Vintage Parenting 101: The Importance Of Structure And Rituals For Children And Families

As a part of my efforts to increase the accessibility of my website, I am re-posting articles from my old Parenting 101 page as stand-alone blog posts on the main site.

August 28, 2007 – “The Importance of Structure and Rituals for Children and Families”

Q – OK, we hear a lot about how kids need structure and routine, especially young children. What is that all about? Why is this so important to them?

A – Young children are learning all about the world around them at a tremendously rapid pace. At the same time, they are learning who they are, with a growing desire to have as much control as they possibly can over their bodies, their choices, their relationships, and their environment. Let’s face it, that desire never really goes away – even throughout the course of adulthood. Growing in this kind of control gives the child (and adult) a greater sense of security in the midst of a world that is constantly changing and challenging us. Living in an environment of orderly structure and predictable routine helps to strengthen this sense of security and mastery, because it allows children to focus on fewer choices and challenges at a given moment. The more choices and challenges one must face at a time, the greater will be the level of anxiety and stress. And at the same time, creating a reasonably predictable pattern of family life through routine and ritual lets a child know that in the face of unpredictable, unexpected challenges, they can rest in the familiarity of certain things their family does with regularity.

Q – So, structure and routine are important for young children. But what about older kids and teenagers? Aren’t they always eager for something new and outside the “boring confines” of family togetherness?

A – Certainly, as children grow older and move through the transitional years of adolescence, they have a decreasing need for the kind of structured days that are so important in the healthy, secure development of their early childhood experience. However, even as they grow in competence, responsibility, and independence, they continue to need sources of security to which they can return regularly. They need to know home is still home, and it remains a place of refuge in the midst of the many adventures, risks, disappointments, and decisions they are facing daily in their constantly expanding world.

And providing a consistent family/home life of enjoyable structure and routine maximizes the opportunity for parents to influence their kids at all ages, from the earliest days until they launch out on their own. When children and families look forward to regular rituals and routines together, parents have golden opportunities to share teachable moments and conversations, leading kids along their life paths as best they can. Parents who do not intentionally create an environment of structure and enjoyable togetherness may find themselves watching from an emotional and physical distance as their growing kids pull further away as they struggle through tough decisions, looking elsewhere for much needed guidance or direction.

Q – How do you recommend creating the kind of healthy family structure and routines you are advocating today?

A – One of the important places to begin is to approach parenting as being synonymous with leadership. Strong, effective, respected leaders consider what is best for their organization (family), and exercise clear authority as they make decisions, guidelines, and policies for their people. Parenting with authority (of a loving, considerate, encouraging kind) is so important! As good leaders, parents should consider what is best for their children and family life, and make decisions based on these considerations. Today’s parents are so often pressured to be led by the wants of their short-sighted, self-gratifying children or the expectations of a short-sighted, self-gratifying culture. Part of creating a strong family structure and routine is setting reasonable limits on commitments that pull family members away. While it is very healthy for children and teens to have activities and relationships outside of family and home, the “norm” in our culture is becoming so overfull and fast-paced that it leaves very little opportunity for real family connection. Everyone is just too busy, tired, and stressed. I recommend limiting children’s extracurricular commitments to one activity during any given “season,” and even taking one season a year to rest from any such involvement. And, while it will certainly vary from family to family, here is a small list of ways you can provide the kind of routine structure that helps kids of all ages to thrive:

– Have a family meal time together at least three times a week. – Have a Saturday morning ritual that you do every week (cook pancakes, play a game, pray together, etc). – Have a bedtime routine. – Turn off TVs, cell phones, laptops, i-pods, etc. in the car. – Go to church weekly as a family. – Take an annual family vacation. – Go to Baskin Robbins for Tuesday dollar scoop night. – Take an annual family retreat. – Take regular fishing/camping/hunting trips together, as a family or in pairs or other family “sub-units.” – Play “High/Low” at the same time each week (What were the high and low points of your day/week?) – Go on regular walks outside, either in your neighborhood or in a local park (I’m a big fan of BREC’s Bluebonnet Swamp). – Plant a garden or flower bed and tend it together regularly. – Have a regular quiet time together.

The possibilities are endless! Just look for things that promote healthy, open connections and can be sustained on a regular basis without too much money or effort. And when your children/family grow tired or too old for your routines and rituals, develop new ones that fit who you are growing to be. Remember to give your children opportunities for input as to your family routines and rituals. When they are young, give them a choice between two or three things. As they get older, give them more choices, and do your best to incorporate their ideas.


If you would like more specific guidance or ideas for your family, please feel free to contact me via email ( or by phone (225-333-1582)

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