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Ministry of Education.

Approaches to promoting positive behaviour and learning in individual children

Ways of thinking

Great teachers and great teaching make a vital difference.

Children and young people will positively thrive when they know someone cares and believes in their success, when they know what is expected of them, when they are stimulated and challenged, and when they experience success – however big or small. 

Behaviour is neither "good" nor "bad". It serves a purpose and has a function because it pays off in some way. Behaviour is either weakened or reinforced by what happens after. 

If you want to support a child or young person to improve, you need to understand the relationship between the behaviour and its purpose.

  • Children and young people can be resilient and can do well despite adverse circumstances. Teachers can support resilience.
  • Children and young people need at least one competent and caring adult and opportunities to experience success.
  • Plenty of positive contact with individuals or groups of children and young people has a ripple effect.
    • It can significantly reduce challenging behaviour for up to 90% of children and young people.

Ways of working: Enquire, Plan, Inspire, Review


Base your interventions on observations and data you have gathered rather than just on intuition or experience.

Understand the purpose of a behaviour. Talk to staff, family and the child or young person

Observe the behaviour

  • Where and when does it occur?
  • How long does it go for?
  • How intense is the behaviour?
  • How often does it occur?
  • What events contribute to it (will most likely be outside the immediate environment)?


Hypothesise what is the child or young person trying to communicate. 

Clearly identify the replacement behaviours you would like to see, if these need to be taught, and how you will teach them.

Identify adjustments to the environment and systems – timing, people, places – that will reduce the likelihood of the behaviour.

Identify reinforcers for positive behaviour and responses if the unwanted behaviour continues.

Develop a crisis response plan if needed.

Plan opportunities for a child or young person to succeed and to practise wanted behaviours.


Be innovative and willing to experiment and do more.

Prevent the unwanted behaviours by addressing the events that contribute to them.

Actively teach and model the behaviours you would like to see. Reinforce expected behaviours with rewards, encouragement and praise appropriate to the child or young person.

Reduce unwanted behaviours with natural and logical consequences or responses. Remember to support, reinforce and work with a child’s strengths and the things they are good at.


Revisit your initial enquiries regularly to see what has changed.

Applaud both the adaptability of children and young people and celebrate their success, and the innovations and commitment of staff.

Make a big deal of it. Regularly tell parents, families, whānau, and communities of the achievements of children and young people.

Tips & tools

Information Sheets
Page on this site where you can download PDFs of 

  • Understanding child behaviour
  • Proactively preventing challenging behaviours
  • Process for assessing behaviour
  • Safety / behaviour plans

Early childhood

Early childhood teachers talk about their experiences using rewards, encouragement and praise.

Swings and Roundabouts article (PDF, 520 KB)

Useful reading

Tips on important aspects about understanding autism
Discover how you can effect change to empower autistic people on the AutismNZ website

Useful programmes

  • The Incredible Years – Parent programme provides parents with strategies to promote positive behaviours.
  • The Incredible Years – Teacher programme provides teachers with strategies to promote positive behaviours.

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