you document these behaviors will be crucial in the next steps towards correcting this behavior.

Start Documenting Behavior

start documenting challenging behavior at preschool

You might be saying, ‘well, obviously,’ but this basic step is done surprisingly less than you may think. Many educators may make a mental note to mention to a parent at pickup time, and others may not think that mood is worthwhile to regularly document at all; however, this couldn’t be further from the truth.

Even if you regularly make thorough daily reports of all the activities that the children have participated in, mood is an important category to include that gives valuable insight into the emotional development of the child. It is great to know that a child was fingerpainting, but this is a very different story if they were throwing paint at the other children the whole time.

To be on the road to properly documenting challenging behavior, you first have to commit to making this a regular part of your center’s daily process. This is a team effort that requires buy-in from everyone, and only then will you be able to have consistent and thorough documentation to draw from.

Have One Source of Documentation

have one source of documentation

If a parent asks, “what day did my child start biting and what was happening in the class,” sorting through loose piles of paper, binders, notebooks and text messages is not ideal. You will want to have a specific place where you know that this record is kept.

The more sources of documentation that you have, the harder it will be to access this information later on. There are many ways to document challenging behavior, but the most common method is on a daily sheet for each child.

Some centers create daily sheets on paper, while others opt for a child care app like HiMama. An electronic daily sheet has the added benefits of being easier to share with parents, can automatically track progress over time, and removes the possibility of being lost.

Train Staff on How to Properly Make Documentations

train staff on how to properly make documentations

Ensure that every person on your team understands the expectations for documentation and how to do so. Otherwise, you may end up with incomplete records depending on the teacher who recorded them, or only examples of certain behaviors and not others.

An initial training session, detailed onboarding for new staff and occasional refreshers will help ensure that teachers know what to look for and how to mark it down. These are also good opportunities to explain to teachers why documenting challenging behavior is so important. Although it requires extra work to document, when teachers understand that these notes will help address the behavior and make their jobs easier in the future, they will be much more likely to make these documentations consistently and thoroughly.

Document Behavior as It Happens

document behavior as it happens with a child care app

In “preschool time” an hour can be the equivalent of a day in “normal time.” With so much activity demanding a teacher’s attention at any given moment, it can be easier to forget important details as the day goes on.

The best way to record accurate and substantial observations is to document them right after they occur. This leaves nothing to memory and ensures that the teacher will remember details that will very likely be forgotten otherwise.

For such a hands-on role, the only way that a teacher will realistically be able to make these documentations is if they have their note-taking tool already in-hand. It is much easier for a teacher to keep their tablet or smartphone on them throughout the day and record challenging behavior in a few taps, rather than running to the other side of the room to grab a pen and find the child’s daily sheet.

Provide Context

It is helpful to know if a child was being aggressive, but without a more complete picture it will be a lot more difficult to know what the next steps should be. In addition to logging the behavior, note what was happening at the time. This will help to identify what has triggered the behavior and enable you and parents to make better decisions on how to address it.

Document the Bad and the Good

To understand the full impact of a child’s challenging behavior, you will need a good point of comparison for how they behave normally. This is why it is important to not just document whenever they are being difficult, but instead make a point to regularly log their moods even when things are running smoothly.

Deciding the frequency of behavior modification may take some trial error. You will need to find a good balance of avoiding information overload and a frequency that is sustainable for your busy team. Some educators opt to record behavior changes at regular time intervals (e.g. every 30 minutes), while others do so only when moods change from one to the other (including when the mood returns back to ‘normal’).

Whatever process you settle on, always ensure that your observations provide a complete picture of the child’s behavior and not just the most extreme moments.

Keep Parents Informed

keep parents informed

When discussing solutions for challenging behavior with parents and guardians, this should not come as a surprise. This can be a very sensitive topic, and so the more you keep parents informed of their child’s behavior each day, the better equipped they’ll be to work with you to improve the situation.

An ongoing conversation with parents about their child’s aggressive behavior in class will get a very different reception than suddenly telling parents that their child is being aggressive without context. Remember to approach things constructively or even build a relationship with parents to see if this behavior also happens in the home setting.

Regular documentation gives parents a chance to work on behavior before it becomes a larger problem. When it is discovered that an unacceptable behavior has taken place, a parent may actively begin working on it before it becomes more ingrained and harder to fix in the future.


Ready to document challenging behavior more thoroughly while saving time and delighting parents? Fill out the form below to receive a personalized demo of all that HiMama has to offer, including mood tracking, daily reports, payments, activity planning and much more!

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Michael Keshen

Michael is the Content Manager at HiMama, with over 7 years of online content publishing experience. He is the current editor in chief for HiMama's early childhood education blog and ECE Weekly newsletter. When not developing content for early childhood professionals, he can usually be found out and about with his wife and daughter exploring all that Toronto has to offer, or playing music with his karaoke band.

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