by Dr. Ginny Trierweiler, parent coach
This is one of a series of articles about how to raise young children to be calm, thoughtful and able to focus their attention. There are many times in life that we need to be thinking clearly, calmly, in a focused and goal-directed way. Without the ability to do this when we need to, it is difficult to build a happy, contributive and successful life. That’s why we need to be aware and thinking about how to nurture the development of these skills in young children. It is truly unfortunate that our modern approach to raising and educating young children tends to interfere with the development of these abilities.
In the last post, we shared Tip #1 to raising children to be calm, thoughtful and able to focus their attention. It was that we ought to support the child’s focus of attention when they are working at something. Let them work to their heart’s content at whatever (constructive) activity holds their interest.
Tip #2 for Raising a Child to be Calm, Thoughtful, and Focused – Increase Calm, Order and Predictability in the Environment, Reduce Clutter and Noise
Have you ever worked in an office that had piles of paper everywhere and frequent pings from your phone and computer telling you about a new message? I have! We tend to find it very difficult to concentrate and get projects done in such environments because our train of thought is being repeatedly interrupted.
Lots of research proves that cluttered environments reduce our ability to concentrate and focus our attention. This applies to children and adults and it is more impactful than we tend to realize. In fact, although adults enjoy the early learning environments with myriad colorful toys and posters, children learned much more in very bare environments. Young children are found to respond very positively, in terms of learning and emotional state, when adults create an orderly environment.
When I worked as head of a school, I attended a very impactful training for school administrators that focused on how to make sure the school administrator was using their time very well, focused on the most important things rather than constantly reacting to the latest “crisis.” The key was to let the school secretary manage the administrator’s time, papers, emails, so the administrator could spend their time helping teachers do their best work with students. I learned a lot about ordering and organizing my office to support my best thinking and functioning.
This is a critical area we can manage to support our young child’s learning and development. We can either support their calm, focus and thinking by helping to order their environment and minimize clutter, or we can make it nearly impossible for them.
Some Ways we can increase Calm, Order and Predictability in the Environment
- Reduce Clutter. I would venture to guess that most homes and learning environments for young children have 50% – 90% more stuff than they need. Too much stuff causes stress for the child and the adult alike. If you do nothing else, resolve to change this in your household. I am a natural clutterer and I work at this all the time because clutter will ruin any sense of calm that exists in your home.
- Minimize Noise. I already addressed the issues of talking incessantly. Similarly, we don’t want to have televisions or radios going all the time if we want to support a calm environment and our child’s ability to think and focus. A recent study of 43,000 workers found that, in spite of the hope that open office plans would lead to increased morale and productivity from unplanned interactions, they actually caused a degree of noise and distraction that reduced workplace functioning and productivity. Additional research shows that periods of silence, even just a couple of minutes, support learning and memory.
- Establish predictable routines. This has been erroneously interpreted to mean that we ought to schedule every 15 minutes of the child’s day. That actually results in constantly interrupting them, which we want to avoid. Instead, what is beneficial involves things like establishing regular and predictable family routines. Research among Head Start children revealed that, the more regular bedtimes and mealtimes were, the more cooperative, compliant, interested and participatory teachers found children to be. Set bedtimes can improve children’s sleep, and research suggests that this improves their ability to learn, think, and remember. Set bedtimes among children going through a divorce were found to be related to better physical health and fewer school absences two years later.
- Order the environment to support the child’s ability to order their mind. Have you ever noticed how difficult it can be to get work done in a disorganized area? Maybe you’ve tried to cook dinner and found that the utensils are not in the usual place. Or the spices were all over the place and this made preparing dinner a more disorganized, time-consuming operation than you hoped. Research has also shown that the organization of the environment predicts improvements in intelligence scores. Develop the approach in your home or learning environment of “a place for everything and everything in its place.” This will massively contribute to the calm of the home (or classroom)!
Observing young children (including toddlers) in a calm, quiet, thoughtfully ordered environment reveals that even very young children can behave with great calm, grace, maturity and courtesy in such environments. When you increase the calm, quiet, predictability and orderliness of the environment, you will greatly help the child to develop their ability to be calm, thoughtful and focused. You will be supporting their executive function development, which will help them to fulfill their potential in life.