Improving my Teaching Practice

Check in #1: responding to testing behaviors

Responding to testing behaviors
Responding to testing behaviors

Last week I posted about a new self talk strategy I’ve been trying out. If you haven’t read my post yet, check it out! Before I let you know how it’s been going, here is a little more information about where I got the phrase “limit, acknowledge, follow through” from.

Steps I Recommend

1. Clearly express the limit: “I don’t want you to (or “I can’t let you” or “I won’t let you”) scream right next to me while I’m putting the baby to bed.”

2. Acknowledge desires and feelings: “You want to stay here with us. You are having a hard time being quiet.”

An acknowledgement can also come before stating the limit, i.e. “You want to help me put the baby to bed. I can’t let you make noise in here while she goes to sleep.”

3. Follow through: Be prepared to take action — our words are seldom enough to ease testing. “I’m going to insist you wait outside the room. I’m going to walk you out. I’ll be there with you in a few minutes.”

Following through might mean holding your child’s hands as she tries to hit, removing an unsafe object from her hands, putting toys or objects away, moving your child out of a situation in which she’s stuck testing.

If you hear yourself stating the limit a second time, you are probably waiting too long to follow through and help your child follow your direction.

(Lansbury-Don’t leave a testing toddler hanging)

So as you can tell I just shorted these great steps that Janet Lansbury gave into a phrase I could remember.

It went pretty well during the first part of the week. I think  that is because we had a very small class but anyone who’s been around toddlers knows it can be tricky caring for one. I had several moments where I had to give out a big “uuuggghhhh” before responding to a child. This is not something I’m proud of. I can’t even image what it feels like to the child when they hear me. It happens out of impulse and I know that for me, it lets a little of the frustration out. Thursday and Friday did not feel great for me. There were other things happening outside of work that really affected me and I know this affected how I responded to testing behaviors. Over all, I’m not really pleased with how I responded to testing behaviors this week. The first part of the week I felt great about how I responded, not so much with the last two days.

Here are a few things that I have learned/am wondering about from this week:

  1. How do I really leave my feelings at the door? This is always talked about in the courses I took or at the conferences I’ve been too. As teachers we have to leave our outside drama at the door so we can be present and focused on the children. I’m not great at this and it really affected me on Thursday and Friday. I don’t want it to happen anymore. Any suggestions of what to do? I know sometimes it helps if I talk about it but then other times talking about it just gets me all emotional. Has anyone figured out a good balance that works for them? I’d like to give it a try!
  2. If I need a breath or a moment away, I need to take it. I discovered this when I was going to change a diaper. I put the child on the changing table and the child started rolling right away. I explained that I needed to change their diaper; the child had a bowel movement so I told them “it’s easier for me to clean your bottom if you lay down”. I try to respect a child and how they would like to move on the changing table, I can and will change a diaper when a child is in pretty much any position other than sitting, but this change was different. Before I started anything, I picked the child up off the table and told them I need to change your diaper. I tried laying them down again and there was more protest so I picked them up for the second time and put them on the floor next to the changing table. I squatted down in front of the child, took a deep breath and made eye contact with them. The child was staring back at me and I knew that taking this moment was well needed. I told the child “it’s time to change your diaper now” I picked them up and the diaper change went on without a protest. I honestly don’t think the child was ready for a diaper change the first time I tried which I wish I had picked up on earlier. I’m glad I did take a moment to breathe because it felt like the child needed a moment also.
  3. I’m wondering where the balance is between slowing down but responding quickly enough. So I discovered that “limit, acknowledge, follow through” (for me) all combine together and that they were not separate steps. I might say “I see you want to taste that flower. I’m not going to let you put it in your mouth” while moving the flower out of the child’s mouth (we had flowers in our sensory table one day). I would really like to tell the child “I see you want to taste that flower, I’m not going to let you put it in your mouth” then pause and see if the child takes it out and if they don’t, say “I’m going to help you take the flower out” before I move the child’s hand. In the moment this seems to be too many words for me. Is it because I’m feeling like I have to move faster than I really should be?
  4. Repeated behaviors REALLY push my buttons. I know that having to repeat myself over and over again will start to drive me crazy and I’m sure it doesn’t feel great to the children. So it makes me wonder if I’m choosing the right way to follow through. Let’s continue with the above example about a child putting the flowers from the sensory table in their mouth. I did have to repeat this several times and help the child take the flower out of their mouth. I think what I should have done was closed the table the second time I had to repeat the limit. I know that part how toddlers explore is to put things in their mouths, so may a “rule” for the sensory table is: if it’s not okay to go in their mouth it doesn’t go in the sensory table. I don’t like the idea of putting these types of experience away or not providing them but what kind of experience is it if all the children hear is “I don’t want you to put that in your mouth” over and over and over again?
  5. It depends…. One thing I will never forget from the RIE foundations course is that it always depends. How we respond to a child, how we help them, how we state limits or follow through depends on the child and the situation. I was talking recently with a co-worker and we were discussing how there is no formula when working with children. A+B does not always = the same response in every child or situation. It’s important to keep this in mind when responding to testing behaviors. Each child and situation will need to be addressed in a different way to be the most helpful for the teacher and the child. How do we figure out what way is the best for each child and each situation? I believe it’s through practice.



Lansbury, Janet. “Don’t leave a testing toddler hanging.” . N.p., 1 Jan. 2014. Web. 1 Jan. 2014. <>.

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