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Ramapo for Children-Tips for Building a Predictable Environment for Your Child


At Ramapo for Children, our work is grounded in the conviction that children of all abilities seek the same things: to learn, have friends, feel valued, and experience success. When the demands of a child's environment are misaligned with his or her social and emotional skills, frustrating and disruptive behaviors occur. To help children succeed-whether they are on the spectrum, have a learning disability, or simply don't yet have the tools to control their outbursts-the adults in their lives need to help children align their behaviors with their aspirations.

With 90 years of experience, Ramapo for Children has developed a unique ability to create inclusive environments that promote positive behavioral change, foster skill development, and help support learning and personal growth. As we have honed our expertise in working on behalf of children who face obstacles to learning, we have seen that children with special needs need predictable and supportive environments to be able to improve their social and emotional skills.

As parents work to connect with their children, here are a few tools to keep in mind that Ramapo for Children uses and teaches to create predictable environments:

Establish limits, act firmly, and follow through. Being firm in your words and actions allows children to borrow your strength and determination.

Working with children with special needs can be disorienting and unpredictable at times, and adults may not always feel confident in their ability to handle situations. However, it is vitally important that they make every effort to appear in control, because the absence of confidence in adults leads to great anxiety in children with special needs. Adults must be prepared to establish clear boundaries, explain the reasons these boundaries have been established, and consistently enforce the boundaries so children know what to expect.

Use your child's interests to reinforce positive behavior. Recognizing what interests your child and integrating engaging topics in other activities is critical to nurturing a relationship and, ultimately, to building valuable skills.

No two children with special needs are the same, and adults need to take the time to understand a child's uniqueness and interests. Once you can engage with children and their preferred topics, utilize elements of these interests to help them engage in structured, productive activities. Does your child focus on fairies and fairy tales? Deliver his or her daily schedule by "fairy mail" to make it more engaging. Does he or she love trains? Offer more "train time" with a playmate when your child meets behavioral expectations, with clear guidelines of how they can reach their goals. Gradually decrease the role and frequency of your child's interest when engaging in other activities, and the skills gained will continue to stick.

Develop consistent routines and schedules. Giving children time to anticipate activities decreases negative behavior and enables children to feel prepared for what comes next.

Changes in activities can be challenging for all children, especially those with special needs, and transitions are often the time when the most disruptive behavior occurs. Plan ahead: Visually post schedules so your child can anticipate the day. Consider carefully how to transition your child from one activity to another. Be consistent, and make sure that your child knows what to expect from transitions and when they will occur.

Be aware of your child's triggers.Identify your child's sensory triggers (bright lights, loud noises, textures) and social-emotional triggers (certain tasks or words), and avoid or minimize them as much as possible.

Everyone has something that sets them off. While most adults have strategies to deal with these "triggers" that they've gained from experience, children tend to act out in frustration and often can't identify what it is that bothers them. To help your child with his or her triggers, keep a record of the sensory and social-emotional triggers that make the day harder. Not all triggers can be predicted, but the goal is to "prepare, minimize, and avoid" for your child: Prepare children for triggers you know will set them off. Minimize the frequency, intensity, and duration as much as possible. Avoid the trigger altogether if possible, especially if your child's reaction will negatively impact the rest of the day.

Over the past 90 years, Ramapo for Children has developed a unique ability to create environments that help children of all abilities align their behaviors with their aspirations. Through highly regarded training programs for adults and direct service youth programs that support nearly 20,000 participants each year, we have seen that building a predictable environment for a child with special needs is an important and achievable goal. Though your child's challenges may seem daunting, the behavior management skills Ramapo teaches can help parents create a consistent, supportive structure for children that leads to better relationships and improved skills.