With Valentine’s Day right around the corner thoughts of love come to mind. Parental love takes many forms. It is warm cuddling, sharing of laughter in play, and intimate moments of just being together. It also includes the nuts and bolts of family life that keep things running as everyone hopes.
In this month’s article we will return to the basics--the nuts and bolts of parenting--and talk about structure, consistency, and follow-through. These strategies provide the security children need. Secure children feel safe and know they are loved.
Structure provides the framework for family functioning. It relates to time, standards and expectations. Structuring time includes creating regular times for going to bed and getting up. It means designating a set time for homework and chores. It lets children know that meals will be served at a relatively consistent time each day. Structuring time gives the family the knowledge of what to expect. When children know the order of events they are more successful. Their minds and bodies begin to incorporate the routine in such a way that they are prepared for what is coming. For example, you may notice in yourself that if you generally go to bed around 10:00 each night, by 9:45 you begin to feel sleepy. The mind begins to fade. Your body and mind are signaling that it’s time for sleep. This is what happens for children, too. Whether it’s naptime for babies and toddlers or homework time for school age children, structuring a consistent time allows the body and mind to prepare.
Creating standards and expectations in a family helps events run smoothly. One standard may mean sitting at the table to eat instead of walking around with food. Another might be that all toys are put away before bedtime. Putting the backpack in the same place each day after completing homework is an effective standard. It relieves before-school hassles.
An expectation could be having a quiet story each evening before bed or going to the library one evening a week after dinner. Some families set an expectation that each weekend all members will help with cleaning the house or working in the yard.
When an agreed upon structure is in place and consistently followed children learn the routine. They feel secure because they know what is coming and when.
All effective parenting strategies build on each other. Consistency follows structure. Once a family structure is in place, it only works if consistently followed. When children know what to anticipate and it happens they are far more likely to comply than when things come at them randomly or unexpectedly. Parents who aim for 100 percent consistency usually hit around 80 percent. That is sufficient for children to have the security that what you say and what happens in the family can be counted on.
Many of you know that maintaining family routines on the weekend is more difficult than on weekdays. Some weekends are downright chaotic. On these days children are frequently crankier and less compliant. That is because they feel out of control. They can’t be sure what to anticipate.
There is a fine line between consistency and rigidity. Rigidity means the inability to move off of a schedule, no matter what. That creates stress in everyone. Consistency means that, although in life things don’t always go as planned, for the most part children can count on their parents to do the same thing in the same way with the same standards and expectations.
Just as consistency follows structure, follow-through follows consistency. Let’s say that a bedtime routine includes picking up toys, brushing teeth and reading a story. As bedtime approaches tell the children that it’s time to pick up the toys. After the task is complete acknowledge them for their success. If they balk, remind them that in order to have time for a story toys need to be put away. Always assist if necessary. This does not mean doing the task for the children. It means working along with them to assure success. When you are a parent who follows through on helping children achieve what is expected, they soon recognize that they have little wiggle room with you. If you do not follow-through consistently, power struggles and whining occur during those times that you do.
Busy parents have a difficult time developing a structure, being consistent and following through. Sometimes they feel like it’s just too much work. The secret is, effective parents who take the time to use these strategies have families that work efficiently and smoothly. More time is created for fun. Less time is spent with ineffective nagging and cajoling.
When families sit together to develop a workable structure and when parents are consistent and follow-through on what has been planned, children feel secure. They feel loved. Secure, loved children are happy children. Happy children want to participate fully in family life.