In Part 1 of this series, we talked about how important a strong parenting team is to building a peaceful family. Part 2 moved beyond the parents and involved the whole family in creating a shared vision. Now it’s time to get down to the nuts and bolts of harmonious family life. .
Part 3: Find a Structure that Works
Families NEED routines and structure in order to function well. Why? Because routines provide security and people NEED to feel secure. You can think of the routines of family life as the skeleton supporting everything else.
Children really, really need routines. Let me say that again: CHILDREN REALLY NEED ROUTINES! Childhood is fraught with change and new experiences – new foods, new schools, new friends, new teachers. And children don’t like change any more than adults. It’s much easier to cope with all that change when it occurs within the framework of established, consistent, supportive routine. It helps them feel safe and secure even in the midst of newness.
A structured home life also teaches children self-control. It helps them learn to manage themselves and their lives in constructive and supportive ways. Children learn that some things just always get done whether you want to do them or not – like brushing teeth before bed or doing homework before watching television.
Routines also eliminate a good deal of the daily power struggles that lead to family conflict. No need for parents to nag and boss once the expectation is established that certain things always get done at certain times. Children are aware of what comes next and transitions no longer produce the same level of anxiety and resistance. Everyone is operating from the same playbook.
Here are some ideas about how to build a structure that will support your family life:
- Start with the basics. First, you must establish stable meal, lights-out, and “family” time. These are the non-negotiables. Decide when your family will eat together – can you have breakfast together every morning before heading out the door? Can you eat together in the evening at least a few days a week? What time will children be in bed? Can they read for a certain period before turning out the lights? When will your family set aside time for enjoying time together?
- Put it in writing. Once you have decided on the basics of a daily routine put it on paper. Make this a family project and let the kids decorate a poster for the fridge. When there is resistance to the new structure (and there will be) you can refer back to the poster. Here’s a cute printable schedule to get you started.
- Evaluate outside demands. The number one obstacle to sticking to your new schedule is likely to be all the outside things that pop up: soccer practice, ballet recital, cub scout meetings, and on and on and on. So often today children are horribly over-scheduled. In an effort to “give our kids everything,” we rob them of the very things they need most: time with us, stability, and some down-time to daydream. Too many external activities leave a family drained of time and energy. The constant demands lead to stressed out kids and parents… and that leads to conflict! Only keep those activities that comfortably fit into your family’s schedule and add value to your lives.
- Build in rituals Rituals are those special times that make our family unique. They provide a sense of identity and belonging for members. Our family always goes out for ice cream on Sunday afternoon. Build in daily, weekly and occasional rituals that provide a sense of fun and identity. Here are some examples to get you started!
So those are the basics for finding a structure that works for you. Start slowly and be consistent. The time you spend establishing routines now will pay off in smooth sailing later. In Part 4 we will deal with effective communication and conflict resolution. Finally in Part 5, we will talk about increasing positive interactions.