Structure is another one of those words that gets misused. People say that kids need structure – and then take it too far. Kids don’t need their whole lives structured. There’s no room for curiosity or following an interest if you do that. They don’t need their learning structured for exactly that same reason. It’s not conducive to real learning if you say “We do Math at 10, Social Studies at 11, Lunch at noon, etc.” What happens when something wonderful presents itself in the middle of your schedule? Or if they are more interested in watching the Presidential debates? Or wondering why leaves are turning colors in Vermont, but temps are still in the 90s in Texas?
Life brings structure – winding down for bedtimes, making it on time and prepared for soccer practice twice a week, showing up for park days with blankets, chairs, snacks and water bottles, getting to the post office before it closes. But also, identifying priorities, knowing what’s going to happen that day, being clear on expectations… these are forms of structure.
So I don’t say “No structure ever!” That would be silly.
Structure is all around us. We don’t have to create arbitrary structures though.
If you’re still thinking that kids thrive with structure, ask yourself why?
Some of your own responses will be totally logical. Others may leave you with more questions than answers.
Why the push for structure?
What answers do you get when you ask yourself, “Who says?” and “Why?”
Sometimes, it’s the adults seeking the structure for themselves. It’s about getting a handle on the fear that comes when things are a little more floaty than we’re comfortable with. We quickly want to clamp down and create some order.
Instead, it might be helpful to sit with the discomfort you have with that lack of structure.
Just be a watcher.
What’s happening? Why do you need the structure?
If you’re afraid that a little chaos will definitely lead your family into total bedlam and anarchy, try to get that disaster mindset in check. A little disarray is not the same as a complete pandemonium. Try to stay realistic on what is actually happening in the here and now.
Or maybe you've always swooped in to manage the situation - and you've never given your kids the chance to figure out what their own next steps could be. That puts more work on you and ends up circumventing the opportunity for your child to learn a little more about themselves and how to manage their world.
A Solution for YOU
If you have a hard time overcoming those thoughts and you’re still thinking that you’d like to provide more structure, create it for yourself. Start a bullet journal or Evernote system and get your thoughts all organized. Nothing wrong with doing that at all. Just don’t take it that step further and decide that everyone else in your house needs your structure.
Everyone Says It
When you hear people talk about how “kids need structure,” consider how they might simply be using a cliché to promote the status quo. Learning doesn’t have to be parceled out to kids under some guise of needing structure.
While some kids need a little more structure based on their temperament or developmental phase, try creating structure individually without sweeping with a broad brush. And be ready to change it, if the situation doesn’t call for it.
Of course, you have to provide safety – and structure does that. And sometimes kids need help with transitioning from one activity to another. Structure can help with this too. But keep in mind that the less “imposed” structure, the better. A child will be much more likely to learn how to do this for themselves if you can refrain from being heavy-handed in the structure department.
No one likes someone imposing a structure on them - it's far better to partner with your child and figure out what could keep everyone (mostly) happy. It's not about "giving in" to your child, as many mainstream responses would tell you. It's more about avoiding unnecessary power struggles, helping them see how to navigate their environment, and trusting that they can help solve the problem.