Home Daycare How-To: Discipline

We’ve all been there: Little Hunter is playing happily until Colin walks over and grabs his toy.  Hunter winds up and socks Colin in the arm.  Or bites him.  Or kicks him.

Or you’ve told Mary for the 14th time to put her shoes on and she just keeps playing.  You’ve got a handful of other children to get ready for Outdoor Time, so what do you do?

Having a structured plan for discipline is essential to running a home daycare, because it will come up … possibly many times each day.  It’s wise to have your plan in place so that you’ll know what to do when the frustration starts to set it (and it will from time to time).  You’ll be able to respond rather than react, and Hunter, Colin and Mary will know exactly what to expect too.

Here’s what worked for me:

Remind Children of The Rules:

Children were constantly reminded of the rules in fun ways and always with a smile.  The biggest one was “Listen to Megan’s words and do as she says”, because that covers most things.  The next biggest was “Hands Off” or “Hands To Ourselves”.  Because I have two boys of my own and have learned from experience, I didn’t let the daycare kids hug one another either — hugging always leads to falling which always leads to wrestling which always leads to getting hurt.  They were welcome to come to me for a hug anytime however!

By the same token, when someone was doing a great job of following the rules, I made sure to recognize them for it with verbal praise, high fives, and hugs and kisses.

When A Rule Is Broken, Give A Warning and State The Consequence:

In general, children attending daycare are very young and often won’t remember on their own that they’ve broken the rules.  When Mary is dawdling, I would remind her: “Mary, remember: We need to listen to Megan’s words and do as she says.  If you don’t come put your shoes on, I will have to help you.”

Often the “threat” of helping a toddler or preschooler do something is enough to get them moving.  Or if the child is not getting along with others, a better consequence might be having to play alone or depending on the age and situation, a time out.

If the child is doing something that might hurt themselves or others, you need to remove them from the situation without a warning.

Follow Through On The Consequence:

Do what you’ve already told the child you’d do.  But don’t do it before you’ve warned the child unless there is a danger involved.

This is the time when I would get down on eye level, explain what they did wrong and what the consequence is: “Johnny, you were hitting Mary.  At Megan’s house, we are Hand’s Off.  You will have a time out (or whatever consequence) because you broke the rule.”

Enforce the Consequence:

If the consequence is a time out, you’ll need to make sure you’re supervising the child the entire time while watching the rest of the children.  Our time out spot was the bottom step, where I could sit with the child if needed, while still keeping an eye on everyone else.  Your time out spot may just be the patch of carpet next to you, a chair, or some other area.  The important thing is that the child is never alone, and that you are able to supervise all of the children at the same time.

Some children may sit for time out, but others may resist it.  Just keep returning the child to time out until their time limit is done.  Time out should be about one minute for each year of age, but use your judgement for the individual child.  Set a timer because it’s easy to lose track of time.

If the consequence is the loss of a privilege, make sure to follow through on that as well.  Children need to know that they can trust what you say.

Let The Parents Know:

I recorded each time out and the reason for it on the child’s daily report.  This way the parents were aware of any ongoing concerns.

When Behaviour Becomes An Issue:

With children, there’s always the chance that behaviour will escalate and become unsafe for the other children or for you.  If a child is becoming too dangerous, is hurting other children on a constant basis, or is starting to push you towards anger and frustration, it may be time to let the child go.

You need to weigh the advantages of keeping a child in that position (which usually comes down to income) against the disadvantages (the possibility of you losing your cool, or starting to hate your job, and the chances of other children being hurt and families leaving you).

When in doubt, rather than stressing about it for months on end,  I’ve found it’s better to just let that child’s family know that you can no longer provide the type of care that they need, and give a final date of at least two weeks away.  But do keep in mind that many families will stop bringing their child at all, and you may lose two weeks worth of income.

Rules For Home Daycare Providers:

As the adult in situations that can often be trying and very challenging, here are the rules that YOU need to abide by:

NEVER physically discipline a child.

NEVER verbally demean a child.

NEVER leave a child where they can’t be supervised.

NEVER leave a child behind a locked door.

ALWAYS take a time out for yourself if you need it.  If you feel your emotions getting the best of you, put the kids in front of the  TV for a couple of minutes, get out the Play Doh for the kids, or give everyone an extra snack while you take a few minutes to collect yourself.  NEVER put yourself in a position where you may regret your words or actions.

Next Time: We’ll look at ways to head off challenging behaviours before they even start!


What’s your advice for dealing with discipline in a home daycare situation? 

Have you ever had a child that was disciplined inappropriately at daycare?


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