Number 6 on The 7 Worst Things list has to do with failing to give children structure. The idea of structure may seem in opposition to the ideas of choice theory, and indeed, some people get confused on how the two can go together. Let’s check #6 out together.

The 7 Worst Things Good Parents Do

1. Baby your child.

2. Put your marriage last.

3. Push your child into too many activities.

4. Ignore your emotional or spiritual life.

5. Be your child’s best friend.

6. Fail to give your child structure.

A few choice theory things come to mind regarding children’s need for structure (actually, it’s not just children that benefit from structure) –

Lead-management and the middle of the road

When asked what the opposite of boss-management is, people will quickly suggest that it’s lead-management, which, to their surprise, isn’t correct. The opposite of boss-management is actually a management approach called laissez-faire. Boss-management relies on rewards and punishments and tends to over-manage in the process; laissez-faire relies on kids to manage themselves and tends to under-manage. On a spectrum, with laissez-faire on one side and boss-management on the other, lead-management actually falls between them. Lead-management has boundaries and guidelines and rules; the uniqueness of lead-management lies not in the absence of boundaries, but in the way you apply them.

Structure is our friend

Choice theory affirms the need for structure in the form of clear expectations, detailed instructions, reasonable boundaries, and consistent rules. A lead manager develops expectations and boundaries from a spirit that acknowledges the internal motivation of her students. She doesn’t want to set up or perpetuate a power struggle. Expectations and boundaries are created to improve the enjoyment and the success of everyone involved. Whether it’s children at home, students in the classroom, or employees at work, all of them appreciate knowing how to achieve more and have fun in the process.

The difference is in the application

Prior to their understanding choice theory, I have heard a few people say, “Well, if you can’t make kids do what you want them to do, I guess you just let them do whatever they want.” Nothing could be further from the truth! Both boss-managers and lead-managers have expectations and boundaries. The difference lies in how they apply the boundaries. Rather than bribing certain behaviors and punishing others,  lead managers want to guide behavior, first by creating a need-satisfying environment, second by invitation and persuasion, and third by gently requiring that reasonable boundaries be respected.

Getting out of trouble

Even when there is a warm, engaging environment; even when teachers or parents are attempting to create need-satisfying experiences; and even when the expectations and boundaries are clear and reasonable, children will cross the line and get in trouble. True, it will happen much less often in such an environment, but it will occasionally happen. Students in a lead-managed classroom know that they will need to get themselves out of what they got themselves into. If they have behaved in a way that has harmed a relationship, then they need to come up with a way to restore the relationship and keep it from being harmed in the future. They know they are supported in this process. Anger, threats, disgust, or guilt will not be directed at them. Usually, children and students know what to do to fix what they have done and can develop a plan to prevent it from happening again. Sometimes, they aren’t sure where to begin and if this is the case, the lead-manager parent or teacher is happy to help. Instead of arbitrary punishments that appear to quickly deal with the problem, yet really don’t address the issue at all, lead-managers take the time (in many cases this does not take much time at all) to help students understand what they have done and plan for better thinking and acting in the future.

It might seem counterintuitive, but there is actually freedom in structure. When the motive and underpinnings of structure are unselfish and designed to help and support others, rather than control them, structure is really good.

(I feel like I’ve left something out when it comes to structure and choice theory. Any ideas on what it might be?)

On to #7 in the next blog.

7. Expect your child to fulfill your dreams.

Friel, J. and Friel, L. (1999). The 7 worst things good parents do. New York: Barnes & Noble.