Structure (Rules, Routines, & Monitoring)


What is structure?

 Structure relates to:

  • Rules of your home: where things are placed, where activities are done, and how everyone should behave
  • Routines: the common activities and patterns that occur in the house (e.g., bedtime, bathtime)
  • Monitoring: observing and checking your child’s behavior, knowing where they are

Why is structure important?

Structure helps children develop healthy habits, reduce risky behaviors, and increase their cooperation. Structure also helps build confidence because a child learns what to expect in a situation. This allows them to feel safe, secure, and in control. As a result, structure can help decrease stress experienced by the child and the family as a whole.

There’s also some exciting research on brain development that supports the benefits of structure. Doing certain things in the same order (at about the same time every day) helps strengthen brain connections around those behaviors! This makes it much easier for the child to continue following the structure and doing those behaviors in the future.

How to do it

There are key principles to consider regarding structure: 

Keystone Behaviors – “Keystone” is the central principle or part of a system on which all else depends. Keystone behaviors are day-to-day behaviors that are key to children’s lives and impact the overall functioning of the child and their family. It’s often helpful to consider structure around keystone behaviors.

Keystone behaviors center around nutrition, sleep, exercise/activity, and social connection. For many families this may also include faith/spirituality, as well as activities of daily living (e.g., bathing).

Structure should be:

  • Well-planned: Everyone understands their role, knows what to do, and sees their roles as reasonable and fair
  • Consistent: The same structure is applied day in and day out
  • Predictable: The outcomes and consequences for following the structure are known 
  • Followed through: The outcomes and consequences for following structure are applied consistently
  • Need minimal effort to support: Too much structure may be difficult to implement and follow through with. As such, it’s important for parents to consider the most important and minimal amount of structure necessary to help support a safe, secure, and stable environment. This will vary from child to child, and will change as children develop. 

Developing structure is best done through a collaborative family discussion. It’s helpful to include your children in the process of designing structure and to support them in implementing it. Older kids can take more ownership in this process and may need less support. Younger kids will likely need more guidance and support.

When might structures change?

As a general note, there is no one right way of setting up structure, and structure will vary from family to family! In fact, if you have multiple children of different ages, it’s likely that structures may look different depending on your child.

  • For example, routines around bedtime will exist for all children.  But, they will be different for a 6-year-old versus a 16-year-old.

Structure is important to keep things predictable and decrease stress for everyone at home. But, we all know life happens – it may not be possible to stick to structures and routines in every situation. This is to be expected!

  • In these cases, it’s helpful to model flexibility with how the structure is carried out. This may include planning ahead if you know changes in routines may be coming up. If something unexpected happens and you can’t plan ahead, keeping a spirit of openness and sticking to the essentials will be helpful to maintain flexibility. Doing so will also help parents and caregivers model for the child how to be flexible in the face of change.

Between-Session Practice:

When can you meet with your family to discuss structure in the home? Focus on times when there is low stress, plenty of time, and family members are in a good mood (when they are likely more receptive!).



What areas do you want to focus on? Try to focus on 1 or 2 areas.
(Hint: Remember keystones!)



Will you focus on something new?  Or, will you revise an existing rule, routine, or area to monitor? (Hint: Remember to collaborate with and support the child in this process!)



If you discussed structure with your child, what did you come up with?
(Note: Refer back to the key principles to help with your discussion.)



Recording what you’re doing is a helpful way to know how things are going. Here is a table that can help you:

Date Structure you put in place How well you did Your child’s response
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    😀 🙂 😐 🙁 😀 🙂 😐 🙁
    😀 🙂 😐 🙁 😀 🙂 😐 🙁
    😀 🙂 😐 🙁 😀 🙂 😐 🙁
    😀 🙂 😐 🙁 😀 🙂 😐 🙁