Building a Child by Giving Good Structure

by: Dan Florell, Ph.D.

“In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” Benjamin Franklin came up with this proverb and most people focus on the final portion regarding death and taxes. What is often missed is the beginning of the proverb which is quite important, particularly when working with children. Uncertainty in the world is guaranteed and has to be dealt with as part of growing up. However, most of us don’t like a total world of uncertainty. In fact, most of us would prefer to have a minimal amount of uncertainty.

The same can be said for children regarding uncertainty. When you think about growing up, there is plenty of uncertainty built into normal development. Throw in an environment that constantly changes and many children get lost. The end result is that the child begins to struggle and fall behind socially and academically.

The way to minimize uncertainty is to provide children structure in the environments that they occupy. This means having clearly stated rules and expectations that are consistently and predictably enforced. It means having clear routines for getting up in the morning and going to bed at night. When these types of structures have been put in place, children thrive.

Unfortunately, structure can be hard to achieve when parents’ lives are busy and filled with uncertainties. It makes it harder to sit down and think through how to provide the structure children need. The type of structure needed will vary based on the age of the child and where he is developmentally.

A good starting point is to make a short set of rules to be followed in the household. There should only by 3-5 rules that are short and specific. A rule such as “Put away your toys in your toy bin when asked” would be a good example. The child knows what to do and where to put her toys. The rules need to be placed where they are easily visible and can be referenced if a child is not following them. If children are younger, it can help to take pictures of the rules being followed that feature the child.

Other types of structure include a bed time routine. Once again, clearly putting the steps of the routine in easily visible places will help the child make the routine a habit. When a routine becomes a habit, parents will find that they don’t have to remind the child near as often to go to bed and follow the bed-time routine.

These are just a couple of examples of how to provide your children the structure they need to develop and thrive. Remember, just growing up provides plenty of uncertainty for children. We need to do our best that there is some certainty and structure so they are not overwhelmed by the uncertainty.

This article was published in the Richmond Register Health Beat Magazine in August 2012.

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