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Family Structure: Its Importance and How to Create It

Feeling more like a frazzled family these days? Help fix the problem by creating some structure to help your kids feel secure.

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What are the keys to raising kids who turn out "pretty good"?

According to President Barack Obama, father to two teen girls, it's structure and rules.

"As soon as they can understand words, you start giving them some assignments," he said in a June interview with CNN. "Bath. Eat your peas. Pick up the toys off the floor. By the time they're 16, they turn out pretty good."

Parenting experts agree with Obama's simple advice.

Structure offers children a sense of security and control in a world full of uncertainty – and helps create healthy habits that last into adulthood.

According to Dr. Laura Markham, a clinical psychologist and founder of Aha! Parenting, routines teach our children what they can count on from us and what we expect from them.

"Children need to feel safe. That's a primary need of tiny humans in a big, confusing world that they don't understand," she says. "Life is so random. If you can be a little more predictable, it really helps kids."

Here, experts and local parents share what works.

Set a schedule

To children, life seems like an arbitrary string of events that occur without warning.

According to Markham, you may know you're putting your daughter to bed, but all she sees is you've whisked her away from a favorite toy. You may have planned to hit the swim club all day, but to your young son, the pool suddenly appears out of nowhere.

"To them, things seem to just happen," says Markham, author of Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids: How to Stop Yelling and Start Connecting.

Starting each morning with a discussion about what's coming, from simple tasks like getting dressed and putting on shoes to bigger activities like visiting the library, comforts children, allows them to anticipate what's next, and empowers them to be an active part of plans.

"All children love to know what's going to happen," says Markham.

The technique works for Hartland mom Lisa Bergkoetter, who says her sons Nathan, 8, and Logan, 6, do better when they know the agenda.

"Once they have me laying out a plot of what our day is going to look like, they can relax and do their thing," she says. "Even if you tell them that the scheduled activity is no activity at all."

Reduce conflict

Having set routines can also reinforce better behavior.

"Chaos makes children more prone to anxiety. And when kids get more anxious, they tend to be more resistant. It makes kids less cooperative," Markham says.

Elaine and Dan Dailey of South Lyon work together to keep their daughters, Emma, 7, and Elizabeth, 6, on an active schedule.

Dan has mornings down to a science while Elaine handles afterschool activities.

"I pick them up, and it's unpack bags, homework, dinner and swim team practice," she says.

The girls get along better when their days have structure, Elaine says.

"When they have nothing scheduled, they complain that they are bored. They bicker with each other and totally act out," she says. "When they know what is coming up and what to expect, they behave beautifully and sleep well."

Family counselor Tara Michener, owner/operator of Novi-based Michener Associates, says regularly scheduled activities, chores and homework reduce arguments not only among siblings, but between children and parents as well.

"Having a set routine eliminates power struggles. If kids know they brush their teeth every morning, turn off TV and come to dinner in the evening, and go to bed at the same time every night, there's not as much conflict as if it was never the arrangement," Michener says. "It takes parents out of the enforcer role because it's just a normal way of life."

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