Friday, November 26, 2010

Structure. Routine. Stickers. Stars. OH my!

If you are a parent, and you haven't heard/thought of/tried/acknowledged that having routine in your life will help your children - I wish you luck :) The idea is everywhere kid-related that you look. I assume it is common knowledge. I do not wish to belabour this point. Adeena reads my blog and she has laminated chore charts. I don't need to preach to the choir :)

Whenever I come across a "sticky point" in my parenting career, I usually "structure it out". That is why the major 3 problem areas in our days are structured into lists for our children.

1) school mornings
2) after school
3) bedtime.

Each list has 6 tasks and asking the kids to "go do 1 through 6" is how we refer them to these expectations.

These lists have been posted for a very long time. And by no means are they followed consistently by every child.

Here is what I have learned beyond the very well known fact that structure and routine helps kids and families survive.

children will not follow expectations automatically

Mind blowing, I know.

But it is true. Even big children, who have had consistent expectations for years and have more developed frontal lobes (eek Psychology!) for higher order processing and thinking and awareness of cause and effect and prediction of behaviour and punishment...

they will not do what you expect them to do consistently no matter how thoroughly they are aware of those expectations.

I am not talking about forgetting. I am not talking about distraction. I am not talking about a lapse in parental enforcement of the expectations.

Kids just DO this. I'd say it's part of being a kid, but I think most adults do it too at one point or another.

For me, it is one of the most frustrating parts of being a parent. I am going to "pick" on Haley for this post because she is the oldest.

We have a video of Haley from when she is 8 years old. She is interviewed by David and I and we ask her to acknowledge - on the camera - that she is to hang up clothes that are not dirty. The expectation is that if she wears a sweater or a pair of pants and they are still clean - she is to hang them up.

Ask me how important it is to me that my household creates as little laundry as possible :)

Anyways, Haley was having trouble consistently applying this rule and she was 8 and so we figured it would be funny (and mistakenly - useful?) to have her admit on camera that she understood the rule.

Haley* will turn 13 on Sunday, and the only thing consistent is that I can expect her to throw a worn-for-one-hour sweater into the dirty laundry. My method of dealing with this is to either bring the laundry back into her room and throw it on her bed, or to ask her to switch a load of laundry or something related to laundry.

*I do not want my older children to be responsible for their own laundry. i don't mind washing it, I don't mind sorting it. I won't pick it up off the floor and I won't hang it up if you are tall enough to do it yourself.

Routine can not solve everything. Every parent who has had a young child who will not sleep well no matter what routine is put in place, knows this. I use it as a tool to make me a better parent, not just to help my children be more civilized human beings. When I take my children somewhere en mass, I often discuss expectations for behaviour before they get out of the car. The expectations are made clear (i.e., we're going into dad's office, we need to respect the people who are working by being quiet and by walking). If one of my kids does not act accordingly, I only need to look at them and maybe point my finger at a chair and they know exactly what they did wrong and to sit down. I can talk to them quietly and remind them of the expectation.

If I didn't set out the expectations before hand, I would then have to get the kids attention, corner them, talk to them about what they need to do differently, and then probably redirect a bunch of other kids who have decided what their sibling just did (wrong) was a good idea. I will likely be much more frustrated and flustered by the process and more likely to lose my cool on them.

Routine / expectations make my life oohhhh so much easier, and it helps my kids be disciplined more positively. It just does NOT make my kids actually FOLLOW rules/expectations reliably. No matter how old they are. And I think that latter part is the hardest to deal with as a parent :)


  1. I agree. Structure and expectations makes everything oh so much easier. But not perfect. My kids thrive on routine, and knowing what to expect. And what I expect from them. Having a routine, even if not followed perfectly all the time, makes things easier.

    With you on the laundry thing....

  2. XD

    I do have laminated chore charts. ;)

    I have a laundry problem, too. You know the worst thing? When you pick an item out of the dirty laundry basket and it's. still. folded. O.o

    The other one I hate is that all the dirty laundry baskets are empty, and because that's so rare I ask the kids if they have laundry in their rooms... and suddenly I have 2+ loads to do. They are not supposed to leave dirty laundry in their rooms. Sigh.