Household Organization & Your Child’s Behavior
Lisa walks through her house, devastated by the mess. Jimmy is playing video games, with action figures, trains, and building blocks scattered around him. His habit of dumping all his toys to find one item results in piles of toys in various locations. Jimmy’s older sister, Annie, has left books, papers, and shoes in a trail from the front door and is now surfing the internet in her room. Navigating the house can be downright dangerous because of items left on the floor. Lisa knows she should tell Jimmy and Annie to pick up their belongings and start their homework, but anticipates a battle. Jimmy will have a meltdown because picking up so many items is such a daunting task. Annie will continue playing on her phone, resulting in yet another hassle between them. Lisa decides that it is just easier to pick up the house when the children go to bed – worried that the same cycle will occur again the next day.
This example illustrates the importance of organization in supporting our children’s behavior, something we tend to underestimate. By attending to our surroundings, we can minimize problems and create more positive, productive behavior. There is no “right” or “wrong” way to organize a household; what is important is making it work for the family.
Arranging Our Homes
Homes can be organized to support appropriate behavior and minimize problems. A good starting point is to consider the organization as a whole – in what areas do things tend to go smoothly and where do conflicts or disruptions arise. The successful areas are probably structured in a way that works; those where problems occur need our attention. For example, we might find that our children tend play nicely in the family room, but have hassles in the doorway and bedrooms, leading us to problem-solve regarding those areas.
Safety and Supervision
A priority for all parents is the health and well-being of our children. Depending on our children’s ages and needs, we may need to provide different levels of supervision and child-proofing. Supervision, for example, may be improved by establishing play areas that are in sight or requiring that doors remain open. We may need to remove potentially dangerous items (e.g., medications, sharp objects, car keys) or age-inappropriate material (e.g., sexually-explicit media, car keys) to locked or inaccessible areas.
Children (and parents) have different levels of tolerance for cluttered surroundings – some of us perform well, while others are distracted and irritated when things are in disarray. If clutter is interfering with family functioning, we need to develop ways to contain or eliminate it. This can be done by creating decision rules and timelines for sorting and clearing duplicate or unused items and to limit purchasing of new things. Creating lists of things to do and places to file or store items not currently in use can be helpful as well.
Developing systems for organizing belongings to create functional space and make needed items more accessible may also be helpful. Functional space means organizing materials based on where they are needed. Then we consider how to keep them where they belong. Receptacles can be very helpful: bins for toys, drawers for clothing or supplies, dividers to separate craft items, crates near the door for shoes, or hooks for backpacks and coats. These may be labeled with words or pictures as necessary to define what goes where.
Cues for Independence
We can also organize our homes to provide reminders of expectations, improving children’s independence. This might mean lining up the items a child needs to complete a hygiene routine, creating a picture schedule of chores required, storing plastic dishes for snacks in a low-lying cabinet, or using placemats with outlines of each part of the place setting. Another example is posting a picture of the final product of a task (e.g., showing what the room looks like when it is completely cleaned up). Setting up the environment can help children be more independent cleaning up, as well as completing other daily tasks.
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