Structure for Children

Structure: The Beginning of the Healing Process
By: Kay Landis.

I found myself with no place to go. My arms could only go in one direction—up. As I tried to keep it out of reach, the little hands just kept reaching. This was my introduction to serving food to street children. It was one crazy and chaotic mess. At the same time, no one could be blamed. Children at risk, like the ones who were clinging to my arms, live in an unstable world. Predictability is not a part of their lives. They may not know where they will sleep, where their family will be, when they will eat again. So for the children clambering for a snack, they were responding out of that urgency and instability.

The first cornerstone in the STOP model is structure. Developmentally, children need structure and boundaries. It gives stability. It provides emotional healing, internal control and discipline. For children in trauma and at risk, structures are usually the first to disintegrate. The loss of important structures—school, church, home, family, friends and cultural boundaries—causes them to lose control over their daily lives. The world becomes a place of chaos. Addressing this line of chaos is the first step to gaining wholeness. Replacing that structure begins the healing process.

Structure began slowly for us. At first the only structure we could provide was routine. We did not have a building, but we had a park and we had a schedule. No matter what the kids were doing, somehow they knew to arrive by 4:00 p.m. Every day it was the same schedule: arrive, play games, sing some songs, have an interactive lesson, do another game, eat a snack. The assurance of every person receiving food also helped reinforce the sense of reliability and security. No one had to scurry into line or fight for food. Through routine day after day (structure), the chaos began to dissipate. The children began to follow the routine and eventually began finding healing. As years went by, this structure expanded into a more permanent schedule and facility. As this grew, so did our numbers; but more importantly, the behaviors, attitudes and hearts of the children improved and grew. They became more confident and responsible. They began to allow us into their lives, and Jesus infiltrated their hearts. As they learned life with order, we were able to integrate them into schools, conduct camps and services, and teach them new skills. They shared hurts and expressed loss. All of this brought healing.

The goal of providing structure in your ministry is to give order to chaos. Internal control is key to beginning the process of healing. External structure helps give equilibrium for internal control to be renewed. Creating an environment where family can be restored, even if it is only like a family, helps replace the structures that have been removed during crisis. When possible, ministries should begin to incorporate other structures like school, church and home to fully encompass all areas of stability needed by children. Although it is the first step, structure is part of the process in bringing children out of darkness and chaos into the light and healing of Christ.

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