That’s what people say.
The purpose of structure is to provide something sure and certain. A sense of safety and security. Something predictable and stable. When everything else around it and within it changes, the foundations stay strong and hold firm.
What people mean, when they say that children need structure, is that children need timetables and routines. They need the predictability of a schedule so that they feel safe and secure. Children find stability and certainty in the continuous repetition of the same regime.
And some children do thrive on predictability. They like to know that Sunday is roast dinner day. And Thursday is always gymnastics day. They are comforted by knowing that they will always see there friend for a playdate on a Monday and that it is their turn on the trampoline after lunch.
But what if the timetable is providing a deeper need? A need for something more basic than rhythmical patterns to their days and weeks.
The comfort and predictability provided by schedules gives unwavering external support and a sense of safety in an world that is predictably unpredictable.
The timetable tells you that, even if you hate playtime, it is only 10 minutes. If you are finding maths difficult, you have an hour before something else. If family relations are problematic then the routine of school is stable.
What if timetables have become an artificial means of providing that sense of safety and security? That the structure and comfort our children need is not external support but the consistent, stable presence of a loving adult.
An engaged adult, who can be consistently and actively available, is able to provide both safety and security even in the face of ever changing unpredictability. The support that is provided goes deeper than maintaining external rhythms and holds space for personal emotional responses.
It listens when children express their joy at events and adjusts to allow for deeper and longer engagement in the activity.
It responds when events are physically or emotionally painful and leaves to find alternatives.
Instead of giving assurance and predictability of timings and procedures, it responds to our children’s inner voices and stays longer or leaves and finds an alternative.
The love, care, help and response from a trusted, responsible, care giver becomes the stability and security that a growing child needs. Those relationships form the basis of certainty and consistency and form an inward structure of stability and support.
There is comfort in the rhythm of our days, the turning of the seasons, and the Sunday roasts.
But what we need more than this, is strong, stable, relationships where we are safe and secure, and held firm, in a world which is predictably unpredictable.