Changing a child’s behaviour can be hard work. It’s almost always easier – and often more effective – to change the child’s environment. This can make undesirable behaviour a lot less likely to happen.
Changing your child’s environment is a good idea if it means that it will change something that’s causing stress or frustration. Changing the environment is also an option if it’s more likely to bring about behaviour you’re trying to encourage.
When you’re confronted with a behaviour dilemma, consider how you can change the world around your child rather than your child’s behaviour. The idea is to prevent or minimise the chance of problem behaviour occurring.
Changing your child’s physical environment
- Move fragile or expensive items out of reach of little fingers.
- Keep the cot as your baby’s sleep setting for as long as possible. This can help prevent early problems with getting out of bed.
- Place a child gate on the door of an older sibling’s room. This will give the older child some time playing with toys, undisturbed by a destructive baby.
- Place frequently used toys in a place that children can reach. This way, children don’t have to ask for your help. Similarly, keep toys that need grown-up guidance or assistance for times when you can be available.
- Help children choose and put away toys they might be unwilling to share with visiting children.
- Keep the TV off in the morning. This will reduce distractions while your children are getting ready for child care, preschool or school.
- Minimise time spent watching commercial television. This might reduce requests for junk food, or inappropriate activities or toys.
- Don’t keep junk foods in your cupboard. This way children won’t be tempted to ask for them, and you won’t have to ‘police’ their eating as much.
- Create a quiet, well-lit and inviting place to do homework.
- Choose an outside table at a restaurant. You’ll be less stressed, and children’s laughter, talking and moving around is less likely to cause discomfort to others.
Moving your child or others
- Move a child to another bedroom to settle. This can help if the child won’t stop talking or playing with a sibling when it’s time for sleep.
- Have one parent sit between two children in the back seat of the car. This might prevent fighting on a long car drive.
Changing the timing of activities
- Complete homework in the morning when your child is fresh, rested and not distracted by other more desirable activities.
- Encourage quiet, calming activities before bedtime.
- Take your child grocery shopping after an afternoon nap.
- Get up earlier to reduce pressure and stress in the morning rush for school.
- Start bath time earlier to avoid tantrums about getting out of the bath.
- Plan frequent breaks on a long car drive.
Changing the level of difficulty
- Ask your child to do only one thing at a time.
- Use a chart that shows the things your child needs to do, like getting ready in the morning.
- Tidy your child’s bedroom, leaving only three things on the floor. When your child has learned to put these things away without a fuss, you can gradually leave more items to be put away.
Keeping things interesting
- Put together a bag of special activities to take on long car trips or to other places where your child needs to wait, like the doctor’s waiting room.
- Involve your child in shopping by letting him put things in the trolley, look for items, or pay at the checkout.
- Put on a music DVD or a CD, or get your child started on an activity like colouring in, before you make a telephone call.
These are just examples, not a complete list. Ways of changing the environment are limitless. To develop solutions, ask yourself how you could modify the physical environment, move the location of the activity, move the child or others, or change the scheduling or timing of the event.