A lot of parenting tips are about communication, self-care or setting limits. All good! These are all essential areas for parents to create calm, consistent habits. One consideration for parents is often overlooked. Have you ever noticed that the physical environment can set up a child for success?
We set up the physical space for safety with babies and toddlers –
- child locks on cabinets and drawers,
- baby gates at the top of the stairs
- fresh diapers and wipes always handy for a blow-out
Those are common sense ways to prevent problems. But what are the not-so-obvious ways we can keep our children safe and make it easier for them to behave in acceptable ways?
Meal-time and pick-up time are two tricky issues that can be easier once the physical environment
is set up and organized for success. Even homework and technology use issues can be less
aggravating with a new approach for organizing the environment.
Consider the ways we create success at meal times. With toddlers, putting the toddler in a high chair with small bites of food is a likely way to encourage the child to grasp her food and get it in her mouth. Milk in a bottle or sippy cup minimizes spills. And what about an older child who likes to eat his food from the table? Could you use a booster seat with a seat belt, a plastic plate and small portions of food to encourage independent eating in an orderly manner? When I was parenting three youngsters, I discovered I gave far fewer corrective or admonishing statements(think “one more bite,” “stay in your seat,” or “keep your hands to yourself”) if the child was
secured in a booster for a few-minute meal rather than wandering around the room – half playing, and half-eating. It is often easier for a child to focus on eating when they are not so
In addition to meal times, pick-up time is a daily issue for families. What happens in your
home when it is time to pick-up toys, sports gear, or clothing?
Most parents report nagging and disappointment much more often than the Mary Poppins version of cleaning up.
Ideas for managing the physical space to make things easier includes limiting the number of toys they can get out at any one time; using easy-to-access storage bins for clothes, toys and snacks; installing shelves and hooks for backpacks or book bags; and having easy-to-reach hooks for damp towels and washcloths.
Look around your space in the kitchen, family room, hallway, bathroom or child’s room. What specific items can you eliminate or add to make it easy for your child to carry out your age-appropriate expectations?
Nora, age 12, often missed outings with friends because she wasn’t allowed to go out until her room was immaculately clean. Not only did she miss out on time with friends, but she developed self-pity and spoke of herself as, “no good.” While her parents did not want Nora to feel bad about herself, they had high standards for order and insisted on a made bed, all clothes put away or in the hamper, all Nora’s makeup and hair products in a drawer, and all her accessories tucked away in the closet. Nora’s parents came to me asking for ideas for additional consequences for Nora’s unwillingness to keep her things put away.
Nora’s mom and dad engaged in coaching for only 3 sessions in order to declare success. In that short time, they realized the task of cleaning and organizing was overwhelming and frustrating for Nora. Nora simply did not have a natural “knack” for keeping her messes under control. While a messy room may not seem like a major issue worth all the constant battles, Nora’s parents felt strongly that everything should be kept in its place. They decided to try setting up Nora for success before considering loosening their standards.
Nora’s parents discovered Nora had way too many clothes to manage at once. Even though her closet was big enough to hold her entire wardrobe, the parents worked with Nora to remove out-of-season clothing. They set up a place for her to keep shoes downstairs by the back door, and installed cubbies for Nora’s bags and other accessories. They created a specific place for her sports gear, and put the hamper right by the door. They even put up some labels across the top of her closet racks for different kinds of clothing. The closet re-organization set Nora up for success. And it worked! It became a quicker task for her to meet the standards of her very methodical parents. She felt good about having her room tidy at least five days a week and made sure it was done before even asking her parents if she could go out.
In addition to clothing or cleaning issues, older children may struggle when they are not physically set up for success with their homework. They may find an easier route to success if they tackle studying at a clear space such as the kitchen table, away from games or hobbies and with a healthy snack nearby.
A Mom called me one day with a success story about how she set up the physical space that resulted in her daughter being right on track to going to bed on time with no technology interference. It was a monumental success! Her daughter had been sneaking up past the time Mom went to bed, and accessing her favorite YouTube channels for hours. My client changed the environment by simply programming the router to not connect to the internet between the hours of 10 pm and 6 am. Not a word was said between the mother and daughter, and the problem was resolved!
Think of a hassle in your own home. Is there a way to create a set routine to handle it? Or are there ways to change the physical space to make a task or goal more easily accomplished? Is there a way to build in a routine to avoid problems? Consider routines or changes to the physical environment to set your child – and you – up for success at home.