Dinner is almost over. I look across the table and it’s happening again. My son is pouring his milk in his food for the 17 millionth time, leaving me with yet another mess to clean up.
Frustration wells up inside of me. “I work so hard to make delicious, nutritious meals and all he does is waste it by making a big mess.” I think to myself. “How many times do I have to tell him to drink his milk not pour it into his food?”
I would get so frustrated every time my boys kept doing the same things over and over again no matter how many times I told them not to. It seemed like they were intentionally trying to get a rise out of me and constantly testing my patience.
Maybe you can relate.
Does it drive you crazy every time your child drops his food from his high chair? How about when all the clothes you just neatly folded and put away get pulled out the drawers two seconds later? Why do you keep losing things only to find them in some random drawer or cupboard?
I want to share a concept that I learned that will change the way you see your child’s behavior. It’s called schemas.
What are schemas?
Schemas are repeated patterns of behavior that help children learn about the world around them. Schemas are often described as natural urges. They are the building blocks of the brain and are a fundamental part of your child’s development in the early years.
The concept of schemas is often taught and practiced in many early childhood settings. Even though my background is in teaching, I only recently came across this concept and it has been life-changing for me as a parent.
Why should you care about it?
- Understanding schemas helps you take a step back and reframe the way you see your child’s behavior. It’s not about the action, it’s about the urge or particular schema they are exploring. What you once took as a personal attack on your sanity, can now be seen as another scientific inquiry. Wow! Your kid’s a little genius!
- Understanding schemas helps you redirect unwanted or inappropriate behavior in a way that still allows your child to act on these natural urges, but in a more appropriate way and one that you are more comfortable with.
- Understanding schemas helps you extend their learning by matching activities and toys to their current interests. Your child will likely engage in the activity longer, therefore building better connections in the brain and providing more opportunities for learning and growth.
So What are the different types of Schema?
There are many different types of schemas. Here are some of the most easily identifiable schemas often seen during children’s play:
Children exploring this schema may have the urge to move things or themselves vertically, horizontally, or diagonally. They may enjoy throwing or dropping objects, climbing and jumping off things, swinging, and playing with running water.
Children exploring this schema may have the urge to spin, roll or make circles with their bodies or objects. They may love anything with wheels and spinning in circles until they are dizzy.
Children exploring this schema may have the urge to see things from a different vantage point. They enjoy hanging upside down and looking through their legs.
Children exploring this schema may have the urge to carry or move things from place to place. They may enjoy pushing a stroller or cart, carrying lots of things in their hands or pockets, or filling up buckets and wagons and moving them around.
Children exploring this schema may have urge to combine and mix things together. They may enjoy mixing different colored playdough or paints together, pouring their drink in their food, or getting things wet to see how they change. They may also enjoy playing dress up to transform themselves.
Children exploring this schema may have the urge to cover objects or themselves with different materials. They may enjoy wrapping themselves in blankets covering their hands with paints, burying items in the sand, or painting an entire picture with just one color.
Children exploring this schema may have the urge to put things into containers. They may enjoy filling up and emptying out containers, buckets, jars, bags. They may add borders to pictures or add boundaries to play spaces.
Children exploring this schema may have the urge to order and arrange objects or themselves. They may enjoy lining up cars or stuffed animals, putting things in groups by color, size, or shape; or like to sit in a particular spot when eating dinner.
Children exploring this schema may have the urge to join things together or take things apart. They may enjoy connecting train tracks, legos, or puzzles, building towers with blocks and knocking them down, using tape and glue, or tying things together.
How to know what schema your child is exploring?
The best way to figure out your child’s schema is through observation. What does your child enjoy doing? Do you see them doing the same things over and over again? Do they appear focused and engaged in a particular activity?
Not all kids will exhibit these schemas at the same time. Just because you and your friend both have 2 year olds, it doesn’t mean that they will display the same schemas.
Not all schemas will last the same length. Some may last a few days or a few weeks while others may last much longer. Sometimes your child may exhibit multiple schemas at one time and other times none at all.
Wrapping it up
Identifying schemas in your child’s play is extremely helpful for reframing your child’s behavior. All kids have natural urges that are essential for learning about the world around them. If you often find yourself complaining about some of your child’s behavior, take a closer look to see if they may just be exploring one of these most common schemas: trajectory, orientation, transforming, rotating, transporting, enveloping, containing, positioning, or connecting. Remember it’s not about the action, it’s about the schema.