Strategies for working with infants

‘Infant’ covers the age range from birth to 18 months, overlapping with the age range defined for toddlers, i.e. one year to three years.

Infants have the most specialised need in early childhood education. Their ability to change their behaviour is limited and they are very susceptible to changes in their environment or routines. They are at the very beginnings of learning to communicate their needs and to establish consistent patterns
of behaviour.

Behaviour management strategies need to consider the individual and different needs of infants and their incapacity to adapt to circumstances with ease.

Appropriate behaviour practices when working with infants include:

  • responding promptly to needs. Infants may fuss or cry a little as part of a settling down process, however if an infant cries for more than a brief time, this indicates a need to be met. Responding to needs promptly is a strategy that encourages a sense of security and avoids a recurring cycle of a crying response;
  • setting an individual pace and timing for each infant. Infants each have their own innate preferences for the pace and timing of activities and routines and will have difficulty in adjusting these. Adapt the activity or routine to the infant rather than the infant to the activity or routine;
  • providing support by ‘being there’. Support or guidance includes watching but not participating. Intervention by an adult should be offered with caution where an infant is absorbed in an activity - ‘Don’t bother a busy baby’;
  • providing clear and consistent routines. If an infant is showing signs of tiredness but is unable to relax into sleep for example, check first whether the routine is congruent with home. A clearer, consistent, sleep routine, or more relaxed and unhurried preparation for sleep-time may be needed;
  • accepting the ‘messiness’ of learning self help skills. Mess, such as spilled drink and preferring to eat with fingers, is normal and expected behaviour, even where the infant is aware of the way to use a mug or spoon, and has shown the ability to do this. When mealtime behaviours arise which do not relate to eating, for example, dropping food on the floor, offer the meal again, and, if the behaviour is repeated, assume the infant is telling you they are no longer hungry;
  • be responsive to the infant’s initiatives and use these to develop an appropriate curriculum.
  • setting a few, but not too many limits. Mobile infants are explorers and the environment for infants needs to be carefully organised to allow for safe and ample exploring. However, limits on behaviour and boundaries are sometimes necessary. Mobile infants can respond and remember these if they are clearly stated and there are not too many. Make sure that all adults apply the agreed limits consistently.

 EXAMPLE - (Goal: they develop working theories for making sense of their world)

The act of dropping things, including food on the floor, as described above, is normal at about nine to 12 months. This is part of the developmental learning process (to learn that objects dropped do not reappear). In an interactive curriculum, staff should respond to the child’s initiatives by providing opportunities to experiment with dropping and retrieving, hiding and finding.


Last updated: 7 July 2009