Dr. Karyn Purvis taught that high nurture and high structure must be balanced when parenting children. I was recently asked to explain what that means.
I recently shared a quote by Dr. Karyn Purvis on a local foster parent group about the need for a balance of nurture and structure as we parent children from “hard places.” One of the dads replied, “Interesting. Care to give examples to explain this to me?”
I’ve been in the therapeutic parenting world many years now and his words made me pause. How would I describe high nurture, high structure parenting? What does it look like?
I could probably write a book on this topic alone, or a least a few chapters, but I’ll limit myself to a blog post.
For me, high structure means providing children with a home that is predictable and safe. More importantly, I need to be a mom who is predictable and provides safety.
Children with trauma histories have commonly lived in very chaotic circumstances. They’ve cried and nobody has come. They’ve been hungry and not fed. They’ve been frightened and not comforted or kept safe.
They may not live in those circumstances any longer, but they still live in a constant state of fear and distrust.
When I provide safe, predictable routines, such as dependable meal times or a regular bedtime routine for little ones, I’m providing structure and demonstrating that I’m trustworthy. Children know that each night there will be a bath, followed by pajamas, brushing teeth, reading a book, prayers and songs.
For teens our routine involves dinner, cleaning up together, homework, and the house quieting down at 9:30. On weekends we have a simple Saturday chore chart that must be completed in the morning. Sundays begin with bagels for breakfast followed by church and the entire family gathering for dinner in the afternoon.
High structure means providing boundaries so our children know what we expect. They can’t succeed if they don’t know what is expected.
High structure also means consequences must be consistent. Children from hard places may be accustomed to discipline ranging from being ignored to abused all within a short time span from the same parent. We want to be loving, calm, and consistent.
High nurture is connecting with the hearts of our children. Eye contact, drawing them close, gentle touch, rocking little ones, wearing them in a front or backpack, and reading books are a few ways to connect with young children.
For older children and teens, nurture will look somewhat different. Listening to our older children, making eye contact, touch that is comfortable and appropriate for that child, making a favorite food, sitting side-by-side watching a show, or a note left on the bathroom mirror are a few ways we can show nurture and care for them.
High nurture might also mean offering choices rather than laying down the law. For example, with a young child we might say, “Would you like to hold my hand and walk in the store, or ride in the cart?”
It seems that most of us are naturally inclined toward either high structure or high nurture.
We may have a tendency to be a tenderhearted, very nurturing parent, but less consistent with expectations and discipline. Each day is unpredictable, leading our children to feel anxious, not knowing what to expect.
Alternately we may have a tendency to be structured with a chart for everything imaginable, but we have a harder time connecting with our kids’ hearts. We may be very authoritarian or tend to be dismissive, telling them, “it can’t be that bad, ” or “bummer for you.”
This may lead to outwardly obedient children – or openly rebellious children, either way, it doesn’t lead to children whose hearts are connected to ours.
High structure alone and high nurture alone are ditches on opposite sides of the road. We want to find the balanced middle, parenting in a way that brings wholeness to our children.
How do you balance nurture and structure with your children?
I would love to hear from you here in the comments or on my One Thankful Mom Facebook page.
Thanks for reading – it feels good to write! What a crazy summer it’s been; I’ve missed you, friends.