Shadowing: A Strategy to Prevent Challenging Behavior in the Early Learning Classroom

What is Shadowing?

Shadowing is a strategy for supporting kids with challenging behavior where a teacher stays physically close to a child, usually within arm's length. It’s a method of supervising a child by positioning our body close by, and it’s meant to be used when a child requires a high level of adult support to participate successfully in classroom routines or activities. Check out our new course on Shadowing or keep reading to learn more! 

How can shadowing help reduce challenging behavior?

By staying within close proximity, the teacher is able to help the student navigate social interactions, transitions, and activities more successfully.  Teachers can help reduce challenging behavior while shadowing by:

  • Decreasing the child's frustration and anxiety by anticipating and meeting their needs.
  • Increasing the child's sense of security and trust in the adult.
  • Teaching the child appropriate ways to communicate and cope with big emotions.
  • Reinforcing the child's positive behaviors and skills.
  • Redirecting the child's attention and energy to more productive and positive activities.
  • Minimizing triggers for challenging behaviors.
  • Reducing the child's opportunities and motivations to engage in challenging behavior.

When is shadowing recommended?

Shadowing is incredibly effective at reducing challenging behaviors.  But as you can imagine, staying within arm’s reach of a child for the entirety of that child’s school day is a fairly intense strategy, and not always possible. So shadowing is usually reserved for situations where behavior has become more frequent and is causing a relatively high level of concern or stress for a classroom. Here are a few questions to ask yourself to determine whether shadowing might be an appropriate strategy:

  • Does the behavior feel stressful or cause a lot of disruption to the classroom environment? Does it cause harm or create a safety issue? 
  • How often is it happening? Shadowing is typically reserved for behaviors that are happening repeatedly. If a child has one hard day and has a challenging behavior, we’re not going to start shadowing the child because this is a one-off incident, not a pattern of challenging behavior. 
  • Is the behavior increasing despite other prevention strategies? This is key. We don’t shadow every single toddler who bites. But if a toddler is biting even though you've already tried a number of prevention strategies (like teethers or coaching a child to use their words) and nothing seems to be working, that’s when you might start shadowing. 

How do you implement shadowing in an early learning classroom?

Here are some general guidelines for getting started with shadowing:

  • Identify the child who needs shadowing and the times and situations when they are most likely to exhibit challenging behavior.
  • Select a staff member who has a positive relationship with the child and who can shadow them consistently and effectively. Sharing the responsibility of shadowing with a co-teacher can help decrease burnout.
  • Follow the child closely and attentively during the shadowing period. Provide praise, encouragement, guidance, and assistance as needed.
  • Shadowing should be discrete. A parent who comes into the classroom should not be able to tell that you are shadowing a particular child.
  • Fade the shadowing gradually as the child's behavior improves and stabilizes. Monitor the child's progress and adjust the level of support accordingly. Provide positive feedback to the child as behavior improves.
  • Communicate and collaborate with the child's parents, teachers, and other professionals involved in their care and education. Share information, observations, and strategies to ensure consistency and continuity across settings.

Want to learn more about shadowing as a strategy to prevent challenging behavior? Check out our new on-demand course, Shadowing to Prevent Challenging Behavior to learn how shadowing and zoning work together as supervision strategies, how to shadow solo, tips for when to phase out your shadowing, how shadowing fits within a comprehensive behavior support plan, and so much more!

- The IMPACT Team

If you're interested in learning more about challenging behaviors, check out these courses: