It is essential in today’s world to create a structured, firm, routine, and consistent environment in which to raise your child. These things are often lacking in our own lives, as adults, which makes it very difficult to create it for our children; however, when we take each one of these principles individually, it becomes quite clear why they are, indeed, so essential in raising children.
A structured environment is one which has guidelines and rules. It has boundaries and very clear directions about ‘what’s what.’ It tells you what the rules are, and what the consequences are if you do something right and if you do something wrong. This is especially important to children because when there are not clear boundaries, or when the boundaries are extremely wide-like a football field, then the child has the freedom to go from one end of that football field to the other. Or, think about this: What if the boundary is two football fields long? When we provide a structured environment, we move those boundaries in much more closely and securely. (And, because I talk with my hands, my hands are now about five inches apart.)
One of the greatest analogies for providing structure and discipline that I have ever read comes from James Dobson. He said the following: It is our job as parents to provide proper discipline and guidelines because to parent without them is to ask our child to walk across a suspension bridge with no guardrails. Wow! What would this feel like for a child? To be on a suspension bridge, high above a valley–except, there are no safety rails. When we provide those guardrails as parents, what we are telling our children is, “Here are the guidelines. Here are the rules.” In reality, we are providing safety, security, and stability for our children through doing this.
A firm environment tells a child, “I will set these rules and I will enforce them. And, you cannot get everything you desire.” This, in turn, teaches the very important principle that we cannot have everything that we want all of the time. It is fundamentally important for children to learn that they must tolerate frustration and cannot have everything that they desire all of the time. When the boundaries, the guidelines or the disciplines are lax, children can run from one end of the ‘football field’ to the other and they do not have to learn self-discipline or self-control; they do not have to learn to follow the rules. So, being firm is essential in parenting a healthy child.
Consistency tells a child, “I will be predictable as your parent.” And, predictability increases security because a child can predict what is going to happen. This is essential in raising a healthy child because in an uncertain world where children hear all sorts of alarming information – on the news, on the radio, on the computer, everywhere they go! – security is important. And, when a parent says, “I will deliver a consequence for every time you do this, or I will provide a reward every time you do that,” the parent allows the child to function within a world that is predictable. So, if the rule is ‘don’t jump on the couch,’ then there must be a consequence every time the child jumps on the couch.
Finally, routine is the support system for firmness, security, safety, predictability, and consistency. When a routine is in place, your child knows when he will be having breakfast, lunch, or dinner; he knows when it is play-time—inside or outside; he knows when it is time for a bath and time to brush his teeth; he knows when it is time to go to bed; he knows when it is time to clean his room; he knows when it is time to do his homework; and he knows when it is just quiet time or family time. If there is no routine in place, your child cannot learn to depend on meals at a certain time; nor can he depend upon learning the satisfaction of ‘a job-well-done’ as he, by himself, completes many of these every-day tasks without having to be prompted or scolded or begged. It is absolutely imperative in today’s world that we raise healthy children. The way in which we may do so is by providing a structured, consistent, firm and routine environment so our children can be safe, secure, happy, and have the necessary self-control to function in our world.