How much structure do children need?

Drawing teacher: „I give after-school drawing and painting lessons to children of primary school age, and what strikes me is that many of my students have so little structure at home. They have no fixed eating and bedtimes and no fixed rules about what is and is not allowed. Everything is negotiated, with the adults approaching their children as if they were their friends. I think it’s so restless for those kids. I notice in class that they are often tired and busy.

“I have always raised my own, now grown-up daughter, with great clarity; there were, depending on her age, a few clear rules in the house. I had the impression that it gave stability. When I tell my students: ‘You get one cookie, and you never have to ask for another one, because the answer will always be ‘no’, there is an instant peace. It’s all the more fun to deviate from those rules sometimes.

“In order to give them a psychological backbone, isn’t it very important to have those rules? Even when you draw, you must first have a clear structure before creativity can flourish, otherwise it will become chaos.”

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Negotiation is positive

Bas Geef: “Since the 1960s, children have had a voice, and since the 1970s, upbringing has also been a matter of negotiation. That’s positive. The ironclad rules of the 1950s, which had to keep order in large families, were unpleasant. Rules are not there to give parents a grip on the children, but to give children a grip on the world.

„There was once a time for everything: the Sunday walk, playing a game at home in the evening, and after the fable newspaper going to sleep. That was clear. The tightly managed household disappeared mainly when Dutch housewives entered the labor market en masse from the 1990s. Parents want to enjoy the limited time they spend with their children and become indulgent. Children are dragged from grandparents, to childcare, to after-school care. On weekends, parents want to take them to the zoo and visit friends.

“For some children that variation works fine, for others it doesn’t. As parents you have to keep an eye on these major differences.

“If they fall asleep on their drawing pad in your class, just talk to the parents about it.”

Structure is important

Carlo Schuengel: „Regularity and routines in the household are indeed associated with favorable outcomes such as language acquisition and healthy sleep. And we know that children in more chaotic circumstances are more likely to show behavioral problems. So yes, structure, predictability and daily routines are important, but becoming aware of them is not enough on its own.

“There are often all kinds of factors that make it difficult for parents to follow a pattern. Lack of structure is born of difficult circumstances. Parents and children also share hereditary traits, which may require them to work extra hard for regularity and structure. Socio-economic factors and work stress can also cause unrest at home. As a society, we should look more at what families need.

“You help your students through the structure of your lessons, and also by deviating from those rules every now and then if the situation calls for it. Fortunately, in that regard, children do not only have to rely on their parents, but are also supported by experiences outside the family.”