Dear Stacey, There's a child in my class whose behavior is changing the climate in the classroom. Shawnie is an active 3-year-old with a twinkle in her eye. But she goes from one area to another teasing and taunting the other children. I've talked to her about hurting others' feelings, but it hasn't helped. I know there's a reason she's acting this way, but I'm not sure what it is - or what I should do. - Anthony
Dear Anthony, You're right that there's a reason Shawnie is behaving this way - teasing can be a sign of many things. It can mean that the child needs attention, is expressing independence, feels bored, is trying (misguidedly) to make friends, or is frustrated. In other cases, taunting is a form of verbal aggression. Here are some ways to help Shawnie stop teasing others.
Don't reinforce the behavior. If Shawnie is teasing and taunting children to get attention, it's probably working. Respond to the name-calling by standing between her and the child she's teasing. Then gently take the other child to a different area and engage him in play. Of course, violent behavior has to be addressed but silly words are best ignored.
Give Shawnie as much positive attention as possible. Try to ignore her when she teases - but not when she doesn't. Play with her, modeling how to engage with other children and interact in a friendly and cooperative way.
Reduce boredom and frustration in the classroom. Evaluate your environment and daily routine. Do you have a variety of materials available? Do the activities match children's developmental stages? Try to have materials for a range of levels so children can choose to either challenge themselves or do things they know they're good at.
Teach Shawnie to redirect and control her aggression. While it's hard for threes to do this, try to give Shawnie acceptable ways to express her anger. Select a particular activity to involve Shawnie in when she shows aggression toward other children - if you take her to the sand table every time she gets angry, she may learn to do this herself.