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Should We Drop "Challenging" in Behaviors?

Along with the Americans with Disabilities Act of the early 1990s came the concept of 'person-first' or 'child-first' language. In early childhood, we stopped staying the challenging or difficult child and started talking about the child with the challenging behavior. We want to see the child, first, in his or her wholeness with other factors, like a disability or a behavior as only part of who that child is but not what defines him.


That is a healthy approach as we support emotional development in young children. But many in early childhood now are advocating the dropping of the word challenging all together. Many contend that behavior is simply, behavior; a child using actions to communicate. In early childhood, our role is to guide and teach so the communication of a child can be most effective for her social and emotional development (and cognitive, language, physical).


I am very interested in this notion of dropping the descriptor. I helped write a curriculum called "Children and Challenging Behavior; Making Inclusion Work" so I understand about living in glass houses. But I think it is worth moving away from the negativity so many of our youngest population live with everyday, whether it is a red symbol that replaces the green one in a classroom, or a label on their actions that follows them from teacher to mom/dad at the end of the day.


You can all name what behaviors challenge you. Let's work on our settings, our interactions, our relationships so children can use less of these to tell us they are frightened, insecure, anxious, or angry. And when a child spits or swears, let's help them find a different behavior for next time. But let's do stop labeling them as one of our first steps in helping them feel safe and nurtured.


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