Children need structure in their daily life

Parents of every generation since time began have probably felt that they are raising the most difficult children ever born. Parenthood is potentially the most rewarding job anyone could ever have, but it’s also the most challenging, and doing it right is never easy.

No simple directive has ever been discovered that covers all the bases, but if there is one word for parents to live by, and that word is consistency, especially when it comes to discipline.

One of the basic truths that has been discovered and rediscovered over time is that children need structure in their daily life, and that includes rules of conduct.  In a world full of complexities and contradictions, a set of rules that are clearly defined and applicable to just about every circumstance is not just a good idea, it’s vital to a child’s welfare.

Unfortunately, it’s also the biggest challenge most parents face, even when they agree upon the ultimate goal.  There are multiple factors involved, including the fact that more often than not (and whether they consciously admit it or not) Mom and Dad both want to be the ‘favorite’ parent.  That’s a tendency of human nature, not just parenthood, but it can be disastrous when it comes to discipline.

Children are quite aware of this factor and they can use it to manipulate their parents unmercifully.  If one parent punishes a child for certain behaviour and the other does not, it puts them both at risk of being ignored and/or tested to see how far they can be pushed before there are any negative consequences. It will also leave the child confused, resentful and far less willing to abide by any rules that either parent imposes.

Many parents have a problem with the ‘punishment’ part anyway.  Neither wants to be the bad guy, and even worse, many just don’t want to deal with a tantrum so they overlook bad behaviour or use bribes to gain some peace and quiet. This is a temporary solution at best, and it’s setting both the parents and the child up for much bigger problems down the line.

When parents are divorced or separated the problem often grows exponentially. If they didn’t agree on how best to raise their child in the first place, the differences are compounded when the child spends time with one or the other, even more so if there is a new ‘parent figure’ involved in either or both of two different households.

Again, the key here is consistency.  Above all, parents should agree on a standard of behaviour that is reasonable and makes sense to the child.  They need to explain clearly what is required and why. That means discussing the situation with as much clarity as the child’s age and maturity permits, and adjusting the rules as warranted.

Finger pointing should be avoided at all costs; parents should never blame or show hostility for each other in the child’s presence. If discussion is needed (and it usually is) it should take place out of a child’s hearing, and when the child is present, he or she should be met by a united front so there’s no equivocation.  If both parents have the child’s welfare at heart above all else, almost any problem can be met and dealt with in a firm and loving manner, and the child will be much happier for it.

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