Creating Structure

Summer 2013 (2)As discussed in The Importance of Structure, we humans need appropriate structure for productivity and to help keep negative habits from running rampant. This holds true in a variety of settings from businesses to families to classrooms. In fact, creating structure where none exists often serves to undo long-standing poor behavior.

My youngest son (now 12) provides a perfect example of this truth. For 8 years of his life, he had no structure. He moved from house to house (and often hotel to hotel), always around different people except for his older half-sister. School was optional. At some point, as his birth mother became increasingly absent, his behavior went from undisciplined to unruly.

Yet, over the past almost four years, as we applied the advice of a wise adoption case worker to provide consistency, our son is now a responsible young man who loves to serve at church and cares about his grades. He now reads above his grade level, and he is no longer classified as a special education student.

The advice to be consistent with our son really revolved around providing structure. For starters, he simply needed to know that the basics of life would stay the say from having enough food to eat to where and when to sleep.

Essential Elements of Structure

While many elements exist for solid structure, several essential elements seem to rise to the top. From business success to raising godly kids to helping students achieve learning success, the essential elements of solid structure seem to always include consistency, organization and discipline.

Consistency provides security and safety that encourages stretching and trying new things. Organization gives a better chance of not only completing but finishing strong. And discipline, while usually resisted at the time, provides the learning necessary for growth.

When creating and maintaining structure, though, we must remember that too much structure can stifle. Overdoing structure results in attitude problems leading to disobedience and disrespect. Working to constantly maintain a balance within structure, changing with the seasons of life, is crucial for structure to produce positive results.

Results of Appropriate StructureMattawan (8)

Like the essential elements of structure that rise to the top, there also seems to be certain positive results that consistently show up as well. To begin with, confidence comes when individuals overcome self-defeating habits in the safe environment of positive structure.

Security also results from solid structure because children, students and employees alike know what’s expected of them as well as what to expect from their performance.

Growth physically, mentally, spiritually and socially also takes place as confidence grows within a consistent and organized structure. Without this type of structure, we get stuck in ruts and negative habits simply because they are comfortable and change isn’t.

Structure for Sanity

I wish I could say that our focus on structure with our son came purely from a desire to simply do what was best for him. It did not. In fact, a large part of my motivation stemmed from wanting to stay sane. I needed the structure to keep my frustration from venturing into really unhealthy levels (well, staying there anyway… it got there plenty of times). I needed it to have a game plan that I desperately hoped would pay off.

Even though born out of self-serving motivations, my desire to create solid structure eventually turned into truly believing in its foundational ability to create consistently positive results.

DISCUSSION: Discuss your experience with structure. Also, what application regarding structure can you make to/with God’s Word?

For a slightly different take on the importance of structure, check out Does a Book Need Structure to Be Published? at The Write Practice. You may also be interested in reading Thinking About Structure, which sort of started this recent focus of mine on structure.

20 thoughts on “Creating Structure

  1. Hmm, I'm not a structure person myself by nature, but working on it. My tendencies are to be too carefree and spur-of-the-moment and forget about the structure. But I can comment on using the self-preservation method of parenting – doing it to stay sane. That was definitely my parenting style much of the time. Often I would work on one of my kids' faults just because they were driving me crazy and I had a hard time living with that fault 24-7 (and it really was 24-7 since I homeschooled). I had to force myself to work on their weaknesses that didn't bug me. 🙂

    • My husband is spontaneous too, but he has learned to incorporate structure to increase his efficiency. He has structure but is more willing to be flexible than I am, and I think it's because he's more carefree and spur-of-the-moment like you. I said that to say that there's benefit to being naturally structured as well as to being naturally carefree. With regard to parenting, this style really came about when we first took our youngest son into our home. He had so many issues to address that we had to focus somewhere, so I went to the ones that I needed to change for my sanity. Interesting note that you make on working on their weaknesses that didn't bug you. Going to have to think on that as I haven't really considered it before.

