The poultry method of childrearing

By Dr. D. Jackson Maxwell

I recently had the distinct displeasure of spending time with a couple who subscribe to the poultry method of childrearing. They believe that children, like chickens, should be raised using an “open range” mentality. Children should not be subjected to boundaries but instead be allowed to roam free and wild, untamed and unrestricted in any way. As a result, I observed that the open range child is unfettered by common restraints that most adults place upon their offspring in hopes that they will grow to become contributing community members and responsible citizens. Instead, these children run wildly about with no regard or concern for others around them. They are allowed to openly defy their parents and other adults, throw tantrums, and generally do whatever they please while their parents look on bemused, oblivious to the chaos their children are creating.
Needless to say, when the open range child encounters children whose parents have instilled a sense of personal responsibility and respect for others, a clash of cultures ensues. I noted that the open range child did not hesitate to hit, bite, and otherwise abuse the children with a more structured upbringing. The more domesticated, rule-abiding children were aghast by the open range child’s willful disregard for social norms, rules, and commonly accepted behaviors. They could not understand why the wild child was allowed to defy his parents, throw tantrums, and yell his disapproval at any adult who attempted to impede his unrestricted and unrestrained ways. After spending a long weekend with an open range child, I vowed to avoid contact with these types of children for the safety of my kids and to preserve my own sanity.
When I became a parent over a decade ago, the need for providing my children with a structured environment and upbringing seemed only natural. It was obvious to me that children desire routine. Rules and structure provide children a sense of continuity and security from the first weeks after they are born. Books such as On Becoming Baby Wise by Robert Bucknam and Solve Your Child’s Sleep Problems by Richard Ferber use structure to create an environment where children can thrive. From personal experience, I can tell you these books work. Children crave routine. They are comforted by knowing what is going to come next. They want to know what is expected of them and how their parents will respond. Children who are raised in a structured environment tend to adjust well to school and later, to the work environment.
Contrary to some critic’s concerns, creativity still has its place within a structured environment. In fact, having a routine allows time to be set aside for creative endeavors. I liken people and structure to poets and sonnets. While the sonnet itself has a strict form, with fourteen lines in iambic pentameter with a rhyming pattern, the poet is free to fill the lines with her own thoughts, emotions, and words. While all sonnets follow a structured pattern, what they say and how they say it is as unique as each individual poet. Like the poet and her sonnet, structure provides children a form and outline for their lives to follow. It sets limits, prescribes guidelines, and makes clear parental expectations. However, within these structural blocks children are free to express themselves in ways they choose, thus exerting their individuality.
When I first became a teacher more than two decades ago, I quickly came to realize that students need structure. Structure provides limits. It shows that the teacher cares for his students. Plus, structure offers students guidance while creating a sense of security. Further, school by its very nature is structured. There are certain times when the same things occur every day such as class beginning, recess, lunch, math, English, support classes, and the end of the day. While there are times when schools deviate from their schedule for assemblies, special activities, or fieldtrips, the fact remains that most school days follow the same basic pattern, and classroom routines are consistent. This structure carries over to most workplaces. Thus, parents employing an open range mentality for childrearing are doing their children a great disservice. In reality, they are setting them up for a lifelong series of failures in the structured environments that will be their lives in both school and the workplace.
Therefore, I believe that one of greatest gifts any parent can give their child is structure. Structure breeds confidence, reduces anxiety, communicates expectations, and creates a sense of security for children. Children consistently know the rewards and consequences of their actions or inactions. Unlike my so-called poultry method of childrearing, a structured upbringing develops an ordered and responsible lifestyle that will serve children well through school, college, a career, and eventually with a family of their own.
Dr. D. Jackson Maxwell is a National Board Certified Teacher, freelance writer, and father of two well-structured children. If you have any questions or comments, please contact him at


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