Key message


Judy Kynaston, National Project Manager KidsMatter Early Childhood Australia

Observations are one of the many ways educators identify children’s strengths and needs. Through observations, you can see what children are coping with, enjoying, finding easy, and where they might need more support. Taking time to observe children doing everyday things, can help us understand the meaning behind their behaviour. Observing children can also help you understand what is part of everyday child development and what might be a mental health difficulty.


Catharine Hydon, Early Childhood Consultant

Early childhood educators make many observations of children over the course of the time that they work with them.  It’s important that in those observations that they make about children that they, from time to time, over the course of the work, look particularly at the way children are travelling in terms of their social and emotional wellbeing, with a focus, if you like, on mental health. 



And what we’re looking for in that sense, is meaningful observations that we record, about opportunities where children are changing and growing, learning more about themselves, and others.  And then when we record that information, then we can make decisions about what we will do as educators to support their further learning. 


Rebecca Doidge, Educator and Room Leader, DWC- Griffith

Observations are great for helping us understand the child and their various behaviours because when you take time to sit and watch and note things that the child is doing just as it’s happening, and you can go back and think more about what’s actually happening in that timeframe and that allows us to get so much knowledge about that child.


Dr Nick Kowalenko, Consultant Infant, Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist

Early childhood educators and those providing care are often with kids for many hours in a day.  So they’re in a very unique position to know a lot, and to know a lot in depth, about young kids.  And they have the opportunity to experience what these kids are like, both from an emotional point of view, a behavioural perspective, and they end up usually knowing a lot about their relationships once they’ve known them for a while.  They become very familiar with the way these kids relate, not only to themselves and how they might relate to other adults in the team, the early childhood care providers or educators, but also how they relate to other kids, and what their relationships are like with their peers.  It’s a pretty rich source of information.


Robyn Dolby, Clinical psychologist

There are different kinds of observation to observe children’s behaviour or to understand children’s behaviour.  I think observation that gives you a series of checklists and problems,  just makes everything feel heavier and takes your energy away from ideas about where you can go with this child.  I think observations that document relationship are very valuable in the sense that you look at how the child uses you as a resource, how free are they to come in and ask for help from you when they need help.  Observations that help you to be able to see all the things that a child can do are very useful because then you get the level that’s the right starting level for a child.  That’s critical because often, when children have difficulties, we immediately think we have so much to teach them and they have so much to learn. And often what gets overlooked is the level to start at.  So documentation which helps you to see what a child can do, then you know where to start and it also brings you in good connection with the child. 

Amanda, Educator, Alunga Child Care Centre

When we are collating documentation for the children, we do it across all areas but in particular, with those children that we are finding that we are having concerns, whether it be socially or emotionally, we document that in the same way. We use snippets or anecdotal evidence but then support it with our reflections and why we have come to that. If we have had a conversation with parents, we also document that in the same book. So it’s a running record of that child and who they are at the service.


Professor Helen Milroy, Consultant Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist

If we look at how children communicate in the very early years, they’ll communicate generally through their behaviour, and through their actions.  So, for example, the one thing that is going to be obvious if something’s not going right for a child, is you’ll see a change.  That’s when you have to be thinking, “Okay, what’s going on, what’s behind the change?”  It’s too easy to look at a behaviour and say the behaviour is wrong.  For example, if a child starts acting out in an aggressive way, then you can blame the child for being naughty.  But you have to look at what’s driving that change in behaviour.  And if it’s unusual for that child to behave in that way, then there’s definitely something that is driving that change in behaviour.  That’s when you have to look at what else is going on in the child’s life, what could be causing these sorts of things.

Robyn Dolby, Clinical psychologist

When you think about relationships, you think about children having relationship needs, and so their behaviour is how they communicate those needs. You can have different ways of thinking about those needs but the most important thing to me,  is that if you think about a child’s relationship need, it’s genuine.  It’s not a greedy or selfish need; it’s an authentic need.



There’s a quote that I love and that is that all behaviour are feelings that are meant to be heard.   So I think that behaviour really does tell you about how children are feeling about themselves on the inside, what they expect of themselves and what they expect from the grown-ups in their life. 

Catharine Hydon, Early Childhood Consultant

An early childhood educator who has some concerns about a child’s mental health needs to act.  They need to think about what they’re going to do in response to that.  I think sometimes an educator might need to consider in the first place, whether this is something of deep concern or whether this is something that’s normal for a child. 


In the first instance, for educators, they need to collect data.  So the more information they collect, do some more observations of the way that children are experiencing the program to alert them to when those things might be occurring, how they’re occurring, whether they’re occurring at particular points in the program, to get more information that helps us build of a picture about what we mean.  Because with that information, then we’re able to either talk to our colleagues about particular strategies, we might talk to a more experienced educator who has some ideas about this.  We might speak to a family in relation to what we’ve noticed about this, and to raise those concerns in sensitive ways.  We also might at that point, actually source some other professionals who can assist us with the thinking.  Because it’s really important for educators to realise that they’re not experts in everything.  It’s something that at times, we need particular expertise to deal with something particularly.  And we also know that the earlier we get on to some of those things, particularly say for example, an anxiety that children may be experiencing, the sooner we can address some of those things and give the children strategies early on, we won’t actually find that being a lasting issue for the rest of their lives.