  2. Along consistency, organization and discipline I think there has to be a component of encouragement and reward. The reward may be bound up with whatever your goal may be but I think that people need to know what they are doing means something and they can know that through the encouragement of others and through rewards of some kind. What do you think Kari?

    • I absolutely agree, Mark. In fact, I can't believe I didn't at least mention the idea of rewards and encouragement somewhere in one of the three structure posts. The reason I can't believe I missed it is because of how essential rewards are to our youngest son. At first, we just tried punishment. While they got some results, we just didn't get the progress we wanted to see. When we added more rewards in that punishment, he absolutely flourished. It's how we've structured our parenting with him since then. He also soaks up encouragement like a sponge. Our oldest of course likes rewards and encouragement, but he's so internally driven that he'll excel just because he wants to and can't help but want to. Thanks for bringing this point up and reminding me of it's importance in structure. Actually, I especially needed to hear it today as I have been dealing with behavior issues that our youngest is having once again at school.

  3. Bingo, I cannot overstate how relevant your commentary is. As a former teacher I applaud you. The same guidance you offer goes for teachers in the classroom, church leadership, and company owners. In the end, all humans have an innate desire for security in their life. Stability is the foundation for growth and change. Thank you for your thoughts.

  4. I think the need for structure is highly individualized. You make a good point that too little structure makes us crazy and too much is stifling – however, what those limits are will vary tremendously from person to person. I toy around with structure. If I'm really busy and have a lot going on, I find that a great deal of structure is helpful. When I'm working more on creative pursuits, I've found that having a lot of schedule flexibility works for me. I tend to go in seasons depending on what I'm working on.

    • You're absolutely right! Not only does need for structure vary from one individual to the next and within the different seasons and events in a person's life, the source of that structure varies too. For example, my oldest son creates his own structure for the most part while my youngest needs outside sources to create his structure. Yet, they flip on this need occasionally too. While we all need structure, we must be flexible in the amount and source.

  5. Kari, I agree with you completely on structure for children. They thrive knowing what is expected for them. Flexible is the number one word for a overseas missionary. I know when our daughter son was about 8, he ask his Mom and Dad where was his home. Since they lived in a tribal location then but knowing in a few years they would live somewhere else, our son in law told him home is where ever Mom are Dad are. That gave him some structure that by God grace would not change. It's really hard for missionary kids just as it is for military kids when they move a lot, especially on teens. Kids need practical things just as we do at times that enforce stability. When we went to Bolivia we allow them to take all sorts of things that would help them feel stable, but the best thing was our consistent love and them knowing God was behind us. They both would not trade their years over seas for anything. I think that is where the flexible comes in…if they see Mom and Dad stable then it makes them feel stable. Very good post Kari, very good.

    • Great example, Betty! Flexibility is a key in life for sure in so many areas of life. Kids need structure for sure, and we still need it as adults. Flexibility needs measured with diligence too. Thanks for providing such a good example.

  6. What a neat story to share about your son Kari. I am sure he is blessed to have you as a mom. thanks for sharing your thoughts that encourage our spiritual growth.

  7. The more kids I have the more I realize the importance of structure in the home. I also realize that as the husband and father I am the one that has to lead the way. When I live an unstructured live I can't expect or demand that my kids live a structured life.

    • Setting the example as a father is a great point. I think this is also a huge problem in way to many households today, not enough fathers/parents setting the example of necessary structure.

  8. I like structure and so does my son. But it can be limiting where God is concerned. Sometimes me feeling as if I need structure makes me less likely to trust God- to take leaps of faith. Sometimes I want PROOF before I'll move and that's not always good. I need to trust God more and my need for control less.

    • Structure is limiting with God if we are the ones creating & managing it. Perhaps if we let him create the structure we need, we'll find ourselves in exactly the structure we need to living in balance and rhythm. And, we may not even know we're existing in structure because maybe the structure God has for us is so different than any we would create. I don't know this for sure, obviously, but I'm thinking it's possible. What do you think?

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