Children Need "Structure"

Children Need "Structure"

Vijai P. Sharma, Ph.D

Are we becoming a nation of unruly children?

Behavioral problems are rising among the children. More pre-schoolers are being sent home for disobedience and disruptive or aggressive behaviors.

Psychologist Lawrence Shapiro, a national child expert says that hardly a week goes by that he is not consulted regarding a pre-schooler expelled for a serious behavioral problem. Pre-school boys and girls have been expelled because their behavior was unmanageable! Yes, girls too. Just a few years ago, expulsion of a girl child was totally unheard of.

Perhaps politically incorrect, but worthy of attention, is a recent study which shows that children from homes which have greater family structure with set rules do better. So, the question we all need to ask ourselves is this: What type of structure and rules might be good for a child's optimal growth?

The words such as the "structure" and "rules" often evoke images of a rigid, inflexible system that might destroy such good things as a child's creativity, initiative and happiness. It doesn't have to be so.

A structure can be highly positive. When a child's problem behavior gets all the negative attention but acts of good behavior go unnoticed, that actually shows either a lack of structure or a breakdown of it.

Consider the following example: "Johnny" obeys his father nine out of ten times. But the compliance does not elicit any praise or recognition by the father because he thinks that children are supposed to obey the parents anyway. Therefore, the time when Johnny does not listen to his father, the latter gets mighty upset. Father's undue response should not cause a problem because a lot of other good things are in place at Johnny's home.

However, if other conditions at Johnny's home were already causing a high level of stress and resentment, compliance that was not recognized or explicitly appreciated could become an issue, especially if Johnny is a grade school child.

Other examples of positive structure include "catching" a child being good, parent and child spending one-on-one time every day and family meals at least once a day.

Some child experts recommend that a parent should spend at least fifteen minutes with his or her child to talk, play or engage in some activity together. All a parent is to do is to do in those fifteen minutes is to praise every single positive behavior he or she witnesses and most of the behavioral problems would automatically cease.

The structure and the rules are not just for children they are for parents, too. Children are good in detecting when parents don't practice what they preach. They may be afraid of speaking out about the disparity they see, but the gap between the preaching and practicing might still influence their behavior.

Some parents give incongruent messages. They may be saying one thing, but the tone of their voice and their body language may be giving a different message. There are fourteen different kinds of smile. Your emotional brain can differentiate one from the other.

When a waitress in a restaurant draws a smiley face on the checks, her tips increase by seventeen percent. "Smilies" have power. Smile at children and use the smilies for rewarding good behaviors.

When we want to see more of a desired response from another, we do more of what we already do more of. For example, the mother nags "Johnny" because he does not do what she asked him to do. So, what does she do? She nags harder and longer. In response, Johnny becomes even more resistant and stubborn. If your technique isn't working, it's time to quit.

Some rules are necessary for proper and balanced development. For example, half an hour of aerobic exercise or physical activity every day is good for physical and emotional health as well as for attention and concentration.

One hour a day of entertainment television is manageable. It allows time for other important activities such as sports, homework and household chores.

Harris Cooper, an expert on homework, recommends 10 minutes increase of time in homework for each grade level for an average student. For example, 10 minutes for a 1st grader or 60 minutes for a 6th grader.

As regards curfew and driving at night, governments are making such rules because too many parents simply don't or if they do, they don't try hard to enforce them.

No harm shall come from sensible rules and a benign but firm authority.

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Copyright 2002, Mind Publications 


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