5 Ways to Decrease Expulsion Rates in Your Preschool

The term expulsion is often used in school settings these days. But not in high schools or even elementary schools.

Expulsion rates are climbing in early childhood environments. In fact, the Yale University Child Study Center showed pre-kindergartens are more than 3x likely to be expelled than K-5 children. And more than 140,000 kindergarten students were held back in 2011-2012 nationwide.

While expulsion is the most severe disciplinary sanction, its effectiveness at decreasing future challenging behaviors is not supported by research, according to a policy brief by the Foundation for Child Development.

Decreasing expulsion rates in preschools can help children succeed in elementary school, reduce stress and turnover for staff, and improve the quality of early childhood programs.

While there’s no quick fix to this problem, there are a few ways you can improve how your preschool addresses challenging behaviors in the classroom.

It takes time and commitment, but employing a systematic approach to providing social-emotional support to your students can eventually help you decrease expulsion rates in your preschool. Below are 5 ways to get started.

Develop an effective workforce

Before you can support your children, you need to support your teachers.

It’s the foundation of any prevention and intervention model.

You can have the best policies and procedures in place, but if your staff isn’t trained, prepared, and supported, that foundation will struggle to uphold the system.

How do you do this?

First, show your staff you’re committed to promoting all children’s social and emotional development— maintain that enthusiasm and passion throughout the year.

Second, recognize your staff’s efforts and contributions. You can even involve them in making decisions and setting program goals or expectations.

Finally, provide opportunities for continuous learning and training. Check out our free resource section for webinars, modules, and materials for ideas.

Create a nurturing environment

Children who participate in and observe positive relationships are less likely to engage in challenging behaviors. So, once you have a prepared workforce, you need to create high-quality environments where children can learn about positive relationships.

For example, caregivers should maintain frequent and close eye contact with children. Acknowledge their efforts and provide praise. They should also use significant amounts of physical closeness, like holding or sitting next to the child.

Creating a nurturing environment also includes designing the physical space.

  • Here are a few ways you can do that:
  • Keep the room safe and free from hazards
  • Provide plenty of natural light with windows
  • Give your teachers comfortable spaces to sit with or hold children
  • Place children’s artwork at eye level
  • Place mirrors at children’s level so they can see themselves
  • Provide quiet, soft spaces where children can be alone
  • And create spaces and materials for sensory exploration

Engage parents in daily routines

Parents are a child’s first teacher, and like teachers, they can feel ill-equipped to deal with their child’s challenging behaviors. They also might not understand why their child is acting out at school.

At home, they may be unsure how to respond or worry about meeting the child’s needs. So to create consistency between work and home, engage the parents in the child’s daily routines at school.

You can….

  • Ask parents about their child’s needs, interests, and routines
  • Talk with the parent about caregiving practices at home
  • Talk daily with parents about their child’s activities and experiences at school
  • Develop rituals for “drop off” and “pick up”
  • Welcome families into your classroom and encourage them to stay or visit

Promote social-emotional development

Before you can decrease expulsion rates, you need to give your children the opportunity to succeed. Caregivers who are intentional and purposeful can provide many opportunities for children to learn and model positive social-emotional skills.

The skills they should learn include: cooperating, sharing, turn taking, engaging with and getting along with others, regulating emotions, expressing emotions, listening, using words and gestures to resolve conflicts and more.

Provide predictable routines, promote conversations, spend time one-on-one with each child, and encourage children to imitate your actions, such as turn taking or cleaning up.

Provide intensive intervention

The final step for promoting social-emotional development in your early childhood classrooms is understanding when a child needs individualized and intensive support.

One approach is developing a Positive Behavior Support (PBS) plan. This plan includes everything from data collection and family consultations to observation and interviews.

The goal is to identify the function or purpose of the child’s challenging behavior. You can design the plan for the childcare center, home, or both. But it is only effective if it’s implemented consistently in all areas of the child’s life.

Promoting social-emotional development in young children is hard work, but now you know a few steps to help you along the way.
We’ve also developed an implementation system to help you. You can explore our free resources, webinars, and extensive research here. To learn more about implementing a positive behavior support plan for your program, click here.


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