Behavior Due to Environment

How do I know if my child’s behavior may be due to the environment?

In addition to internal traits, children are strongly affected by their external world as well. What makes up a child’s environment? Many more factors than you might think! They include:

  • The home: the specific and general physical space in which the child lives, including the larger community
  • The family: the individuals who live in the family and the relationships that exist between them; the family’s expectations for behaviors; changes that occur within the family such as divorce, a new baby, or a death
  • The culture: the family’s culture, which influences the traditions, expectations, beliefs, religion, and child-rearing routines that make up the environment in which the family lives
  • The school classroom: another setting with unique sets of rules, expectations, routines, and relationships that can influence behavior

Ask yourself:

  • Have I ruled out that my child’s behavior might be mainly due to a developmental stage or an individual difference?
  • What have I observed? Is there a pattern to this behavior? When did it begin and when does it occur? For example, does my child seem to become frustrated and upset before bedtime? If so, could instituting a calming bedtime routine or comforting ritual before going to sleep help ease my child’s behavior?
  • Is the behavior I am observing in my child a sudden change? Children will often respond to changes in their environment with changes in their behavior. For example, it is not uncommon for young children to lose previously acquired skills, such as potty training skills, after a major change or loss.
  • Are my child’s home and school environments similar in terms of rules, expectations, and values? Or, if my child has more than one home due to divorce, separation, or other reasons, are there differences between these settings that may be impacting my child? Young children can skillfully manage many environments and different expectations. But when children feel caught between conflicting environments, it can lead to feelings of confusion and worry.

What is my child communicating? How can understanding this help me know how to respond?

Is your child’s behavior being influenced by the environment? If so, she is communicating that something, whether a routine, a relationship, or a change to her physical space, is not working for her. It is causing distress or uncertainty. Fortunately, if this is the case, there are many ways to respond:

  • If possible, make a change in the environment – in whatever is contributing to your child’s feelings of uncertainty or lack of safety. You might provide your child with information or let him know what changes will be coming next so they are not a surprise. This might also involve talking with your child about something that cannot be changed, like a move to a new home. Allow your child to express how he feels about the change, and help him find ways to feel more secure in his new environment.
  • Aim for consistency. If you believe that the behavior may be due to conflicts between the multiple environments in which your child spends time, learn more. Then try to find or create consistency between these settings.
  • Try to not blame your child for the challenging behavior. He is not in control of what is taking place in his environment. Your child is only able to let you know through his behavior that something does not feel good about the change or conflict.
  • Adjust or adapt your own expectations for your child if it’s not possible to make changes in the environment. This may go a long way in reducing your stress and your child’s challenging behaviors.

A FRAMEWORK FOR UNDERSTANDING CHILDREN’S BEHAVIOR
THE ENVIRONMENT

Why Is This Happening? What Questions Can I Ask? What Is My Child Trying to Communicate? Strategies for Interventions
What makes up my child’s environment?
The child’s home environment:

  • The physical space
  • The family situation, including who lives with the child, what the relationships are like, and what changes have occurred
  • Lifestyle
  • Culture

The childcare or classroom environment:

  • Daily schedule and program
  • Types of activities (active vs. passive, group vs. individual)
  • Physical space
  • Relationships
– Could the behavior be due mainly to a developmental stage or an individual difference?
What have I observed? Is there a pattern to this behavior? When did it begin and when does it occur?
– Is the behavior I am observing in my child a sudden change?
– Are my child’s home and school environments similar in terms of rules, expectations, and values? Does my child have more than one home environment due to divorce, separation, or other reasons? If so, are there differences between these settings that may be impacting my child?
“Something isn’t working for me; there is something or someone in my environment that is causing me to react in this manner.”
  1. Do something, if possible, to change what is contributing to your child feeling uncertain, unsafe, or unprotected. This may be providing your child with information, or preparing your child for changes that will be coming so they are not surprising.
  2. Get more information about your child’s other environment from teachers and others if there is a conflict between home and a childcare setting.
  3. Try not to blame your child for the challenging behavior.Your child is not in control of what is taking place in his environment.
  4. Adjust or adapt your own expectations of your child if you can’t make changes in the environment. This may go a long way in reducing your stress and your child’s challenging behaviors.

 

Links & Resources » Behavior / Discipline

References
The framework for understanding your child’s behaviors is based upon an adaptation of James Hymes’ Understanding Your Child by Kadija Johnston, LCSW, Director of the UCSF Infant Parent Program, and is used with her permission.

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