Structure the Day

Structure Matters


Children thrive when they know what to expect—even if they don’t always like it. By creating a structured environment for children, you can help them feel safe and secure, which is an essential component in preventing problem behavior.

Creating structure in your children's day is about establishing a regular routine. That may mean keeping wake up time, meals, snacks, and leisure activities at the same time every day.

Enacting rules and following a routine helps to add structure to your children's day.


Children need these rules and routines for a number of reasons:

to understand limits and boundaries

to learn self discipline

to experience frustration

to experience delayed gratification

to appropriately interact with the world around them


Routines are a great way to teach independence. Once your children understands that the morning begins with brushing his teeth, getting dressed, eating breakfast and then packing his school bag, you likely won’t have to continually remind them.

This independence can boost self esteem in children as they become confident in taking care of themselves.

You're also less likely to see behavior problems when you've structured your children's day. When your children know what to expect, they will be less anxious about what is going on and focus on managing their behavior.


Establish a Routine

If your child’s day currently has very little structure, introduce change slowly. Begin implementing a routine by focusing on just one part of the day, such as the hour or two between dinner time and bedtime.

You know best what tasks need to get accomplished during this time, such as packing lunches, putting toys away, baths and brushing teeth, story time and lights out, so organize activities in a way that makes sense for your family.

If you have an area in your house where information is shared, create a poster that has a list of tasks to accomplish in order. This list may include photos of each child doing the task in the order it is to be done so you don't have to guide them through it once it becomes familiar.

Be patient, it may take a few days, weeks or months for children to become familiar with the routines. Remind your child to do his after dinner routine and then refer to the chart. After a while, the reminders will not be needed as frequently. Be sure to add fun time into the routine as you create it. This may be time on the computer, a game with mom or a special art activity.


Create House Rules

Structure also means implementing family rules. These rules should be clear and specific—like art supplies stay in the play room or no TV until you clean up after dinner is done—and age-appropriate. They should be laid out in advance, and new rules shouldn’t be made without discussing them first.

You can also discuss the consequences for breaking the rules, so your children understand what’s in store if they make a bad decision. Potential consequences could mean no dessert, no game time or no social activities on the weekend.


Deviating From the Rules and Routines Effectively

Some of the most memorable parts of a children's lives are when their parents decide to throw routine out the window for a little fun, like staying up late to watch shooting stars or playing a board game on a school night.

Therefore, a little flexibility is a good thing. When you decide to deviate from rules or routine, explain to your children why you’re doing it and that it’s a special, one-time event.

Additionally, be willing to change the home structure as your children grow. Rules and routines appropriate for a toddler must be altered to work for a teen, naturally. Every few months, take stock of how your household is structure and make any appropriate tweaks.

In the end, a sense of structure will help to eliminate power struggles, organize the whole family and help your children feel secure and independent—a winning result for a few months of concentrated effort.