Parenting with Head and Heart

Read below as Hannah Pitman, MA, LPC equips you with 4 ways to incorporate high structure and high nurture into your parenting routine!

We all have strengths and weaknesses. Personally, I can cook almost any dish, but I absolutely cannot put any piece of furniture together (which is the reason my nice patio cover is still sitting in my garage instead of keeping the heat off my patio, like it’s supposed to).
In parenting, we also have strengths and weaknesses. One of my favorite parenting concepts (from TBRI) is the idea of high structure, high nurture parenting. Children need both structure (a home that is predictable and safe) and nurture (kindness, love, teaching a child their own preciousness, connecting to their heart). If we tend too much towards structure, our home can feel rigid, unforgiving, and harsh. If we lean too much towards nurture, our home can become chaotic, full of unknowns, and feel unsafe. If we have neither, that would be an experience of neglect.
The goal then is to have both, which is easier said than done. Most parents tend to lean more towards one or the other as it fits with their personalities and life experiences. As you are reading this you may already be thinking about which one you personally are inclined more towards. Maybe it depends on the day, week, month, or hour. Thankfully, we can use our strengths to help us with our weaknesses in this case!

If you are more structured, you could use that strength to build in connecting time. Plan your day to take 15 minutes to an hour (depending on the number of commitments and other kids that you have) to just play with or talk to your kids. Let them talk about or show you anything they want (as long as it isn’t dangerous) for at least 15 minutes, with no agenda for chores or homework, etc.

If you are more nurturing, use that skill set when setting limits. Take time when you are not with your kids to think about things that need to have more structure. Does it feel like no one ever knows what will happen next and things are always chaotic? Maybe it’s time to have one night of the week that is just for your family, no matter what else gets scheduled. Use that night to enjoy and nurture (your strengths) and don’t let anyone take it. Maybe it is time to always have a bedtime routine and whichever parent is home is the one who does it. Then, you get to nurture consistently at those times.

I’ve listed below some easy ways to add in either nurture or structure, or a bit of both!

Easy Ways to Add Nurture into your Routine:

1. Behavioral Matching – With little kids this could mean noticing anything that matches…. Maybe it’s that you are both wearing sneakers, you are both wearing something purple, or you both have the same color hair! It also means that when your kid is using a quiet voice, you match and use a quiet voice also; and when they use a loud voice you match it too. The only time you wouldn’t match their pitch is when they are angry. When they are angry, you would continue using a calm voice. With teens, behavioral matching could look like mirroring their body posture and voice tone. If they are slouched, you slouch a bit. If they are sitting with legs crossed, you would do the same. If their voice is quiet and slow, yours is quiet and slow.

2. Warm Eyes & Voice Tone – You could do a million different connecting activities, but if your voice and facial expressions communicate that you are not interested, then these activities won’t be helpful. Using a voice that communicates enjoyment and eyes that say you are glad to be there and not bored, allows your kid to really feel the love you are trying to communicate.

Easy Ways to Add Structure in:

1. Daily/Weekly Rituals – Simple things you already do every day can add a bit of routine and safety to your day. Waking up, bedtime, and mealtime are great times to add some structure since these are already part of your daily routine! Maybe every morning you sing a special song to wake your kids up. Maybe a goal is to have a consistent bedtime at 8PM, which means if you know it takes two hours to get your kids wound down, bathed, and in bed-- start the bedtime process at 6PM. Maybe creating the structure of always reading 3 books at bedtime would be helpful; or at mealtime, you can go around and say highs and lows for the day. If it feels overwhelming to eat together as a family every day, make it a once-a-week thing. Every Friday is pizza Friday (or whatever your favorite takeout is), and you order pizza and eat it together at the table. The food is fun, and you have time together that is consistent. Every week your kids know what will happen, or every day for a daily ritual. Pick one thing and stick with it!

2. Consistent Consequences – Pick one behavior and a small consequence to go with it. For instance, if your kid is being disrespectful ask them to repeat the action in a respectful manner. If they don’t do this, give them two warnings. Make them aware when its the last warning, and then give a timeout or whatever you have decide is an appropriate consequence. The first time will feel challenging, the second a little less hard, with it becoming easier the more often you repeat the same consequence (with a warning for the same behavior). The more you repeat this process, the more your child will know exactly what will happen, thus making them less likely to repeat that behavior.

When adding in structure or nurture, start small! A goal could be to pick one connecting activity, noticing one match a day, or setting aside connecting time once per week. Pick one structure thing you want to add in, start with one ritual every day at bedtime or pizza night once a week. If you start too big it is easy to get overwhelmed and discouraged and not do any of it. Have grace for yourself and use your strengths to help you build in the areas that are more difficult. Also, press into those strengths! Keep doing the things you are already doing well and good luck!

Hannah is a past ALCS therapist who is sadly no longer a part of the ALCS team. She is currently a full-time stay at home mom, but still enjoys leading TBRI trainings on occasion. If you are interested in scheduling a training, you can reach out to ALCS administrative staff and they can connect you to Hannah.