Warmth and Structure

  • You Need Both!

    For almost 60 years, researchers have been studying parenting styles.

    This research has found that the best parenting combines both warmth and structure.

    • Too much warmth and no structure is too permissive.
    • Too much structure and no warmth is too harsh.
    • No warmth and no structure is uninvolved parenting (if the parent is absent), or even neglectful parenting (which may happen if a parent is struggling with mental health issues of their own).
    • Children need both warmth and structure from their parents.

    Warmth means giving love, affection, and support to your children. They know “someone loves me, someone cares about me, someone thinks I’m worthy.”

    Ways to Express Warmth for Babies and Toddlers

    • Cuddle.
    • Emphasize talking to your child.
    • Read.
    • Sing.
    • Respond to their physical and emotional needs.

    Ways to Express Warmth for School Age and Teens

    • Pay attention.
    • Put down your phone and focus on them.
    • Have conversations, get to know them.
    • Laugh.
    • Read.
    • Share with them what you love to do.
    • Empathize with their feelings.
    • Praise their efforts.
    • Explain the “why” of the rules.
    • Respect them.
    • Support them.
    • Have fun with them.

    Structure means having rules, limits, expectations, and routines. Children feel less anxious when they know an adult is in control so they don’t have to be.

    Structure for Babies and Toddlers

    • Start enforcing family rules - like “no hitting” or “food stays in the kitchen."
    • Let them help with chores.
    • Start introducing structure and routine to mealtimes, bath time, nap time, and bedtime.

    Structure for School age

    • Have strict rules regarding safety and routines – “no fighting” or “no getting up after lights out.”
    • You can loosen up on rules regarding choice (pick your battles!) - like what to wear.
    • Set firm expectations – “homework and chores must be done before screen time.”
    • Enforce limits – for example limits on screen time or sweets.
    • School age children will start to realize that different families have different rules and that’s okay. Your rules and structure reinforce your own family values and your own personality. For example, one family may insist on children making their bed every morning while another family doesn’t mind if it’s not made up. Know your own values and stick to them.

    Structure for Teens

    • Teens can have more voice in making the rules. Let them share their opinions and really listen to them. Tell them you’ll take their thoughts into account, but the parent still sets the rules in the end. For example, consider letting them tell you what time they’ll be home. If you feel they’ve named a reasonable time, agree to it but then they must arrive home by that time or face consequences.
    • Communicate your values and expectations about friendships, dating, and social experiences.
    • Continue expecting them to do chores and follow family rules.
    • Slowly move from being their manager to being a consultant by encouraging, leading, and guiding them, but letting them start to manage their schedules and social lives.

    More Tips About Structure 

    • Structure in a family actually makes room for more warmth.
    • Children will push the limits until they find the boundary. The boundaries make them feel more in control, not less.  Without them, they are floating around in space, not knowing where the limits are, and feeling anxious that they never know when they’re going to hit a boundary. Clear boundaries help them feel calmer, less anxious, and more in control.  
    • Rules and expectations should be clear and explained in advance (as often as possible)
      • Kids will know what you expect of them and what to expect from you.
      • Clear rules make it easier for you to follow through calmly and consistently because you’re not making it up on the fly.
      • Consequences won’t balloon in the moment because you’re feeling angry or frustrated, too, because they’ve already been set when you were calm.
      • Don't try to make a rule for every infraction! You’ll never think of all the ways children may misbehave!
    • Reinforce the rules in a positive way, too, by telling them when you notice them following the rules. Catch them being good!
    • Follow through but also explain the “why” of the rules when everybody is calm.

    Examples of Using Warmth and Structure

    Example 1 - Your child is angry. They are throwing or slamming things or saying hurtful things to others. They are refusing to obey your rules.

    • Take a pause so that you don’t respond angrily yourself.
    • Be empathetic:  Let them know it’s okay to be angry. Show them you understand why they’re angry (if you know – if you don’t know, tell them you want to understand and after they calm down you’d like them to tell you so that you can help).  Help them use words to identify what they’re feeling and why. (warmth)
    • Tell them it’s not okay to be hurtful with words or actions and that it’s not okay to break the rules of the house. (structure)
    • Give consequences with love and empathy: “I’m sorry you chose to …. That’s too bad… now you’ll have to ….” (structure and warmth)
    • Depending on what works with your child (from trial and experience), help them calm down or give them a time out or a cool down space alone.
    • After everyone is calm, reiterate the rule and make sure you follow through with the consequence.

    Example 2 – Bedtime routine is a firm routine, but it’s a loving time. Be sure to follow the nightly routine you have established.  This should include but is not limited to: brushing teeth, removing screens from their sleeping space, and lights out on time (structure). It can also include snuggling, reading, talking together and giving them your undivided attention free from distractions (warmth).

    Click here if you want to dig deeper into parenting styles: https://parentingscience.com/authoritative-parenting-style/