4 Steps to Create Structure and Routine
You know the expectations… Wait, do I?
When I work as a wilderness therapy guide, it is easy to tell my students, “You know the expectations.” In a controlled environment like wilderness therapy, the structure of the day is unchanging. Each morning we wake up, communicate our goals, and proceed with clear direction. Paradoxically, by buying into the “confines” of the program, the students gain freedom. Clear expectations, structure, and routine, create the foundation of wilderness therapy, so how do we create this in our homes?
1) Hold a morning meeting - A family morning meeting may sound silly, but I know how effective this can be. The process of meeting, to set expectations, schedule out tasks for the day, plan projects, or simply check in with each other, is a powerful way to bond your family unit and provide some direction. These meetings do not have to be formal, and they do not have to be lengthy. You can start by having each member of the family share:
What are your “have to” tasks today?
What are your “want to” tasks today?
What will you do to take care of your mind/body/spirit?
This is an easy place to start, and by no means is it the only way to go. You know your family best. Focus on things that are important to you. Customize, change, and develop the meeting as it goes. If meetings are consistent, you will be amazed by how much direction they provide, and we all function better when we have direction.
If an in-person meeting is not feasible do it through group texts or email. You can share a google doc, use a whiteboard or a sheet of paper where people write when they have time. Evening meetings work as well! Get creative, make it a fit for your family’s situation.
2) Create incentives - Make a game of it! Keep a tally of who meets their expectations most consistently and build a reward system. You can get creative with this part, and it can be an enjoyable experience for everyone.
3) Practice what you preach - Hold yourself accountable to your expectations! Make it known that you are all in it together. If you conclude the meeting by laying out your parental expectations, then provide space for your kids to lay out their expectations as well. It does not mean you are beholden to their demands. You have veto power, but the more you can reciprocate this expectations process, the more your child will know you listen.
4) Remember that tomorrow is a new day - It is essential to recognize that unwavering attachment to an expectation can quickly create feelings of inadequacy, resentment, and frustration. Do not hold on so tightly that you create another catalyst for stress. If expectations are not met, then let it go. Tomorrow is a new day and a unique opportunity. Look to the future rather than the past.
You can use this tool to put some of the onus on the child. People, kids especially, are much more likely to engage if they believe they have control over their decisions and have a say in what is expected of them. Remember that this is only one tool, and it may not work for everyone. Some parents may not have a stable enough relationship with their children to get them to buy into an exercise like this, and that is okay. Parent/child relationships are complicated and dynamic, and it is essential to stay patient and approach each day with an open attitude!
Stay tuned for future posts about building and maintaining rapport while still holding boundaries!