We all need structure.
That is particularly true for infants and youngsters. As a result, the kind of structure we had when we were children dramatically influences how we navigate through life when we become adults.
We live in a cause and effect universe. For each action, science has long said, an equal and opposite reaction follows.
That is an invaluable reality for countless reasons. One of the most practical of those is that it makes life predictable.
The story goes that Sir Isaac Newton was sitting under an apple tree when the fundamental reality of gravity struck him. (Please excuse my intentional pun.)
One web search turned up this paragraph: “Isaac Newton changed the way we understand the Universe. Revered in his lifetime, he discovered the laws of gravity and motion and invented calculus. He helped to shape our rational worldview” (italics mine).
What does that have to do with a structured life for adults and children?
If we were given structure at a young age, we grow into adulthood with a rational understanding of how the world operates. Providing structure means setting consistent limits and giving appropriate rewards.
When we are left to our own devices, things don’t end well. Most everyone believes the laws of physics are inviolable; the same is true of moral, ethical, and behavioral codes.
If you did not have a consistent structure in childhood, you could compensate for that by giving yourself boundaries. You can provide yourself limits the same way you would give them to a child.
Picture a box around a stick figure of a child. The box provides protection. Evil from the outside is limited, and self-inflicted damage within the box in minimized. Those are dynamic benefits structure can provide for us.
As children mature, we can erase parts of the box when we believe that values and morals have been instilled in the youngster.
Along the way, four possibilities play out. They apply to how we impose structure on our lives and how we would parent a youngster:
First, some adults draw the box too small so the child has no choices and will likely rebel against the rules at the first opportunity.
Second, some adults draw the box too large. The child has no check on her or his impulses, some of which will be harmful.
Third, some adults are continually redrawing the box. What was acceptable yesterday is punishable behavior tomorrow.
Fourth, some adults consider the child’s maturity and draw the box to provide a good fit.
It is no surprise that the children who do best in life come from the fourth option. The children who struggle the most in life typically come from the third option.
It seems to be better for youngsters and for us to be consistently too strict or too lenient than to provide no stable structure. Ever-changing, fluctuating structures do emotional and psychological hard. The ideal structure takes into consideration personality, age, and maturity and sets the boundaries appropriately.
As we emerge from the consequences of the COVID-19 virus, we will do best in our personal and professional lives, if we create and stick to a structure.
Our children will do best now and for a lifetime, if we give them appropriate, consistent, and loving structure.
That means we must structure our lives, so we have stability and a foundation to overcome challenges and embrace opportunities. It is best for us and the next generation.
Be safe and courageous,
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