Creating Structure and Rules

Does your child have meltdowns when you change from one activity to another? Do you have trouble getting your child to follow a regular schedule? Consistent routines and rules help create order and structure your day. Things go more smoothly when you and your child know what to expect.

Keys to Creating Structure

  1. Consistency, predictability, and follow-through are important for creating structure in the home. Click here to learn more.
  2. Respond to your child’s behavior the same way every time. When you are consistent, the behaviors you like will happen more often and problem behaviors are less likely to happen. Click here to learn more.
  3. Routines and daily schedules help you and your child. You both know what to expect each day. Routines can also improve your child’s behavior and your relationship with your child. Click here to learn more.
  4. A family rule is a clear statement about behaviors that are never okay, such as hitting and running in the house. You can change your child’s behavior when there are clear consequences for breaking the rule. Click here to learn more.
  5. Keep things positive! Reward and praise your child for following routines and rules. This makes it more likely that your child will follow the routines and rules in the future. Click here to learn more.

Tips for Creating Structure and Rules

Give your child choices.

Whenever possible, try to give your child choices. Ask your child, “Do you want A or B?” (“Do you want the red or the green shirt; the apple or the banana; this story or that story?”) If your child gets upset, calmly repeat, “Do you want A or B?” If there are two things you need the child to do such as getting in the bath and brushing her teeth, let the child choose which one to do first. Giving choices can help your child learn to be more independent, feel like she has some control, and reduce struggles.

Establish a routine and stick with it.

A routine is a set of steps you follow the same way each time.  This means that the day’s activities are predictable. Morning routines, for example, can help you and your child get ready to leave the house on time. A bedtime routine can help your child sleep better and allow you more time for yourself. A dinner time routine can help your child eat healthy (no dessert before dinner!). If your child knows the routine, you will have fewer tantrums and power struggles during the day.

Use routines to prevent temper tantrums.

Establishing routines can help prevent temper tantrums. Many tantrums occur because children do not know what to expect during the day or do not want to do something they are asked to do. Routines take the guesswork out of the day’s activities. It may be helpful to teach your child the routine when you first start using it. A chart or nighttime song that spells out the routine may be helpful.

Be predictable.

Children feel safe and know how to behave when they have a routine and know what to expect. Being predictable in all areas of a child’s life can reduce stress and improve children’s behavior. Examples include setting and enforcing rules and having a bed time and meal time routine.

Stagger wake-up times.

If you have more than one child, consider staggering wake-up times for children who need to get ready for school or childcare in the morning. Wake up the children who need the most help first and then move on to the children who need less help. This can help reduce your frustration in the mornings and get everyone where they need to be on time. 


Page last reviewed: October 2, 2017