Observation Builds Your Action Plan

I learned about “Respectful observation” in past trainings and found it matched well with my philosophy about how children learn and we can best support their development. “Respectful observation” reflects the belief that young children’s behaviors have purpose and meaning. If we see young children as having goals and intentions then it makes sense that we must attend to those behaviors as we work to support a child’s development. Here are some questions to be thinking about while observing:

  • Why does this child do what he does?
  • What is he trying to communicate or accomplish?
  • How should I respond to support this child?

Observation is the tool by which we can find answers to these questions, beyond what a child directly can verbalize to us. It provides opportunities to take a moment to determine a child’s goal or intention before responding. Observing from a respectful point of view helps us discoveries who child are as individuals, how they respond to other children and adults, what tasks are easy or hard for them, and how they convey wants and needs. This knowledge allows us to be responsive to each child’s interests and needs. It supports our efforts to develop action plans around challenging behaviors.

Answering the question-What motivates children?- becomes particularly important when behavior is challenging. You are looking for a pattern that provides the reason or goal behind the behavior.

  • Infants’ and toddlers’ language skills are just developing, so their primary mode of communication is behavior. Even when they begin using words or sign language, their vocabulary for expressing themselves is still limited.
  • They may be teething.
  • They may want a toy that another child has.
  • They may be hungry, tired, or even excited and happy.
  • They may just want to know what an arm tastes or feels like in their mouth.
  • They may be fascinated by the “cause-and-effect” reaction that follows after biting.

“Responsive Observation” has three steps:

  • Watch
    • Observe the child.
    • Note what is happening, what causes the behavior, and what happens after the behavior occurs.
  • Ask
    • What does the behavior mean to the child? Family? Staff? Others?
  • Adapt
    • Decide what causes the child’s behavior and identify possible responses.
    • Try out one of the responses.
    • Watch the child’s reactions to see if a different response is needed.

Health and Safety Action Plan sample from ECELS:


Go back to the Home page of the Biting training to access the Reflection Form.