Managing behavioural expectations in the early years at Christmas

Tinsel, nativities and just a little too much glitter: Christmas time the early years can be the best – and worst – of times. I’m here to give you some practical support in managing behavioural expectations in the Early Years (and any other classroom!) at Christmas!

If you have been in the game for a while, you will know that during the festive period the excitement and sometimes lack of a consistent routine can play havoc with usual behaviour management systems and leave you ready to reach for the mulled wine before the end of term!

So, how can we best manage behavioural expectations in the Early Years at Christmas and tackle these sometimes challenging circumstances without feeling like Scrooge?

Messy Play at Christmas
Let’s get messy with Christmas Craft!

Here are my top tips for managing behavioural expectations in the early years during the Christmas period.

 Stick to a routine (the best you can)

We all know that December in schools and nurseries can include some not-so-normal activities such as visits from the big man himself (that’s Santa, not OFSTED… I hope!), nativities and Christmas parties but what about the rest of the time?

Of course, you’ll want to include plenty of Christmas themed fun in the everyday but keeping the structure of the day familiar for children will really support behavioural management systems.  Snack times, outdoor times, story – whatever else is usually in the routine, keep in as best you can.

Children following the behavioural expectations set in the Early Years
Hands Up if you’re trying not to eat a whole advent calendar on day 2?!

Give your little ones the heads up

It can feel tempting to surprise your children with Christmas fun but the truth is that many children can feel anxious about big changes to their usual environment or routine so it’s best to keep ‘big reveals’ or surprise activities to a minimum.

Use a visual timetable, pictures to support understanding and share stories related to the experiences around Christmas to help children explore their feelings and put their minds at ease during this hectic time.

A visual timetable in an Early Years classroom to help manage behavioural expectations
A Visual Timetable can help everyone cope with routine changes

Providing children with the security blanket of predictability and routine will reinforce the behaviour structures you’ve worked so hard to put into place and support your children with the unavoidable changes that will come in December. You’ll be surprised what a difference this makes to managing the behavioural expectations of the Early Years at Christmas.

Be aware of your own triggers

Not only can Christmas be an overwhelming time for children, many adults can have feelings of overwhelm during this time.  A change in routine, environment, energy levels and needing to ‘get things done’ can leave us all short on patience and ready for a long hot bath at the end of the day!

Although we fight it, this can lead to us to either getting to the end of our tether quicker or we let more things go, in order to maintain the peace and calm. 

It can be tricky, but try and stay self-aware more than ever during this time.  Check in with yourself regularly throughout the day and perhaps lower your own expectations of what will get done in a session slightly, to compensate for the changes in energy within the classroom.

Above all, remain as consistent as possible with your current behaviour management systems and fight the urge to be harsher or more lenient at this tricky time.  Both children and adults will ultimately come off better if they know where they stand and what is expected.

Teacher takes time to deal with feelings of overwhelm at Christmas
Teachers can quickly feel overwhelmed! Self care is important too so take some time out

Recognise emotional needs

Of course, in our settings, we are constantly aware of the social and emotional needs of the children in our care.  However, during the Christmas period, there might be a slight change with some children.

Consider the finically and emotional pressure that some families are facing during this time and the ways in which this might impact on the children.  Perhaps later nights, less food on the table, arguments between care-givers. 

Two children providing emotional and behavioural support to each other at Christmas
Some children will need emotional support from you- recognise their needs too

Changes in the home-setting will directly impact behaviours in school and as early years practitioners, we need to ensure we are very finely tuned into this and any possible triggers.  If you are worried about specific behaviours or if a child’s behaviour is significantly different during the festive period, reach out to the parents to explore this further.  Of course, if you have any safe-guarding concerns, then always report these to your safe-guarding officer in your setting immediately.

Christmas is a magical time and the children in your setting will be excited, overstimulated, tired, happy and cranky all at the same time!   This, after all, is part of the joy of teaching – no two days, or seasons are the same.

Managing the behavioural expectations can feel like an uphill battle sometimes over the Christmas period, but remember to stay consistent and trust in the foundations you have set earlier in the year.

From Is It Time to Play, I wish you a very happy Christmas and I hope you have a wonderful December with your little ones and well-deserved break over the festive period!

When you are ready to pick up the planning for January, I will be here!

Here are some of my favourite resources to help you in your preparation for 2024

  1. Continuous Provision Planning – A planning document which details the skills, key vocabulary and levelled resources throughout the environment. This planning will help you to plan and provide effective teaching and learning opportunities throughout the provision. Suitable for nursery, reception and key stage one classes
  2. Phase One Phonics Planning – This bundle of resources, planning, assessment and activity guides is designed to support Early Years Practitioners working in Nursery/ Preschool and early Reception in their phase one phonics planning and enables them to deliver high quality Phase One Phonics sessions easily.
  3. Medium Term Planning – A range of MTPs to support you in planning the new term! If you don’t see the theme you need listed pop me a message- I’m happy to help!

Emma xx