I’ve only played paintball once in my life. I hated it.
I don’t have an ounce of tomboy in me, which is probably why God blessed me with five little boys. Paintball was a terrifying to me. I never knew when or where a painful sting would hit, followed by the splat of neon goo. By the end of the game I was shaking and I was covered with hits.
Isn’t that exactly how we mamas often feel at the end of a “discipline day?” You know what I mean. The bullets start flying first thing in the morning. The toddler chucks his breakfast on the floor. The four-year-old hits his brother. The oldest decides to enter teenage rebellion at age 6. Every discipline situation is like an unexpected, painful hit from out of nowhere.
No Structure = No Discipline
There’s good news, moms. Discipline doesn’t have to feel like a losing paintball battle. There is a foundational tool that makes discipline predictable and productive: Structure
Before you cringe and stop reading, let me put your mind at ease. Structure doesn’t mean rigid rules and schedules that add more pressure to your day, just to leave you feeling like a failure at the end of it. Structure simply means: having a plan. It means your day has consistency and purpose. Any mom, no matter how organized or disorganized, can utilize structure.
Whether you naturally gravitate toward structure or not, structure is crucial to the mental and spiritual development of our kids. It gives them ample time and a secure environment to practice the skills we teach them. If you wanted your child to learn piano you would have him sit at the piano and practice. That’s structure. If you didn’t have any structure, it would be like having him learn to play the piano by hitting a key or two every time he ran through the room. No consistency, no plan = no learning. In the same way, successful discipline is impossible without structure to your day.
I want to give you an example of my daily structure. Every mom’s structure will look different. Mine is just one example. This is what I do with my four boys ages 6, 5, 3, and 2 (#5 is on the way). The key to a daily structure is consistency. These are the things we do at the same time, in the same place, and in the same way every day. You’ll see the discipline skills I’m able to plug into each phase of my structure. (This is our summer schedule, so you won’t see school work here.)
Discipline and Structure Schedule
Wake up: The kids wake up to a small bowl of dry cereal in their rooms that I set out the night before. They are allowed to come out of their rooms after they’ve had their snack and played quietly. This teaches thoughtfulness because it gives them a daily opportunity to practice not disturbing others with their noise. If they don’t practice thoughtfulness, they have to go back to their beds.
Breakfast: Our kids have the same choices every day: cereal with milk and scrambled eggs. I don’t say, “What do you feel like having today?” This is my chance to teach thankfulness and contentment because their choices are limited. If they complain about what I put in front of them I take it away and say, “If you don’t want your breakfast you can say, ‘No thank you, Mommy,’ and you may be excused. If you want your breakfast, you say, ‘Thank you, Mommy,’ when I give it to you.” When they know those are their only two options, they always choose thankfulness. We always have a special breakfast on Saturday like pancakes or waffles.
Free play: This is when the kids can choose an activity from the toy closet. They must clean up one before choosing another. We call this “Free Play” to remind them that freedom is a privilege. If they use their free play inappropriately (causing a fight, being wild, etc.), their freedom gets taken away and I will choose an activity for them – usually sitting on their beds alone with a quiet toy or book. This teaches wisdom and responsibility. They have to practice making wise choices to protect their free time. This is also the time I look for opportunities to reinforce kindness as they interact with each other.
Outside time: This time covers the same skills as free play. Since we do it every single day, they know it is non-negotiable. When I say, “Outside time!” – everyone grabs their shoes and heads for the back door. They may not come back in until I tell them. In the wintertime, this switches to “Basement Time.”