Children thrive with structure.
Working with families, I often hear parents who say “I don’t want my children to hate me” when I begin to talk about what structure looks like in their home. The fear of the loss of warmth from their child seems to be the most dominant deterrent for creating structure in the home. Don’t be afraid to give consequences, they’ll love you for it. Sure, they may kick and scream the first couple of times you decide to enforce rules, but long term it is beneficial for your children.
Routines, structure and rules provide a sense of certainty and security for children. The earlier that routine, structure and rules are enforced the better it is for the child’s development and affinity to structure. Without rules, children feel a sense of uncertainty about themselves and their surroundings. As they grow into their teenage years the lack of structure and routines result in children displaying maladaptive behaviors and difficulty adjusting and organizing their day to day lives.
In comparison to a child who lacks structure, children who are raised with structure result in overall better habits that foster healthy outcomes. Routines help children get used to rules, having chores, develop habits such as brushing their teeth, understand time management and strengthen relationships by focusing on the time spent together. Structure teaches children how to regulate themselves, resist impulses and plan. Rules are particularly important because it teaches children about the importance of executive systems, finding balance, and choosing between what’s right and wrong.
Enforcing rules does not mean that you are a mean mom or dad. Rather, it offers the child the opportunity to decide which option they’d prefer, the one that may result in a reward, or the one that results in a consequence. It is in the instilling of rules, rewards and consequences that you are learning about your child’s decision-making skills, and what you have already taught them about what is right or wrong. It is not your fault, if they decide to misbehave. It was their decision, and they are learning about who you are as a parent, what they can get away with, and whether the consequence was worth it. You are teaching them how to think about their decisions instead of being impulsive. You are doing a great job as a parent by providing structure!
Children need warmth too.
Just because you give structure, does not mean that you should forget to provide warmth. Children thrive on the love that you give them. Providing warmth to a child supports the healthy mental health of a child. It adds to their self-confidence and self-esteem when you praise your child for all the good things they’ve done. It creates a safe and secure surrounding when you give your child love. Think about when you are on the job, how it makes you feel when your bosses praise and genuinely show that they care about you. It feels amazing! It encourages you to continue keeping up the good work. Warmth, helps to provide this sense of guidance and discipline when coupled with structure.
Without warmth, your child is more likely to have a lower self-esteem and more health complications. Also, without warmth there is a loss in the motivation to do well or commit to routines. Unfortunately, your child can miss out on a lot of the developmental factors that come with having routines due to the loss of motivation to follow the routines. Without warmth, your child is more likely to develop mental health issues such as depression and anxiety.
Warmth is the yang to structure. You cannot have one without the other. Too much warmth can have negative effects, just as too much structure. The next time you are thinking about revamping your parent-child bond, think about how much warmth and structure are you providing for you child.