Supporting your educators to deal with extreme behaviour in children


We will teach you how to support your educators when they are struggling to manage extreme behaviour in children. In this section we’ll work through a case study including hitting educators, swearing and hurting other children. We will teach you how to support your educators in events like this to modify the child’s behaviour to achieve a positive outcome. You will learn a process used by psychologists and how to implement it step by step in your service. This section is directly related to NQS Elements 4.2.1 Professional collaboration, 5.1.1 Positive educator to child interactions, 5.2.2 Self-regulation and 7.1.3 Roles and responsibilities.


Case study – The angry child Isaac

A window in the room was broken by Isaac who often has outbursts or meltdowns when they are angry. Educators felt that he should have been made aware that his actions were wrong, and that his parents should have been called.


Would you inform the parent about the broken window?

Child Focus

We need to keep a child focus approach. With a child focus, we see the child in the situation. In the situation above, it was decided not to tell Isaac’s mother about the window because there was a risk she may belt/abuse him for breaking it.

Why would you or wouldn’t you tell the child their actions were wrong? 

Educators are now feeling unsupported. Why?

The child’s background

Let’s explore Isaac’s background. Every educator will have a little piece of information that builds a picture of a child. Imagine it’s like these ribbons. Each educator contributes a little to make up a better picture of the child.


Use the cards on the table to discover more about Isaac. Write what you have learnt.

The educators were having difficulties changing their beliefs and still thought Isaac needed to be held accountable for his actions.


As a table discuss how you feel about Isaac’s behaviour now you know more about his life story.


What do you think Isaac needs now from you?

Educators struggling to forgive and support

The educators are still struggling to see Isaac’s perspective and still believe outside help can magically fix the problem. The educators call early childhood intervention because they think they’ll be able to support educators with professional development resources and strategies to support all children.

Some educators were concerned that this was not going to help him learn to regulate his emotions and felt that they should have a meeting with his parents.

The educators secretly want the child expelled because life would be easier.

The educators want action taken against Isaac.

The educators believe that they are not supported because Isaac is not suspended or expelled.

The collective biography technique

A collective biography technique is used in psychology with a group of people who are struggling with an emotional concept or feeling that they can’t get past. For example, the group of educators here can’t embrace feelings of forgiveness. They want punishment because they see the broken window as a huge issue.

Steps for the collective biography technique.

Step 1

Identify an emotional response the group is struggling with.

Step 2

In an environment that is safe for the group ensure confidentially is maintained and ask them to write for 10 minutes about that emotion. You need the 10 minutes to really explore your internal thoughts and not just give superficial answers.

Step 3

Discuss your answers one at a time as a group.

Step 4

Reintroduce the problem the group is struggling with and ask if any of their beliefs are blocking them moving forward with the problem.

Case Study – collective biography technique

Jane (NS) and Rachel (community member and experienced Nominated Supervisor) held a meeting with educators Erin, Chris and Nina.

The collective biography technique required the educators to write about what they could not forgive personally in their life.

After writing for ten minutes the group discussed what they couldn’t forgive personally and then Rachel asked the group why they were having trouble forgiving Isaac?  Writing and talking about their personal life helped the educators process their relationships with Isaac

  • Nina revealed that she was finding it unfair to the other children that he was getting ‘special treatment’
  • Erin struggled with forgiving him after he had hit or kicked her
  • Chris stated she felt as though it made her look like she couldn’t do her job properly when he didn’t want to stay in the room and went to the office with Jane.

The meeting gave the educators a chance to express how they felt about what had happened.

The penny dropped

The educators started to see Isaac as a child who needs a lot of love, affection and stability at the centre because he was not receiving it at home.

Instead of feeling unforgiving, educators felt like they needed to help Isaac. Jane spoke about how providing this child with lots of love and affection will help him realise that he’s in a safe, secure space at the centre where he is loved and cared for.

The group discussed how hard it would be for a child to regulate their emotions when they are not feeling safe, secure or wanted. The group then talked about how it was hard for them when this child lashed out at them verbally of physically after they had shown him love and affection.

After further discussion, they came to realise that it will take a lot of time for Isaac to feel a strong sense of belonging. They could see how important it is to keep providing cuddles and affection, especially when he’s upset and angry, otherwise he will feel rejected.


Practice change from the collective biography technique

Rituals of welcoming the child

The educators imagined how Isaac may not be welcomed by his mother, stepfather and grandmother. They decided that Isaac needed to be welcomed in a big way to make sure he felt he belonged at the centre.

 When Isaac arrived, Nominated Supervisor Jane took him to all rooms to say good morning to all the children and educators. Every educator welcomed him and gave him a cuddle and said how glad they were to see him and have him here today. The child had a great day, with no meltdowns or outbursts.

 They continued with the technique of greeting the child the same way each day and further explored their feelings and how it might be affecting Isaac.

