Mar 16, 2011

Changing the Environment to Reduce Unacceptable Behavior

There are a number of ways you can modify the physical environment of your home to prevent or minimize behavior that would cause you a problem, cause your child a problem, or result in a parent-child conflict. Changing some part of the household environment can be especially helpful in modifying the unacceptable behavior of very young, pre-verbal children.

While most people think of Modifying the Environment as something you primarily do with infants and toddlers, it can also be used very effectively with older children, teens, adults and even in companies and organizations to save hours of frustration, prevent or end conflict, and save individuals and organizations money.

For example:
  • A mother was frustrated by paper on the floor from her son who routinely missed the small wastebasket when throwing away discarded paper from homework and computer printing. She did a quick brainstorming with her son; the solution, a larger wastebasket with a small basketball backboard and hoop attached. Result, paper ended up in the basket and the end of that frustration for Mom.
What You Can Do

There are three major schemes for altering your home environment to prevent or insulate a child's unacceptable behavior. These principles apply to any age:

Adding to the Environment
  • Introducing activities or materials that interest the child.
  • Broadening work and play areas to increase some behavior
Removing from the Environment
  • Reducing stimulation or the physical means to the undesired behavior
  • Designating work and play areas to limit certain behavior
Changing the Environment
  • Making the home easier for the child to function independently and effectively
  • Displaying, storing and placing elements in the home to eliminate or encourage certain behaviors
It is important to understand that the concept of modifying the environment does not sanction parents to impose physical changed upon unwilling children. This would clearly be a form of Method I problem-solving. Instead, parents should seek mutual acceptance of physical changes in the home, especially if they get resistance from their children. Moreover, it is likely that the best possible modifications can be made if all family members put their heads together - and certainly the commitment to supporting the changes will be higher if the process used is Method III, not Method I.

An abbreviated excerpt from the P.E.T. Participant Workbook


  1. I don't know if it is okay to ask a question on here, Dr. Gordon ~ can you point me to an area of the blog where I can refresh my memory on what to do in safety situations? I just finished the book last night (it was wonderful, I feel it can change the world, truly, through the children) but today my son was riding his big wheel and went past the mark on the road we agreed to as the safe zone ~ 2 times. I gave him a warning the first time, but then the second time I had him stop biking. I know that I was using my power to take something away from him, and in general I agree with what I learned in the book ~ but honestly, I wasn't sure what to do in this situation, with my new way of thinking.

    I searched for Safety on the blog, hoping to find something that could help, but didn't find anything.

    I would really appreciate it if you had the time to point me towards something. I took the book back to the library today, it was well overdue :)

    Thank you so much!

  2. Dear Katie,

    Thank you for your question. Please check out the blog we wrote a few weeks ago on Children and their Safety. We feel that it should answer all your questions.


Thanks for commenting! - P.E.T.