“My 10-year-old son has recently been diagnosed with ADHD. One of the things I keep hearing about is the importance of structure and a structured environment. What does that mean and how does it help?” –About.com Reader
Structure is a term one hears a lot as it relates to parenting children with ADHD. A structured environment is one that is organized and predictable. When you have day-to-day routines and a daily schedule in place for your child, you are creating structure. When you have consistent house rules, expectations, and consequences that are clearly understood by your child and positively reinforced by you, you create an environment that is predictable. In a structured environment, your child knows what to expect and there is a great sense of security that comes from this.
Why Is Structure Important for Kids with ADHD?
All kids benefit from routines and many children are able to structure things around themselves and develop good habits on their own. For a child with ADHD, however, this is much more difficult because of the ADHD itself. Children with ADHD struggle with the ability to regulate themselves – to stop behaviors and also to keep their focus when there are so many distractions pulling them in different directions. The symptoms of ADHD lead to problems with self-control. As a result, children with ADHD need more external controls (i.e. structure) in order to help them manage symptoms. When you build in these external controls at home you are helping your child to experience more successes and you are also teaching good habits and skills along the way.
A Helpful Analogy
One way to help explain structure is to use an analogy – structure is a lot like scaffolding. In other words, the routines, the reminders and limits you set -- and the consistency you provide -- is a lot like the scaffolding that is used on tall buildings. This scaffolding provides supports as the building is going up. And so like the scaffolding that supports a building as it is “growing,” when you create structure at home you are providing the necessary support that helps your child to experience more successes and develop greater competence and as a result self confidence as he grows. And eventually this will help your child to develop better skills to organize and structure things around himself as he moves into adulthood.