I hear it all the time.

Every doctor, every therapist, every educator…

At some point in discussing my youngest son’s learning differences and special needs, every expert has made the same generalized recommendation, with varying degrees of concern and judgement.

He needs structure.

For a child with his level of differences, he needs structure to know that he can depend on the routine, even when he can’t depend on his own mind and body.

If he had more structure, you might not being seeing the increasing anxiety at home.

Are you sure you can provide the structure he needs outside of a school environment?

On my worst days, I want to respond to these types of statements with a few of my own.

Really, I have never thought of that?

Wow, I have never heard that before in all 12 years of dealing with this. You’re a genius.

Good idea – let’s put him back into a special education classroom and see what happens to his mental health and chronic health condition. I’m sure the structured environment will more than make up for the bullying, the lack of IEP compliance, less individualized attention, lack of understanding of his high IQ and documented decrease in self image and esteem. 

I may want to say these things, but I don’t. Most days, I agree and then try to communicate the hardest part of the “provide structure” recommendation –

Sometimes, the child that requires structure is the one that fights it the most.

This is one of the most challenging things aspects of our lives right now.

I know my son needs some structure and consistency, yet he resists every single attempt we make to re-establish it.

Part of it is that we got so completely out of routine with his recent hospital stay. Most of it is that even under the best circumstances, he tends to do all that he can to resist and defy scheduled expectations. Call it his creative, free-flowing side. Call it oppositional behavior. Call it being spoiled.

It doesn’t matter what you call it – it’s reality and it’s a constant need.

When The Child Who Needs Structure Fights It The Most

Over the course of the past few years, especially since my son’s exposure to the daily structure of a public school option last fall, I have learned a few things that help get us back on track. No matter how much my son resists the structured (not necessarily super scheduled, but definitely routine driven and predictiable) environment he actually craves, the following has helped us both maintain a basic flow to our day.

My Routine Matters

This is probably the number one tip that I have in regards to creating structure for a child – Create your own structured day and routines first.

It may seem simple, but the truth is, when my son is experiencing chaos day in and day out, I tend to get incredibly chaotic as well. I feel defeated and that defeat affects my own daily routines.

If I want to help my son relax into a more structured the day, I have learned that the first thing I need to do is address my own. This means a structured morning routine, daily non-negotiables for housekeeping, and a general plan for our homeschool time.

Projects and Activities Help

No matter how badly our day is going, one of the surest ways to get my son engaged and back on track is with a hands-on project or activity. Because of this, I have a few planned activities every week, and employ them on days when my son is struggling to follow our rhythm and routine. These projects typically take the place of a portion of our traditional homeschool work, and I find they allow him to transition back into what we have planned (much better than he does when I lose it and start making demands).

Get The Day Back

Mom Confession: When the day starts to go badly, I tend to want to give up in defeat. I’m tired. He’s had such a hard time lately. There are so many reasons to just let the child be.

While all of this is true, it does not help my son to just allow him to watch seven episodes of Spongebob on the couch – even if that is what he might naturally be inclined to do – and here’s why. When he does just sit, it gets his sensory system out of whack. When the sensory input (or lack there of) is uncomfortable, his anxiety increases. When his anxiety increases, he starts to panic. When he starts to panic, a meltdown is soon to follow.

So giving up isn’t really an option. The best choice for all of us is to find ways to get the day back on track.

Turn on an audio book.

Go for a drive.

Bounce on the trampoline.

Take the dog for a walk.

Play at the park.

These are all simple strategies that help us seamlessly transition back into our routine.

This has been and continues to be a focus and constant work in progress for me and for my son.

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