Accommodation Mapping — By Bart Theriot

Sometimes we speak without really hearing ourselves, at least not enough to question our own words.  In order to maintain our position, we often subconsicously seek out others whose thoughts and words match our own, creating an echo chamber masked as a support network.  This is especially true for new mothers and fathers.  However, there are times as a parent, when if you stop to listen to the actual words you use in repetition, you just might realize something isn’t right.

I overheard a conversation between two mothers at the gym this morning.  It’s a small gym and we were situated near each other.  It was a very benign exchange, but because the subject of their conversation was children and parenting, I found myself eavesdropping.  Don’t judge.  I act in the name of scientific research  😉  Anyway, here is a snippet from what I heard:

“Usually, they let me read to both of them before bed.  But last night my son wasn’t having any of that so I had to let him scream and cry while I read to my daughter.  Then when I finished reading to her, she wouldn’t let me read to my son unless I played the Frozen soundtrack for her.” The other mother nodded in agreement, saying she remembered those days but, thankfully, she was past them with her teenagers and now more concerned about their driving the car alone.

In parent discussions, these phrases are so common, many of us do not even hear them anymore.  At least not for what they are.  Scenarios in which the child “lets” or does not “let” the parent act.  It is almost always said with the same level of confident aquiescence.   As if this is simply how things must be. In actuality, when parents use words or phrases such as “he won’t let me…”  “I have to…” “I can’t get him to…” it means the child has too much control over that moment.  When you hear it enough, it means the entire parent/child relationship is out of balance.  I’ve written about control quite a bit on this website.  Sometimes parents are surprised to hear this word associated with young children, but the strength of any adult/child partnership has everything to do with the balance of control.  The mother of teenagers’ response in that exchange is also a poignant reminder that in just a few years, the stakes for what your child controls in life will be much higher.

So when I meet with parents and hear these phrases, I view it as an opportunity to help balance the scales for the whole family.  One tool that seems to work for many parents is called “Accommodation Mapping.”  I myself only recently learned about this technique from the SPACE program for use with OCD and Anxiety, but I have found it applies equally well for diagnosed conditions as it does to the broader side of parenting.  If it feels as if your child’s behavior is forcing your own, either broadly or only in certain situations,  it is a sure sign you are making accommodations that allow this behavior.

To clarify, accommodations may be a necessary and helpful part of a child’s development.  However, the accommodations parents often make at home are not the same as those we may make in the classroom. To us, accommodations are teacher actions, adaptations of lessons, new materials, changes to the enviornment or other techniques that allow a child to be successful in a given task or behavior. Often these accommodations are made for children exhibiting learning, developmental or behavioral differences. Usually, the child cannot progress without these accommodations. However, the changes we make are almost always temporary, intended to be removed after an anticipated length of time.  They are also carefully created in a way that leads the child toward greater independence and internalization of the skill.

At home, accommodations are rarely as premeditated and often do not include a concrete exit plan.  More often than not, they focus upon the same short-term goal -avoidance of conflict or discomfort for you and your child.  When this is the goal, it is very difficult for parents to make good decisions, which support the child’s independence.

If this blog post is starting to create some defensive feelings as you read it, that’s good.  But don’t take this idea as a personal insult.  You are not being judged unfairly.  EVERY parent does this, including Montessori teachers with 20 years of experience.  The difference for the Montessori teachers, is that we usually know when we are overaccommodating and are therefore better able to get ourselves (and our children) out of it.  That being said, we can all benefit from the simplicity of accommodation mapping.

Here’s how it is done.  First, get out a sheet of paper (or your laptop) and down the left margin, break up your day into morning, afternoon and night.  It may also be helpful  to divide vertically with one side for mom and the other side for dad.  Then think about your interactions with your child during each of these phases.  It is easiest to start with recurring events and routines such as;  wakeup, breakfast, dressing, leaving the house for school, etc.  In each of these moments, consider what, if anything, you do in avoidance of discomfort (for you or your child) and write that in the appropriate place.

Common examples of parent accommodation range from nearly unnoticable to severe:  Providing a child with a smartphone or tablet during meals.  Remaining in your child’s room at night and sneaking out after she falls asleep.  Avoiding bringing your child with you to run errands or giving the smart phone or tablet when riding in the vehicle.   Anytime you do something for a child which she could do for herself, you may be accommodating -if only to avoid the hassle or mess of waiting for your child to do it.  Extreme cases may exists where the child screams, throws tantrums or becomes physical with a parent.  Usually in these moments,  parents cannot help but accommodate the behavior hoping to avoid prolonging or making the situation worse.  Parents may become completely averse to bringing the child into any public situation, and social isolation results. These may be your exact accommodations, but there are so many others that fit the definition.  List as many as you can and run through the same analysis with the rest of the day.

Usually, the first result of this exercise is an immediate sense of the big picture of your parent/child relationship.  You end up re-affirming  your child’s high level of independence and the strength of your own parenting, or you might be forced to acknowledge that some big changes need to be made.   In all cases, this is an empowering realization.  Armed with this new understanding, the next step is to review each of the accommodations and determine which ones could be removed, which ones could be adjusted and which ones need to remain in place for now.

Check in with your map every day at first and then every week to keep notes in areas of success and difficulty.  Cross reference with your spouse if you feel it will be productive.  A word of caution, though, this must be done without judgement between you and your spouse.  This is a good rule to apply even when you’re only assessing your own accommodations.  Always stick to facts, sharing only the details of what you see and what you do without opinion.  This map can also continue as a useful tool long after you have achieved the goals you have set.  Just because old accommodations have been eliminated, does not mean that new ones won’t appear as your child grows or homelife changes.  With each week of practice with this concept, you further internalize the process of self-reflection, observational assessment, problem solving and flexible, intentional parenting.  You’ll also find a more independent child who is better able to make decisions and contribute more cooperatively to the family needs.

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