Routines for Children
Today, I watched my two-year-old walk in from playing outside, remove his shoes, and immediately take them to the basket where I keep his shoes by the front door. Without me saying one word! All those times I gently reminded him of my desired routine actually became his own little routine he could do independently. He didn’t even seem exceptionally proud of himself-it was just something he needed to do before moving on. He also now knows exactly where to go to find his shoes before we leave, saving me minutes trying to find them and get out the door!
Routines are important for a child’s development and productivity, and also for independence and self-esteem. A natural rhythm brings comfort and consistency to a child’s life.
Children with special needs can also benefit greatly from consistent routines. Children with a speech or language disorder may not have the ability to communicate their thoughts and feelings yet, and can feel anxious and scared when they aren’t sure what’s coming next.
Predictable routines allow a child to know what to expect and eventually have the confidence to be proactive in doing things independently. Confidence is built when expectations are known. It’s not unusual to fear the unknown, especially for our children. For a child, the unknown is everywhere and it can be stressful –that strange little green thing that looks like a tree on our dinner plate, starting a new grade in school, what comes after nap time, or having a new little brother.
Following a natural daily rhythm still allows for flexibility. Routines are not meant to be so rigid that you miss out on spontaneity or unscheduled fun. Teaching our children how to adapt is also extremely essential.
Why are routines important?
A routine is respectful of our children.
As mentioned, a routine allows a child to feel more comfortable and in control when they know what to expect. Imagine your schedule being dictated by someone else without your input. Often, that’s how children feel being dragged through their day. With a routine in place, they can feel valued because they are included in the plans and have a heads up for what’s next.
2. When we stick to a routine, we teach our children what’s important to know and do.
Our family values, beliefs, and interests play a big part in our daily routines. For example, a child may learn that family meals = spending time together is important. When we prioritize life skills in our routines, such as bath time, dressing, mealtime, housework, etc., children can learn it’s important to know how to do those things for themselves.
Consistent routines help your child set their “body clock.”
Children, especially young children, need help knowing how to recognize their own body cues, such as when they’re tired or hungry. Taking a break to use the restroom or rest is learned through routines.
A natural rhythm establishes expectations and decreases negative behaviors.
Power struggles happen when children don’t know what to expect. When the routine is supported they are more able to process “clean up time” or “nap time.” Children who struggle with separation anxiety may feel comforted if they know what will happen next. When you consistently give them a 5-minute warning before it’s time to go, they will be more prepared to leave without protest. If brushing our teeth before bed is just what we do, then the parents aren’t the bad guy.
Routines reduce stress and anxiety for the whole family.
Children want to know what’s next. That usually means they will ask a million questions to try and figure it all out. You may not have time to get yourself ready because you’re too busy answering questions and getting your little one out the door. Routines help children take more responsibility and give you more time!
Give your child confidence and independence.
Empowering children with a routine allows them to feel confident in taking care of themselves. They can take more initiative and feel proud of their accomplishments in following an established routine.
Healthy habits are taught through routines.
Routines teach many life skills such as time management, organization, housework, self-discipline, and self-care.
Rhythm helps family productivity.
Anyone feel overrun with PTA meetings, gymnastics class, and doctor appointments? A routine helps the whole family get things done efficiently. No more wondering who’s picking up the kids!
Increase stability during stressful times with a routine.
When our lives inevitably change, routines continue to provide a sense of security and stability for children. They are able to still feel loved and supported through stressful times.
How do I follow a natural rhythm for my child and create a routine?
Children of all ages and abilities can benefit from a routine. First, assess what your child is able to do developmentally.
- A young infant may only be able to observe the world around them for a short while before needing a nap.
- A toddler can get their own cup, but needs help pouring the milk in the morning.
- An older child can pick out their outfit, but needs help getting ready for school.
Gradually start allowing your child more opportunity to participate in the routine.
- Entertain your infant for longer periods of time as they are able, and continue to respect their natural need for rest.
- Give your toddler a smaller measuring cup of milk they can pour into their own cup to practice pouring, instead of straight from the jug.
- Make a picture schedule of the order your child needs to dress and prepare for school they can follow without your help. “underwear, pants, shirt, socks, shoes, backpack, lunchbox”
Patience + Time = A good routine
Set aside a little extra time and patience to put the routine in place. Of course, it’s often easier and quicker to just do the task yourself. Many times, the child needs step-by-step teaching to understand what they need to do. Children with special needs may benefit from using visual schedules or a social story to learn routines. However, when your child tries these skills on their own, it will lead to more time for yourself later! It’s totally fine if your child dresses himself and it’s only later you realize his pants are inside out. Eventually, they will get it! Praise your child for trying something on their own, even if it means you have to clean up the spilled milk. Children will try even harder to please you and do it themselves next time.
The routine will manifest into a natural rhythm where the child is empowered and excited to do tasks on their own. The child can predict what comes next and even consequences if the routine isn’t followed (e.g., forgot their lunch).
Mealtime & Bedtime Routines
Many caregivers report the two most stressful times in their day involve mealtime and bedtime. Consistent routines during these two times can be life-changing for the whole family. They also allow for children to practice forming healthy habits with your support.
Bedtimes can be hard. Everyone’s tired at the end of the day. However, bedtime routines protect your child’s health and happiness (and your own too!). According to one study, irregular bedtimes impact children’s behavior, increase the risk of obesity and low self-esteem, and decrease their academic achievement. Regular bedtimes can are correlated to positive development, health, and behavior. Power through your nighttime routines when you can and know you’re doing a good thing for your children!
What routines work best for your family?