Changing your child’s environment: what does it mean?
If you’d like to change the way your child is behaving, it’s a good idea to look at what’s going on in your child’s environment. By making small manageable changes to what’s happening in your child’s environment, you might be able to change your child’s behaviour too.
Your child’s ‘environment’: what is it?
When it comes to children’s behaviour, the environment just means the little things around your child.
Your child’s ‘behaviour environment’ includes:
- location – for example, at the park, at home, at the supermarket
- playthings – toys, books and play equipment
- things you might not want your child to play with
- other people and how they’re behaving
- sensations like noise and light
- the time of day
- your requests and instructions.
These things can influence your child’s behaviour and even trigger unwanted behaviour sometimes. For example, it’s natural for your child to:
- want to play with the things around them
- explore their surroundings
- feel tired if it’s nap time
- feel overwhelmed if there’s a lot of noise or activity
- not want to share their favourite toys
- not follow your instructions if they don’t understand them.
Changing your child’s physical environment
Here are some ideas for changing the physical things in your child’s environment to encourage positive behaviour.
- Move fragile or expensive items out of sight and reach. This is important for safety. It also means your child can explore their environment, and you don’t need to worry about these items getting lost or broken.
- Make a quiet, safe space for your child to use when they feel overwhelmed. This could just be a special cushion with some of your child’s favourite books nearby.
- Make sure screens like tablets and TVs are off when you need your child to focus on something like getting ready for school in the morning.
Out and about
- Look for safe spaces when you and your child are outside – for example, a courtyard, play area or backyard. If your child can play and explore in a safe and stimulating outdoor environment, they’re less likely to behave in unwanted ways.
- On car, train or bus journeys, change where you all sit. For example, have one parent sit between 2 children. Or let one child sit next to a window for a while, then change.
- For a family day out, look for places that have things that both you and your child will enjoy – for example, a playground for your child and a coffee cart for you.
- Use music to change the environment on a car trip. You can play upbeat music if your child is bored or soothing music when you want them to settle.
- Be ready with some fun and engaging activities for your child. For example, you could play car karaoke or ‘I spy’, do counting activities or word searches, or take a bag of toys that your child doesn’t usually play with.
Toys and belongings
- Install 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 younger sibling.
- Put your child’s favourite toys in a place that they can reach. This way your child won’t be tempted to climb or get into unsafe places when they’re looking for their toys.
- Help your child choose and put away some toys they might not want to share with visiting children.
Changing the timing of things
You can change your child’s environment by changing when things happen. Here are some ideas:
- 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 your requests and instructions
You might be able to change your child’s behaviour by changing the way you ask or tell your child to do things.
A request is when you ask your child to do something. For example, ‘Could you set the table, please?’ Your child can choose to say yes or no to a request. Requests give your child choices and a sense of control, which might make your child more likely to cooperate.
An instruction is when you tell your child to do something. If you give clear, short and simple instructions, your child will know what’s expected of them – for example, ‘Please hold my hand when we cross the road’. If there are too many instructions, children can feel overwhelmed or be more likely to challenge them.
You might be able to influence your child’s behaviour by:
- aiming for a mix of instructions and requests
- using requests more often than instructions
- checking that your requests and instructions are clear and your child has the skills to follow them.