Just what is High Nurture/High Structure Parenting and how does it help anxious kids?
Last September I wrote a post explaining high nurture/high structure parenting and I was reminded of something from Kalkidan’s early days in our family.
Due to trauma, Kalkidan was extremely hypervigilant, she was always watching and listening, always in a state of fear. Even after being safe and loved for a long time, she remained hypervigilant.
She needed nurture and she was desperate for structure.
One of the best examples of this in her first months home occurred each night at the dinner table. As the meal wound down, Kalkidan would begin to nervously chatter. Her English wasn’t very good yet, but she managed to get her message across.
Dad, Dad, pajamas, pajamas?
Yes, Kalkidan, we’re going upstairs and it’s time for pajamas.
Teeth dad? Brush teeth?
Yes, then you’ll brush teeth.
Book, Dad? Book? Read?
Yes, Kalkidan, I’ll read a book to you and Claire. We’ll sit together and I’ll read two books. You can choose one and Claire will choose one.
Sing, Dad, sing? Pray?
Yes, Kalkidan, I’ll tuck you in bed and sing to you, then I’ll pray.
Yes, then it will be time to go to sleep.
Every night for a long time she asked these questions, often repeating the sequence of questions a few times.
In an effort to ease her anxiety, we made charts with each task shown in order – simple pictures of pajamas, a toothbrush, book, music, hands folded in prayer, a pillow for sleep.
Charts were made for morning routines too.
The more she could anticipate what was coming next, the safer she felt.
Higher Structure = Increased Felt Safety
I had always had a dinner menu, but as I learned more about Kalkidan’s need for structure, I created a menu for breakfast, lunch and snacks.
Chore charts were prominently posted on the refrigerator where she could see them.
There are many ways to increase structure and reduce anxiety; each child’s needs are unique.
She loved school. Kalkidan relaxed and learned well in an environment where everyone moved through the day as a group following one set of instructions. The classroom routine was just what she craved.
The following fall she transferred to a small private school and I thanked God every day for uniforms. Fewer decisions each morning made for a happier girl – which made for a happier mom.
If you have an anxious, hypervigilant child, I urge you to keep up the nurture and try adding more structure to your child’s day.
Carefully plan routines, make charts with or for your child, commit to a sleep schedule, and keep life simple.
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