Over the course of Ezra’s treatment in behavioral therapy, we have learned about certain parenting strategies that have been incredibly effective. One of those strategies is the use of visual boundaries.
Children need boundaries. They seek boundaries, they test boundaries, they break boundaries. It is how they learn where they end and the rest of the world begins. It’s how they know what is expected of them.
Because of children’s developing brains, sometimes, just telling a child what the boundaries are simply isn’t enough.
For example, have you ever told your child “stay in your room,” “stay in your bed,” or “stay in your seat,” only to have them get right back out the moment you leave? Some parents view this as simple defiance. What we are learning is that it isn’t that simple. Sometimes, even if the child can parrot back the expectation, the brain really doesn’t understand what the boundary is. Breaking the boundary can be a byproduct of an underdeveloped understanding.
Giving a child a visual boundary, a boundary that he can see, can help his little brain more fully understand the expectation.
If you come to our home, you will see masking tape on the table, on the floor, in the bathroom, and across several thresholds. This has helped Ezra learn where he needs to be during certain activities.
- At mealtimes, Ezra has his own spot, marked clearly by tape on both the floor and the table. Ezra is allowed to sit on his chair, or stand if he prefers, as long as he stays in his spot. This helps keep him from running off into the living room or lying on the floor elsewhere in the kitchen during mealtime (which used to happen nearly every meal). He knows where he is supposed to be.
- Over the threshold to the master bedroom and Ezra’s boundaries is more tape. For Ezra’s room, this allows us to encourage independent playtime in his room without locking the door. For the master bedroom, we have been trying (rather unsuccessfully) to create a household policy of knocking on the door before entering. 9 times out of 10 Ezra will just barge in. Having tape across the door helps to remind him to knock before entering, whether the door is opened or closed.
- Using tape to mark out play spots for Ezra in his playroom has also been helpful in encouraging independent play. Telling Ezra to “go play in the basement” leaves him overwhelmed with the choices and he will end up wandering around or coming back up, upset that I won’t play with him. Giving him a designated spot with one or two toys helps him focus quickly and easily and enjoy playtime much more thoroughly.
- Ezra has a very hard time standing still while I brush his teeth. He will try to balance on one foot or shift his weight back and forth between his feet. Sometimes he will even swing his legs around. It’s incredibly hard to brush a wiggly child’s teeth! So I put tape on his stool, one line for each foot. He is now expected to keep both feet on the tape, helping him maintain control of his body instead of wiggling.
Having visual boundaries is no guarantee that the child will comply. Ezra still tests these boundaries and sometimes even purposely breaks them. We have to remind him often of the boundaries, especially during mealtimes. But having the boundaries clearly marked for him has definitely helped him understand the expectation.
In my next post, I’ll be explaining more fully how we use visual boundaries in play and how we are successfully encouraging Ezra into independent play.