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How do you manage challenging behaviour?

Trying to understand 'The Terrible Two's'


This is really a rather unfair description of this most wonderful time in a child's life, but two-year-olds do take a bit of understanding and need treating with great care.


What's going on at this age?


For parent and child, this particular period in life is often filled with shared emotional extremes like wonder, amazement and sometimes extreme frustration and confusion.


During this year it is likely your child will really begin to talk, become more physically able and want to begin doing things for themselves. However, their communication and physical skills are still in development so they can’t always make themselves properly understood or manage tasks they set out to do; even when they are determined. Most do not yet have the social skills to manage turn-taking, sharing or waiting and they still tire easily. This is a potent mix for child and parent and the root cause of those emotional eruptions that two-year-olds are famous for. It is also what Nurture Nursery is here to help with.


Our approach to supporting children's behaviour



Nurture Nursery is specifically organised to allow the children as much freedom as possible, whilst also keeping them safe. All our activities and resources are selected carefully to be appropriately challenging and to encourage independence and confidence. We call it our ‘yes’ environment and endeavour to keep reasons to say ‘no’ to the children to a minimum and only for the most important moments. For example, they can touch everything in Nurture Nursery, look in all the drawers and take most toys in and out to the garden. This helps everyone relax and encourages ideas, exploration and thinking skills. However, the children are not allowed to bring the bikes inside - this is a clear and simple boundary which they soon understand. Keeping things simple minimises frustration levels and helps us keep our focus on play and supporting the children in any challenging situations or moments of need.


Our staff are experienced in spotting potential ‘flash points’ and supporting the fluctuating emotions and well-being of this particular age group. We endeavour to get to know each child and their family as well as we can. We have a sound understanding of child development so we can ensure our expectations are appropriate and may differ from child to child. Our staff will always respond with kindness, understanding and care.


We make every possible effort to keep children safe together at Nurture Nursery. When upsets occasionally happen (and it is occasional) it is usually as a result of two-year-old frustration or by mistake.


Things we adults should keep in mind:


  • Being with other children, without Mum or Dad, can present situations that little ones have not experienced before. Their social skills can really benefit and begin to develop within these new situations, but they aren't challenge free. This is where our staff's experience is so vital.


  • Two -year-olds are excitable and their behaviour can sometimes be quite dramatic. They may do things which have consequences they weren’t expecting. In the heat of the moment, two-year-olds don’t always understand that their actions could hurt someone or break something - like throwing or hitting out in frustration, and yes, extremely rarely, but just occasionally biting. Even the loveliest child can resort to this if they find themselves in a real fix - not just two-year-olds! We always handle this occasional issue very carefully, if it ever arises. It can be very upsetting for all the children and all the parents involved, but we will always help you and your children. 


  • Behaviour is a form of communication - at this age ‘negative’ behaviour usually occurs because children have met a problem they don’t have the skills to solve yet. Their emotions have overwhelmed them.


  • Learning those skills and how to manage their emotions effectively can take a little time and lots of patience. We are very good at helping with this.


  • Some of the most dramatic behaviour can come from a place of fear or anxiety, not necessarily anger, even if that’s what it looks like.


  • It is important we all show understanding and empathy in these highly charged moments. Shaming children can be very damaging.


  • Distressed children may well need time to calm and contain their high emotions before they are able to listen to us. They may want some time by themselves or need care and support from an adult to help them do that. We never use 'Time Out' or the 'Naughty Step' with young children. It is at these moments they most need our care, understanding and most of all to feel safe again. 


  • We try and understand why that behaviour is happening? What ‘need’ is the child struggling with? We may well need your help to do this.


  • When we understand what a child is struggling with we can help them meet that need and gently teach them how to manage it for themselves.


  • We adults must model managing our own feelings well if we expect very young children to learn to do the same.


Please be understanding. There are so many reasons for young children's behaviours. We have many families at nursery, all with differing views, experiences and challenges. These very young children only know what they have experienced in their brief twenty-four months in this world. They are all learning and for many reasons, often unseen reasons, some children can find handling their emotions much more difficult than others.


What happens if one child hurts another at Nurture Nursery? 


If one child hurts another both children will be cared for.


We truly understand how upsetting it is for a child to be hurt at nursery when their family isn't there. Please be assured that we will make certain your child receives all the loving care, attention and comfort they need. If we have any concerns beyond that we will contact you immediately, and we will always tell you if something happens involving your child.


It can be shocking for a young child to have hurt someone else in their moment of blind frustration or when doing something that has gone wrong. We all make mistakes and get things wrong. We need to be very gentle and understand this young child’s feelings too. Then we can help them begin to understand what to do to manage this problem next time.


We should also bear in mind that sometimes their reactions may have been in response to what the other child was doing, like snatching a toy or overwhelming them. All children have things to learn and it is not always obvious where the issues may have started, so please try to be understanding.


If a child has persistent difficulties in managing their emotions, we will always work with parents to resolve those issues.


By far, the greatest part of children's time spent in Nurture Nursery is full of wonderful fun and laughter. It is a great place to be two.