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  • Writer's pictureRaelene Ostberg, M.Ed.

Tips to Reduce Developmentally-Inspired Challenging Behaviors

Updated: Jan 30

Right around three-years-old, a set of unwelcome challenging behaviors arise:

*Refusing and resisting adult's direction.

I remember back so clearly... we were late and trying to get out the door, and my daughter was dawdling - moving ever so slowly while putting on her shoes. I said, "Come on, hurry up! We have to go!"

And... She moved SLOWER.

My frustration went through the roof!

Thankfully, in the M.Ed. program at the University of Minnesota, I learned one major driver for this and other control-seeking behaviors. According to Erik Erikson's theory on development, this age group is driven by newly discovered sense of initiative: the ability to assess and initiate things independently. Preschoolers start to experience an overwhelming desire to control things, especially to their own pace, play, and expanding world. They have a strong desire to take control and be in charge of their environment.

During session one of Preventing Challenging Behaviors, we consider some of the challenges driven by this stage (and then brainstorm what adults do about it).

Children aged 3-5 years, have a set of challenging behaviors that result from this stage of development. You may start to see them

In order to avoid these developmentally-inspired challenges, savvy early childhood educators in our webinar series recommended giving power and control when you can. To increase success (and prevent challenging behaviors):

  • Create open areas in your lesson plans, involve the children in the deciding which activities to do, and incorporate their ideas and interests in the topics covered. The results will likely be an increase in engagement during circle and activity times, and a decrease in resistance!

  • Be willing to change or modify the plan when children express desired activities. Does a child suggest a playground game? If so, be ready to jump in with zest and enthusiasm! This simple modification helps the child feel a sense of control and diminishes their need to exert power in other more challenging areas.

  • Utilize the child's skills to develop the sense of purpose they feel. Provide them a list of jobs and letting them choose which they will do. Allow them to help out, even providing care and assistance to younger children. The great sense of initiative and utility the child feels will reduce the need to act out to get attention and feel valued.

  • Slow down things and leave enough time.

Can you imagine if someone was following you around telling you to "hurry up"? Every time we redirect and direct, we take away from their sense of being in charge of their world. This can create friction between the adult and preschooler and increase tension and negative behaviors. It is best to avoid this when possible and set a positive tone.

The wonderful thing about this stage of development is, preschoolers really can help educators with day-to-day tasks and use their imagination to make life much more interesting and rewarding for all. According to Erikson, these youngsters are developing the virtue of purpose. When fully developed, this can lead to a wonderfully resourceful individual who can solve problems and help others, including the educators who care for them. It is worth the effort to consider where and how these youngsters can take initiative. It will reduce dreaded power struggles with these development-matching techniques!

We love having the continued opportunity to learn together and hope you can join us for this transformative series packed with 100+ strategies to prevent and work with challenging behaviors!

Thank you for reading this blog. Make sure to like this blog if you would like to keep us making them.

We truly are more together! Raelene Ostberg, MEd

Early Childhood Specialist and Lifelong Learner To view a list of currently offered live webinars and self-paced learning opportunities with Raelene, visit

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