the guidance approach by porter

“We cannot punish a child for making mistakes. To do so would be to punish them for being children.”
-Jayne Mallin

Jayne Mallin
Jayne Mallin is a home-based early childhood coordinator and educational consultant in New Zealand

Recently Educa hosted a webinar entitled Positive Responses to Children’s Behavior – an outline of Guidance Approach in early childhood education by Jayne Mallin, a New Zealand based educator and home-based early childhood centre coordinator.



Here are the main ideas presented.

What is the Guidance Approach?

A few years ago at an educational conference, Jayne Mallin met Lousie Porter, the renowned scholar of Guidance Approach in early childhood education. At the time, Jayne was on a journey to find the best ways for adults to empower children when reacting to negative behavior. As a successful early childhood coordinator, Jane knew that educators often struggle with behavior management in young children.

For fifty years, psychologists have been comparing the Guidance Approach with other behavioral management techniques. It is clear from both discourse and practice, that the Guidance Approach works well with young children.

A Guidance Approach to behavior is not about punishment. Using guidance, educators see children as novices who learn social skills and self-control as they develop. In this approach, the adult is a coach who supports children in their development and their emerging ability to make thoughtful choices.

Inherent in this approach is the concept that children naturally learn responsibility and prosocial behaviors by living and working with others. An important theory underpinning this approach is the Humanistic Theory by Carl Rogers. Rogers believed that all humans have equal moral worth regardless of age.

Discipline is traditionally defined as training that is expected to produce a specific character or pattern of behavior, toward moral improvement.
This concept of discipline implies that children are naturally prone to disruptive behavior and that this behavior should be corrected. In a Guidance Approach, behavior is seen through the lens of solution-based theory vs. a focus on negative behavior. The role of educator is to support the skills and positive strategies young children already have, eg. when a child could have behaved poorly but showed restraint.

Seeing Learning Using the Guidance Approach

Solving the mystery of why a child is behaving poorly can be quite difficult. If a teacher is not sure why a child is “acting out” they are often prone to assumptions.

Parents assign meaning to children’s behavior in personal ways as well. “He’s doing this because he knows I am tired and overworked,” or “she always behaves poorly in public” are common assumptions made by parents.

In reality, children do not have the emotional intelligence to “do these things to us.” Children well into their teens cannot manage their emotions.

Using a Guidance Approach, educators and parents must assume that their response is related to how they think about the event.

This approach is not new. Jean Piaget outlined how perception guides response.

The Image of the Naughty Child

Adults unwittingly uphold the image of the ‘naughty child” when analyzing child behavior.<

Examples of assumptions include that the child needs attention, is naughty, unreasonable, or demanding.

Pervasive images of the naughty child guide our interactions and lead us to believe that specific disruptive behaviors need to be controlled through punitive measures.

Punishments are extrinsic and do not support intrinsic values. Therefore, children do not need rewards and punishments to change behavior, they need skills.

In the Guidance Approach, Louise Porter suggests focusing on the child vs. the negative behavior.

Behavior vs. Development

From a controlling perspective, children’s mistakes are behavioral errors. Their errors are deliberate and they should be punished. Children should “obey limits.”

From a developmental perspective, errors are accidental. Children need to explore and learn. And while some children do need additional support, errors are inevitable.

When a child displays emotions through less-than-desired behaviors, a Guidance Approach asks us to consider the following:

  • Are my expectations realistic for this stage of development?
  • Am I looking at this from their perspective
  • Am I showing empathy and understanding for their situation/point of view?
  • When I want them to do something, am I using language they can easily understand?
  • Am I supporting them and modeling appropriate ways to handle conflict?
  • Have I asked them what they need from me for support?
“It is possible to respect feelings while addressing behavior” -Jayne Mallin

Also important is acceptance that children are in the process of learning appropriate behavior. We need to respect how they feel as we guide them. It is possible to respect feelings while addressing behavior.

A supportive relationship between adult and child is the most critical component of the Guidance Approach. Adults must continue to learn and model appropriate expression of their feelings. It is also important to remember that what may work for one group of children may not for another group.

“Adults must continue to learn as they teach.”
-Jayne Mallin

Understanding the “why” is crucial when unpacking a child’s behavior. Behavior is a label, or what we see on the surface. In an iceberg analogy, we understand that the behavior is simply the tip of the iceberg. Below the surface children grapple with security, self-esteem, attachment, and anger, to name a few.

Jayne urges educators to ask: What motivates this child’s behavior? What learning could be happening here?

Basic Human Need: Building Relationships

In humans, the need to communicate and build relationships underpins all behaviors. Next time you encounter a child behaving poorly, ask “Is he trying to communicate? Or is she trying to build a relationship?”

By categorizing all negative behaviors into these two categories, the educator can start from a place of guidance.

Positive Responses to Children’s Behavior:

  • Show warmth– be kind, sensitive and flexible. We do not have to accept a child’s behavior, but we can show empathy
  • Create harmony– Engage children in cooperative decisions through self-assertion, negotiation and explanation.
  • Provide clear expectations– Emphasize prevention rather than intervention by maintaining clear expectations of a child’s behavior.
  • Role model considerate behavior– We all model basic manners, but how often do we model reasoning and negotiation?
  • Lead- Understand that children are capable of learning as well as being led. Rather like an orchestra, the conductor faces musicians who are experts in their instruments, but also has some expertise to guide them.

Building Blocks of Guidance-Based Approach:

Be positive- focus on “do,” as opposed to “don’t.”

“We cannot punish a child for making mistakes. To do so would be to punish them for being children.” -Jayne Mallin

Preserve a child’s feeling of being capable- rather than clean up a spill they made, empower them to clean the spill themselves.
Offer children choices only when you are willing to abide by their decisions.
Consider changing the environment vs. a child’s behavior. Often there are simple fixes in a child’s physical setting that will alleviate stress.

Give children safe limits they can understand. Children view the world differently. Rules need to be explained clearly. Parents often say “my child is constantly testing my boundaries.” While this may be true, understand that the child could  be trying to learn about your expectations.

Speak and act in ways you want children to speak and act. If you make a mistake, apologize and be honest.

Look at the whole picture. A child’s behavior is often related to stress in the family. It is important to take the time to be with children emotionally as well as physically.

“We cannot punish a child for making mistakes. To do so would be to punish them for being children.”
-Jayne Mallin

Jayne Mallin is a speaker and educational coordinator in New Zealand.

Check out part II of Jayne’s webinar series on the Guidance Approach in early childhood education here.

One Comment

  1. Little Graces

    Early childhood care is not an easy task.Dealing with toddlers and providing them the best education and training is very important. For this you must be well certifies and trained otherwise process will turn to a headache. Chilcare centres only hire those teachers who are well-versed in their work and are comfortable around toddlers. Thanks for sharing this wonderful information.

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