Surviving in a House of Chaos: Implementing Structure

Tonya Ratliff, MA, LPC, NCC, ACSby Tonya Ratliff, LPC, NCC, ACS

In my previous article, Surviving in a House of Chaos: Take Back Control with Effective Parenting, I identified implementing structure, maintaining consistency and managing expectations as the three pillars of effective parenting. In this article, I would like to address the concept of implementing structure in greater detail.

Structure is defined as something arranged in a definite pattern of organization. Simply stated, structure within a family is a routine of activities that is predictable. Children of every age thrive with structure in their lives because predictability reduces anxiety. If we are honest, we must admit that often times a lack of structure in our adult lives creates much of our own anxiety. So, is it not reasonable to conclude that a lack of predictability in our child’s life would also lead to anxiety? And, contribute to the challenge of coping with the demands placed on them by parents and teachers? By providing structure we can reduce our child’s anxiety, and as a result, reduce their need to rebel, act out, or withdrawal.

Providing structure does require organization skills. A parent who flies by the seat of their own pants may find the task of implementing structure in their child’s life quite overwhelming. A steadfast dose of commitment will be necessary to create some order in a chaotic household. A calendar or master planner, creating “to do” lists, and keeping track of the influx of information coming into the home are just a few of the ways a parent can begin to create some structure for themselves—and in turn, their child(ren).

One simple example of structure for younger children is having a set time for waking and going to bed EVERY DAY—even on weekends. Additionally, doing things in the same order, as much as possible, provides predictability for children. For example: dinner / homework / bath / brush teeth / story and prayer / bedtime.

Another example of structure that applies to kids of all ages is adherence to regular meal times. This is a tough one because for many families, every day of the week is a bit different. That’s okay too if, for example, everyone knows that Sunday dinner is non-negotiable. Post a schedule of everyone’s activities on the refrigerator, a bulletin board, or a white board where everyone in the family can see it. The schedule should include homework time and play time—including outdoor and indoor activities such as computer games. If a schedule change must be made, make it as far in advance as possible, and intentionally inform everyone involved of the change. Also, provide opportunities for organizing everyone’s belongings; this includes clothing, backpacks, school supplies, sports equipment, etc.

All of this structure doesn’t mean that you can’t occasionally throw out the schedule and do something spontaneous and fun with your family. Absolutely do that! But make that the exception, and watch how enthusiastically they will respond to something “special.” Please Note: children—especially teens—will deny that they want or need structure; in fact, they will fight against your efforts to impose it. However, this is a parent’s job. Remember, the kids don’t call the shots!

Trinity Family Counseling Center
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