Understanding children’s behaviour

When children behave in certain ways, they are not being purposely difficult or disruptive. They are trying to express their needs in the best way they know. If we pause and ask ourselves

“What are you trying to tell me when you do this and what do you need from me?” Rather than “How am I going to make you stop?”

Children may, for example, be telling us they don’t know how to join in group play, that they’re fearful of a new situation, I need help sorting out these feelings, I don’t understand what is happening at home or simply that they’re hungry.

Young children cannot manage feelings on their own. They learn by ‘being with’ someone.

Educators were able to listen to Isaac

Educators were able to help Isaac express his feelings with time, empathy and support. Time means stopping and really listening to what Isaac had to say, not just rushing through a room and saying “that’s nice dear” as they kept walking. When we listen, we are saying “I can hear you, I understand you.”

Children can project their feelings onto us

This may appear a little weird at first. The process is called counter-transference and was initially written about by Freud when he noticed feeling the same way as his patients as they somehow transferred their feelings to him. This was further explored by other psychoanalysts in the 1950s and has developed into a process of assisting patients and clients of psychoanalysts.

Let me give you an example you will recognise. Imagine an educator comes into work and they’re going through a messy personal issue like a divorce.

Their emotional energy gets transferred over to the children and then the whole room is a mess, behaviour problems, off the air children, educator breaking down and crying and complete chaos. What has occurred is the educator has transferred her emotional state onto the children. Anyone who spends sometime in the room will begin to feel the same way as the children, as the educator’s feelings are transferred to them as well.

How can we use this technique?

When a child can’t talk because they are too angry, or having a meltdown, or has language that is difficult to understand, we can use this process to help understand what is happening. The child’s feelings will be transferred to us too.

Educators started to feel what Isaac was transferring to them and then they were able to support him emotionally. For example, on Thursday Isaac would be upset when he came into the centre. Educators knew he had been with his stepdad the day before and was feeling a sense of loss.  He loved his stepdad and wanted to spend more time with him. Educators started to work out strategies to help Isaac work through those feelings and they helped Isaac plan for future visits with his stepdad.


Educators were able to see things from a child’s perspective

When we see things from a child’s perspective we can offer empathetic comments like “I can see you’re feeling very upset today. Can I do something to make you feel better?”

Mistaken Goals Chart to help educators see children’s behaviour in a more empathetic way.


Undue Attention

(to keep others busy or to get special service)

Annoyed Irritated Worried




Doing things for the child he/she could do for him/herself

Stops temporarily, but later resumes same or another disturbing behaviour I count (belong) only when I’m being noticed or getting special service.                   I’m only important when I’m keeping you busy with me. Notice Me-Involve Me.

 Redirect by involving child in a useful task.

“I love you and _.” (Example: I care about you and will spend time with you later.)

Say it only once, then act.

Plan special time.

Set up routines.                               Take time for training.                          Use family/class meetings.               Touch without words.                               Set up non-verbal signals


(to be boss)


Provoked Challenged Threatened Defeated

Fighting             Giving in

Thinking “You can’t get away with it” or “I’ll make you”

Wanting to be right

Intensifies behaviour   Defiant compliance  Feels he/she’s won when parents/teachers are upset

Passive power

I belong only when I’m boss or in control, or proving no-one can boss me.                     “You can’t make me.” Let Me Help– —-Give Me Choices

Decide what you will do.

Let routines be the boss.

Get help from child to set reasonable and few limits.

Practice follow-through.

Redirect to positive power.

 Use family/class meetings.    Acknowledge that you can’t make him/her, and ask for his/her help. Offer a limited choice.           Withdraw from conflict and calm down.

Be firm and kind.

Act, don’t talk.

Revenge          (to get even) Hurt                    Disappointed Disbelieving Disgusted Retaliating- Getting even

Thinking “How could you do this to me?” Taking behaviour personally


Hurts others

Damages property                 Gets even

Escalates the same behaviour or chooses another weapon

I don’t think I belong so I’ll hurt others as I feel hurt.

I can’t be liked or loved.

Help Me-I’m Hurting.

Apologise.                                      Avoid punishment and retaliation                                        Show you care.                       Encourage strengths.                        Use family/ class meetings

Deal with the hurt feelings.             “Your behaviour tells me you must feel hurt. Can we talk about that?”  Use reflective listening.

Don’t take behaviour personally. Share your feelings.

Assumed Inadequacy (to give up and be left alone) Despair Hopeless Helpless Inadequate Giving up             Overhelping Showing discouragement Retreats further

No improvement

No response

I don’t believe I can so, I’ll convince others not to expect anything of me.  I am helpless and unable; it’s no use trying because I won’t do it right. Have Faith in Me——-Don’t

Give Up On Me.                     

Take time for training.

Take small steps. Make the task easier until the child experiences success.

Show faith.

Encourage any positive attempt, no matter how small.

Don’t give up.

Enjoy the child

Build on his/her interests. Encourage, encourage, encourage.

Use family/class meetings.



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