Structuring the Environment

Structuring the environment is simply the process of preparing an environment that permits exploration and activity to as great an extent as possible.



A well‑designed and well‑equipped room tailored to the developmental level of the child prevents frustration, interruption, and hazards.  It offers privacy, independence, and easy adult supervision.  In addition, the daily routine provides enough time for play, a sense of security, little waiting, and few transitions.  Games which emphasize waiting long periods of time, and winning and losing should be de‑emphasized.  Cooperative games and team‑building activities should be emphasized.


Another aspect of prevention deals with the parent’s ability to predict and prevent certain behaviors.  Humans tend to behave in very predictable ways and a thoughtful parent will be able to foresee possible problems and then take decisive action in order to avoid, or in some cases, accommodate them.


For instance, if the parent knows that the family must leave the house by 10:15 a.m. in order to make it to gym class, the parent should plan ahead and ensure that enough “lead time” is available for an on-time departure. At some point, though, the young child will find it difficult to transfer from one activity to another. The young child is presented with two opposing choices to make – leave on time or miss class. Of course, that means the parent must also be prepared to follow through with the appropriate discipline which could be missing class. The various situations and scenarios, though, will teach valuable, life-long lessons.



Mothers and fathers create the home’s atmosphere through their words, tone and level of voice, actions, body language, and expression of feelings.  Children naturally copy what they see, hear, and witness.  If we wish to provide a peaceful and cooperative environment for children to grow and to learn, then we must demonstrate this in our actions and voice.  When voice levels are soft and calm, the children set their tone in a similar fashion.  Encouragement, intervention, explanation, and reconciliation are positive goals to strive for in relationships.


Limit Setting

There are a few clear, simple rules that vary according to the developmental level of the children. The overall goal is to provide an environment that is safe, kind, and neat. Parents should be cognizant to say what they mean, mean what they say, and do what they say they will do within appropriate and reasonable limits.


For instance, if a child is refusing to sit at the table for lunch, the parent should give the child a limited choice: “You may sit in your own chair for lunch or you may choose to stand at your place.” Either way, the child must be at the table for the meal time. Naturally, if the child’s initial decision was to stand, a chair would be given if later requested because the parent wants to encourage the behavior of sitting at the table for meals. It would not be appropriate for the parent to deny the child food or a chair as a punishment for not sitting at the table.


In establishing specific rules for the home, parents should consider these guidelines: 

  1. In a positive tone, tell children often what is expected of them. 
  2. Ignore poor behavior that is attention seeking as long as the health and safety of the child and other children is secure.
  3. Anticipate and eliminate potential problems.
  4. Post the rules prominently for everyone to see.
  5. Plan each day in such a manner as to allow the children a successful mixture of choice and structure.
  6. Recognize each child's individual needs and efforts at following the rules.
  7. When necessary, specify rewards for following rules; both tangible and intangible.
  8. Explain rules often; give examples and read stories that help explain the rules and the reasons behind the rules.
  9. Apply rules and consequences consistently.
  10. Successful intervention is directly related to the parent’s good timing.
  11. Make consequences for a child's unacceptable behavior immediate and directly related to the behavior. Remember: Immediate does not mean harsh.
  12. Strive to teach appropriate behavior, rather than punishing inappropriate behavior.

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 Problem Solving

Helping each child with conflict resolution and problem solving is a large part of raising young children, and an important part of the on-going learning.


Children should be taught how to use acceptable alternatives to problem behavior in an effort to reduce conflict.  Parents would be wise to consider the unacceptable behavior in a young child as "mistaken" behavior and often the result of the child's developmental immaturity or wrong training. Reinforce reasonable limits, and teach children "what to do" and not just "what not to do". Realize that everyone makes mistakes yet they are capable of taking care of their mistakes with guidance. Reinforce limits and teach alternatives. Understand that acceptable behavior takes time to learn and that “we wrestle not against flesh and blood” (Ephesians 6:12). Opportunities to problem solve and work through mistaken and even bad behavior, should be incorporated into everyday, both for the child(ren) and for the parent(s).


Parents can help children identify their needs, feelings, causes, alternatives, and choices by providing cues such as the statement, "Use your words to tell me what you need/feel". Parents should also talk over problems in order to resolve conflict.  When doing so, the adult should be at the child's eye level, establish eye contact, speak softly, directly, and clearly. Avoid giving children negative attention by loudly calling their name or correcting an action.  It is much more effective for the adult to lower herself/himself down to the child's level and speak calmly and in a matter-of-fact manner. Then the parent can effectively tell the child what is being observed, whether it is appropriate or not, what is expected of them and what the consequences of further conflict will be.


When conflict continues, follow-through with consequences is extremely important. If conflict persists, actively seek outside resources for help such as a minister or counselor.


In cases of conflict between two or more children, it is important to help the children verbally solve the conflict through such methods as role modeling, drawing, and helping with the use of words.  If one of the children finds it hard to come to a positive solution, it might be necessary to help him find another activity.  The child can kindly be redirected with simple statements like, "You need to play by yourself for a while”, “This seems to be hard for you right now”, “I will help you find something else to do".


When behavior problems arise, parents should look at their routines, the environment, and the individual needs of each child to help. It is important for adults to be aware of the language, the tone of voice, and the manner of speech they use when working with young children.  Providing each child with choices, foreseeing problems and responding to their needs immediately will enable the parent to help the child positively without having to use stronger methods of discipline or even punishment.