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Better Structure for Better Behavior

Updated: Mar 24

Children inherently crave structure. Despite the inevitable protests that may arise when enforcing it, structure fosters predictability, promoting emotional and physical safety, which in turn encourages positive behavior. Let's delve into the basics of incorporating structure into your approach to behavior management.

Types of Structure

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In terms of behavior management, structure encompasses any passive measures that encourage positive behavior, preventing individuals from finding themselves in a reactive state where impulsivity can surface. Examples of structure include expectations/rules, systems/procedures, routines, and schedules.

Expectations/rules clearly delineate what is expected from the child in a given situation. For instance, a household rule might entail waiting silently while others are speaking before one can interject. Unclear, abstract, or inconsistent expectations/rules often lead to reactive behaviors, which quickly becoming ingrained.

Systems/procedures assist children in efficiently and effectively resolving problems rather than scrambling for solutions on the spot. For instance, implementing a system for calming down during schoolwork might involve steps like standing up, getting a drink of water, sitting back down, and trying again. Persistent problems usually signal a lack of an effective system or the need for adjustments.

Routines, akin to systems, provide a broader framework for staying organized, responsible, and efficient. For example, a bedtime routine could include brushing teeth, selecting clothes for the next day, reading for 30 minutes, and going to bed. Without routines, time management becomes challenging, leading to inconsistent handling of responsibilities and a sense of being unprepared.

Schedules, broader than routines, serve a similar purpose by informing children about upcoming events, facilitating effective transitions and mental preparation throughout the day. Generalized schedules are preferable to overly detailed ones, as excessive planning can make children rigid and hinder their flexibility when needed.

Boundaries and Structure

The primary rule when setting boundaries is to influence your child to adopt some form of structure in their life whenever possible. This structured approach aids in managing behaviors by fostering self-control, minimizing the need for reactive behavior management that often yields inconsistent and unfavorable outcomes. Consider these examples:

Not using boundaries to enforce structure:

Parent: "You need to turn off your game."

Child: "One second."

Parent: "This isn't up for debate; turn it off now."

Child: "Okay..." (Continues playing)

Parent (raising voice): "I said turn it off!"

Using boundaries to enforce structure:

Parent: "You need to turn off your game."

Child: "One second."

Parent (setting expectation): "You know games go off at 7:30 p.m. Turn it off now."

Child: "Okay..." (Continues playing)

Parent: "You can choose to turn it off now since it's 7:30 p.m. and play some more tomorrow, or choose to keep playing and lose it tomorrow. You decide."

Not using boundaries to resolve to structure

Parent: “It’s time to get ready for bed.”

Child: “Okay, I’m almost done.”

Parent: “Stop what you’re doing and get ready for bed now.”

Child: “I will.”

Parent: “Stop telling me and start showing me.”

Using boundaries to resolve to structure

Parent: “It’s time to get ready for bed.”

Child: “Okay, I’m almost done.”

Parent (expectation and routine): “That will have to wait until tomorrow.  You know at 8:00pm you need to pack your lunch and brush your teeth, then you can read in bed until lights out at 9:00pm.

Child: “I will.”

Parent: “Start packing your lunch now or you can start your whole routine at 7:30pm tomorrow instead.”

Structure and Mental Health

Incorporating structure into your child's life offers an additional significant benefit by ensuring continual progress and holding them to higher standards, irrespective of their current mental state. Consider a teenager grappling with heightened self-consciousness or a child/teen battling generalized anxiety or depression. In such scenarios, it's improbable that they'll muster the motivation to fulfill their responsibilities when intrusive thoughts prompt withdrawal. They're also unlikely to derive motivation from lectures (it's not personal!). So, what's the solution? Influence them indirectly by managing the structure in their life rather than reacting to overwhelming moments.

Zack Kasabo is a certified school counselor who has been working with extremely challenging behaviors for over eight years outside of Philadelphia, PA.  He is the owner of Kasabo Behavior Management which is a coaching service that specializes in helping parents confidently manage their child’s challenging behavior in 8 weeks or less.

You can schedule your free consult today to learn more by going to: 


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