Kids and structure: They may hate it, but they need it

By Sandy Spurgeon McDaniel

We are at that time of year when everyone is still clinging to their resolutions. Energy is put into diets, promises are made to self and there are a whole bunch of items added to the “Going To Do Better” list. Children are still coming off the lack of structure around the holiday recess, and even though children fight structure, they need it and feel safer when they have it.

The more you create a routine for your child’s day, the less turmoil you will likely have — at least it will diminish the power struggle between parent and child. Have your child get up at the same time on school days. Don’t over-mother a child by going in and telling him or her 10 times that it is time to get up. It is time the first time the alarm clock rings or you say it is time.

Use my discipline system. Say a simple, “Time to get up” to your child. Give them a minute or two to awaken, then say, “Minute Drill.” This will get a child to pop out of bed immediately. The consequence of not getting up in a minute is a penny in the jar for each minute the child doesn’t get out of bed. Each penny means 15 minutes off something fun. Children hate getting pennies that cost them time with something they enjoy, so they won’t push the boundary set by a parent.

The Minute Drill (see “Don’t Feed the Dragon” on uses life interrupted as the consequence, and children do not want to get a penny in that situation.

Each day, have a specific time for the child to get up, and then maintain the same schedule every day (your choice): get dressed, eat breakfast, brush teeth, go to school. After school, the routine might look like this: home from school, eat snack, play for a half hour, media time for a half hour, homework, dinner, and bedtime. With so many children involved in sports, this schedule is easily disrupted, but completing homework is not optional, it’s a must-do. If a child can’t keep up with homework and sports, sports needs to go. Getting a good education is your child’s ticket to a better life.

Maintain a routine even on chaotic days. Bedtime needs to be the same time on school days. There are mountains of research proving that lack of sleep is damaging our children’s health and brain development. It is best not to have a workable computer or TV in a child’s room, and they should not use any media after 7 or 8 p.m., depending on the child’s age. Cell phones go in a basket to be picked up in the morning. (It is a good idea to take that basket into your bedroom, parent.)

Children under 2 should not be exposed to TV, cell phones, computers, etc. It has to do with eyesight, brain development and social development. Just don’t fall into the trap of shutting your little dear up at the cost of the quality of his or her life.

On the weekend, there should be chores (for the right to live in your home and to teach them how to care for themselves), and those chores are separate from ones that may occur during the week. Children need to know how to vacuum, clean the bathroom, separate clean clothes, hang up clean clothes, put dirty clothes in the hamper, and, from age 9 on, do their own wash. They can take the trash out, empty the dishwasher, care for animals and help you wash the car. We are raising a whole generation of entitled kids who have no clue about taking care of themselves; please don’t let your child be one of them.

Doing chores becomes one more thing for a parent to remember. A chart that is checked off helps, and the “No media until your chore is done” rule will help. If a child does a terrible job at a chore, give that child a lesson on how to do the chore and another chore to do as well. I remember when my son Scott made a mess of loading the dishwasher. After dinner I invited him to a really drawn-out, super wordy lesson about how a dishwasher is designed and how to load it. At the end, I unloaded all the dishes, inviting him to re-do it, reminding him that another boring lesson was available should he need it. It’s amazing how well he did the job after that!

One job of a parent is to teach a child to manage the chaotic lives everyone seems to be living these days. Children feel safe and learn to manage their lives with routine and structure.

For more than 55 years, Sandy has been an international speaker and recognized authority on families and children. Author of five books, columnist, founder of, she is a resident of Meridian and loves spending time with her three Idaho grandchicks. Semi-retired, she speaks to schools, churches, and MOPS groups and provides parent coaching sessions in person and on the phone. She is available for parenting talks/trainings in the Treasure Valley and may be reached at Also, go to YouTube: Sandy Spurgeon McDaniel to see videos on specific parenting issues.

Idaho Family Magazine