Leading and Caring for Children

Behavior Management Protocol

We don’t choose to start a formal protocol unless a behavior problem is difficult, really difficult, and nothing is working.

If you reached this page in sequence, you had to pass through many other ideas first. I put this topic last on the assumption that educators and parents, in fact all of us, have to do some personal work to be authentic, clarify our purpose, clearly communicate expectations, and be warmly accepting and caring, especially when we are upset. A challenging child is the perfect opportunity to show us our “Oops” where we have something to learn. Now you have arrived at the door of the Behavior Management Protocol where we address, in cooperation with others, those difficult problems that are not going away. We have to take a significantly different approach.


When I first began to work with young children in 1970, I volunteered at the Experimental Education Unit at the Haring Center of the University of Washington, which was dedicated to research, professional development, and services for children with disabilities. I encountered some of the toughest children I have seen, so I confidently feel I have been taught by the best.

This Behavior Management Protocol gathers together what I have learned in dealing with very hard behavior problems — the tough guys and gals. The protocol provides a logical sequence for a cooperative effort by those involved with a child to plan, document, reflect, and create effective conditions to help a child they all know. If you have difficult behavior challenges that drag on and on, and have been applying the lessons from the previous pages, this protocol is for you.

Pages Lie Ahead that are Not on a Menu

Nineteen pages open from this portal. Each page incrementally presents a system for involving all the managers (educators, staff, families) in investigation and problem-solving to arrive at a community-constructed plan for dealing with a child when nothing else is working. Links to those pages are at the bottom of the page.

There are no answers here. Rather, we agree to try this protocol as an agenda for considering all possible options to choose from and become able to implement with committed action.

Fair warning: this is lots of work—many meetings with all the people involved and continuous record keeping.

We arrive at having to use a protocol because the educators, staff, and families are at a loss. As a group it has been unsuccessful and finds itself emotionally drained. These deeply involved people been living with a child who continues destructive and counterproductive ways, over months or years, despite our best efforts to stop it. The problem is tough, without an apparent solution. These ingrained patterns can be as embarrassing as wetting the bed or as distressing as smearing feces or flooding the bathroom.

Time Passes Quickly

Truly, the worst problem is watching a young child harden non-productive habits in their most crucial early years, which when carried forward in life drastically limit their opportunities. So many experiences, adventures, and encounters will never have been in their lives..

I expect you have already worked on direct, honest communication and invested effort in growing a personal relationship of listening and care. Often tough behaviors simply go away when people have positive relationships with others. If they do not go away, a window of adaptive flexibility in the early childhood years closes fast. When we admit we are not moving fast enough, we turn to the Behavior Management Protocol, a streamlined way to change what we do. It’s not easy for all the managers to suddenly change their ways of behaving, but they must. No one else can do it.

Systematic Collaboration

The protocol is effective because the team has more ideas than each of us does alone. Building a cohesive team requires a clear, systematic way to optimize the group’s ability to see what they need to change and be committed to doing the changing. A managing protocol doesn’t change the child; it changes us.

Without a clear protocol, meetings often are not productive. Usually a discussion is dominated by opinions, not action.  Discussions can go round and round without making a decision on what to do.

The agenda of the protocol controls the sequence of topics and the discussion of specific alternatives based on facts, not opinions. The reality is addressed first, then conclusions drawn that provide a basis for a commitment among the managers. The protocol organizes an efficient, collaborative dialogue for discovering what works by constructing a common understanding, guiding members through a logical progression, and structuring the components of a final agreement.

Sequence of Topics

Before we step through the protocol I’d like to begin with a discussion of Language and Reality to distinguish objective facts and socially constructed meaning from opinion.

After that, these navigation through the sequence proceeds by clicking on the NEXT link in the blue box at the bottom of the page. I recommend following the blue link so things come up in a logical sequence.

In order to skip around this set of links enables access to the individual pages of the protocol.

That order above is fundamental to understanding the protocol agenda items. When all seven items are understood, the management team makes a decision using the form provided.

You can see the protocol at work in examples of three children: Sandy, Jeremy, and Charlie.

Before we start into the details, we examine the ways we talk about what’s happening: Language and Reality. We have to draw a few distinctions in order to have a common language for the work.

Next Language and Reality