Establishing Teacher-Child Relationships

Establishing relationships with your students is the most important factor in managing behavior in the classroom. When an individual child knows you love them, it will become easier to guide them towards positive behavior. This is important with all children, but particularly with children with the most challenging behaviors.

Establishing Teacher Child Relationships

This post is based on the book Beyond Behavior Management: The Six Life Skills Children Need, by Jenna Bilmes, and is part of the Challenging Behaviors Book Study.

There may be times when you have to completely change your attitude towards a very challenging child. You have to decide that you like this child, even love this child, and show the child that you do. When you do that, you will see a change in the child’s attitude towards you and a different response toward your directions and rules. Does that mean all your problems will be solved? That your most challenging child will suddenly become perfect and listen to whatever you say, follow every rule, be nice to every child? No, but it will make a huge difference.

Your actions, your attitude, and your words have to show that you love the children as individuals (not just the class as a whole).

“Children learn to behave when they have good relationships with adults. Early learning for children is relationship based.” — Jenna Bilmes

Positive relationships are important for success in school and life. Children need to see teachers as supportive and helpful. They need adults to help them feel safe and secure, loved and cherished, and feel like they belong. Teachers do not need to be a child’s friend or peer.

Tips on helping teachers establish relationships with children:

Remember that some families may have different expectations for how children interact with adults, which can be confusing for a child. Some families don’t encourage eye contact. Some families encourage children to question and negotiate. Help children and families understand school expectations.

Use language that helps children see you as a mentor rather than opponent.

Get to know children well. If a child’s personality clashes with yours, find what endearing qualities the child has and don’t fall into an unhealthy relationship.

Connect with children during center time. Have personal conversations with children without always using “teacher talk”. For example, you don’t always have to ask children how many blocks they used or the shape of their sandwich. Just have a casual conversation.

Be affectionate even when children are showing challenging behaviors. Don’t use affection as a reward for good behavior. “Treating children with love and affection, regardless of their behavior, makes a teacher’s job easier.” — Jenna Bilmes

Show children that you will keep them safe. When a child is out of control, keep them close to you, hold their hand. Let them know you won’t let them hurt others, and won’t let others hurt them.

Mean what you say. Be consistent with your words and actions. “It’s not a kindness to give children three chances. It’s confusing.”  — Jenna Bilmes

Teach children that relationships can be repaired. This may mean apologizing to them if you spoke to them harshly, or teaching them how to repair relationships with others.

Speak quietly to the child so only the child can hear what you’re saying.

Help children fix their mistakes.

Greet children as they come to school and say good-bye at the end of the day.

Challenging Bahviors BOOK study

Children who lack positive relationships with adults.

Children who do not have positive relationships with the main caregivers in their lives display these characteristics: they are self-sufficient, unresponsive to adults, and view adults as useless or as peers. Adult praise or displeasure has no effect on them.

What I found surprising in the book was that these children are very friendly with adults who are total strangers (such as classroom visitors). Many people might see that as a positive, when it’s actually unhealthy behavior because the children are drawn to strangers, but do not have close relationships with the caregivers in their lives.

How to Participate in the Book Study

We want everyone to participate in the book study. You don’t need a blog, just add your comments in the comment section below this post. Please share your personal stories and ways you’ve helped build teacher-child relationships. What will you try next year?

Follow the Book Study using this Guide here at PreKinders, and read the Book Study FAQ at Pre-K Pages to answer any questions you may have about how the book study works.

Grad Credits

You can earn grad credits for following the book study! To register, go here to Course Registration, and read the Course Requirements here.

Book Study Links

As each post in the Book Study is published, a link will be added right here below:


  1. says

    Wow- your post sent me straight to Kindle to download this book. At my last school, I had my class in the classroom with me for lunch. While I don’t miss all the classroom cleaning this added, I do miss the thirty or so minutes when I would just talk casually with my students every day. I believe that really helped develop our classroom community. I also love the author’s point about the confusion of three chances. I’m off to read it now.

  2. says

    Yes, yes, yes! Connecting with the kiddos is priority number one in establishing a classroom community. I love chatting and playing with my students during center time . . . especially with those casual conversations that connect us.

  3. Terry r says

    I really loved this book….I agree that often I feel negative toward a “challenging ” student and this relationship hinders progress of his/her behavior.

  4. Karen says

    My favorite time of the day is chatting casually with my students. They love seeing me as a “real person”, not just a teacher. This connection is the foundation for building our classroom community. Excellent article.

  5. Kellie says

    thank you for your daily posts.they have helped me in many areas of my teaching career. I am teacher by profession and I specialize in the early years level.
    I’m interested on experiencing different teaching techniques.
    kindly, if anyone hears of any opening,please let me know.
    thank you.

  6. Robin says

    I saw a quote on FB (paraphrasing here) “Children who are loved at home, go to school to learn. Children who are not loved at home, go to school to be loved.”

  7. Jocelyn says

    Thank you for covering this. I love to connect with the children in a casual way. It’s nice to not always be all business. I have found that the times that I spend talking with them teaches me the most about them and gives me clues into how I can help them if a problem should arise.

  8. Nadine says

    I have been a Head Start, three-year-old, teacher for 14 years. One of the wonderful things about Head Start is that Home Visits are required before the school year starts. This initial meeting with the child and their family goes a long way towards building positive relationships. I mail out post cards to all children before the school year starts. I have the opportunity to spend the first several weeks of school getting to know each child as an individual. We start without having assigned groups, so that each child can also get to know all of the classroom adults. I love my job, and one of the best parts of it is getting to know those “difficult” children who challenge the status quo. The children who shake you up and force you to re-think your classroom management strategies. Those children remind me that I am still learning and growing as a teacher. They make me a better teacher and give me the greatest sense of pride when I see them succeed.

  9. Kayla says

    I just started my first preschool TA job four weeks ago, these tips are such lifesavers! It’s hard to establish these relationships with 20 children at once!

  10. Lynn says

    Wow. The comments on recognizing who may not have a positive adult relationship is eye opening. I am getting this book. This past year, I had a child who was unresponsive to me and the teacher. Maybe this was why?

  11. MaryEmmanuel Utulu says

    Thank you immensely for your dedication and sacrifices, but most of all for being generous with your ideas, time and energy. This is my first year teaching Pre-k students. I have received from you ample ideas on how to build a healthy relationship with my students especially the most challenging ones. Thank you again for being who you are as an Educator.

  12. Ciara says

    I took a class in grad school where we read a book entitled “To Know as We Are Known: Education as a Spiritual Journey”. This book described the need for personal teacher/student relationships. We also studied the theory of “I and Thou” relationships (by Martin Buber) with students. Both are very interesting and really opened my eyes to things I have been doing in my own classroom. I am trying to have more MEANINGFUL relationships with my students this year.

  13. Carla Priscila says

    Thank you very much for this posts. They helped me a lot. I have been working with toddlers for three years, and each group were a great learning. And for me the biggest learning is that I need to show them that I love them. And after that, they will love me too and all the good thing will happen perfectly during the year.

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