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Perspective | Offering supportive responses for children’s challenging behaviors

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This Perspective was originally published as a blog post for the North Carolina Early Childhood Foundation on October 26, 2023.

High rates of exclusion from early care and learning environments is the result of policy in(action) and can be reduced when legislators provide expectations and guidance for how early childhood educators respond to young children’s behavior. Policy makers who write the laws and guidelines that govern how early care and learning programs operate are in a unique position to interrupt the epidemic of exclusion for our youngest learners

By understanding evidence-based principles that guide best practices for the social and emotional development of preschoolers, policy makers can effectively write legislation that sets expectations for early educators to use developmentally appropriate responses with young children who exhibit challenging behaviors. 

The importance of preventing exclusion in early care and preschool settings is not to be understated: educators’ use of suspensions and expulsions puts young children at up to 10 times the average risk for high school pushout, grade retention, and incarceration. Children who are expelled or suspended from their preschools are often those most in need of support from their educators because they are more likely than their classmates to experience multiple intersecting types of adversity — including poverty and racial discrimination. 

Resources to empower educators

To ensure that these children receive developmentally appropriate support to cope with adversity and flourish, we can create policies that restrict or prohibit the use of exclusionary discipline, while also equipping educators with social and emotional support strategies to respond to the full range of young children’s behavior challenges. 

Read the full brief here. And visit our End Early Learning Exclusion page for more resources. 

These policy and practice briefs are highlighting the need for improvements in early care and learning environments; however, the recommendations have broad applicability across preschool to 12th grade learning contexts. 

Keep in touch with NCECF

Visit the info page to learn more about the Pathways Action Map and consider adding your work! Share it with others in your network and community, whose work you think should be spotlighted. We want to utilize the Map as a resource to build awareness of innovation, make connections, and identify gaps and opportunities that can help guide policy making, advocacy, funding, and capacity building.

If you have any questions, or would like a guided tour of the Pathways Action Map, please contact us. We’d love to hear your ideas on how to continue to utilize this tool to support the success of all North Carolina children.

The NC Early Childhood Foundation is driven by a bold — and achievable — vision: Each North Carolina child has a strong foundation for life-long health, education, and well-being supported by a comprehensive, equitable birth-to-eight ecosystem. We build understanding, lead collaboration, and advance policies to ensure each North Carolina child is on track for lifelong success by the end of third grade.

Micere Keels

Micere Keels is the Policy and Practice Leader for NCECF, an Associate Professor at the University of Chicago, and the Founding Director of the Trauma Responsive Educational Practices Project (TREP Project). For over two decades, Dr. Keels has worked to integrate mental health promotion interventions into educational systems and structures, from early childhood centers to high schools. Dr. Keels holds a Bachelor’s degree in Psychological Sciences from University of Alberta, Master’s degree in Clinical Psychology from Purdue University, and Doctorate in Human Development and Social Policy from Northwestern University.