Clearly, children all need to be taught to modulate emotions, resist impulses, and plan into the future. However, it is unlikely that as concerned parents, we are aware of how these abilities are developed in our children when we provide clear, understandable, consistent structure.
The need for helping our children accomplish these abilities is indisputable. We have all seen how important it is to a child’s autonomy to be able to regulate their own limits and boundaries. And the way they learn how to achieve this is though having been provided the structure with which they can learn and continue to grow.
Even as our children develop, the need for structure is apparent. How many of us are entirely convinced that without a regular bedtime, our teenage children would end up like aliens from some unknown planet in the morning because they would have been up watching televisions or playing video games or texting their friends all through the night?
It has taken me a lot of self exploration and inner work to be able to say that I truly know my parents did the best they could raising us (I have two sisters). I used to be able to say these words and not really mean them, but I know in my heart of hearts that both my parents were only human and they truly did the best they could with what they had when it came to caring for us and raising us.
They were, however, quite remiss when it came to structure and boundary setting and teaching us these crucial life lessons. It began because they were not on the same page themselves and of course, this spilled over into the lack of consistency they demonstrated to us as well.
My father was the one who had more of an idea and plan when it came to setting and maintaining a system and rules around the house. He served in the military and it is something that he may not have understood the emotional and psychological need for, but tried to accomplish nonetheless.
My mother, God bless her soul, didn’t know the first thing about rules and regulations and how to set limits. She was sure that people, including her daughters, would not like her very much and be unhappy if she told us “no,” so that is something we did not hear very often as we grew up.
While you might think this was a good thing, in the long run, it was just the opposite. We needed to teach ourselves “no.” We needed to teach ourselves how to get moving and when to stop doing certain things. For me, this was quite a struggle growing up and there were quite a few areas in my life that I needed to work extra hard with, as I actually parented myself.
First I learned that I emotionally had to buy into the need for discipline, limits and structure. It was not an easy thing for me to learn but it wasn’t until I believed that it was something positive for me to work at, nothing changed. I had gotten quite accustomed to letting many things just go their own way and learning to regulate was tough. But worth it.
My parents loved us, but they didn’t demonstrate how important it was to do things because we had to, not just because we wanted to. Once I realized I could survive and be happy even though I had to accept certain things being a certain way, it began to come together for me.
Pretty much, everything had a price. Sometimes the price was steep, sometimes not so steep, but if I wanted particular outcomes, I had to “learn the cost” and then “pay the price” to get it to happen that way.
That is what structure teaches, the borders, the boundaries, the outline within which I have to color my picture. It defines things and that is critical to being successful. Without definition and recognizable boundaries, it is a free for all and nobody can survive that way for long.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Judy is a licensed clinical social worker and has worked extensively as a counselor with children, adolescents, couples and families. Judy’s professional experience in the mental health field along with her love of writing, provide insight into real-life experiences and relationships. Her fresh voice and down-to-earth approach to living a happier, more meaningful life are easy to understand and just as easy to start implementing right away for positive results!