The importance of a routine
Structure is vital for young children to feel safe and secure. A predictable routine helps them understand what to expect. Your little ones most likely doesn’t understand the concept of time yet. They don’t structure their days according to hours or minutes, but rather to events they expect to take place. When these events occur in the same order every day, young children can predict their routine and gain a better understanding of their world. When they know they won’t be confronted with unfamiliar tasks when they are unprepared, they become more relaxed, cooperative, responsible, independent and confident. Following a routine also helps children develop self-control, because they understand that they have to wait until a specific time for a certain activity.
Not having a clear understanding of what comes next could cause your child a great deal of stress or anxiety and some unavoidable tantrums in your day.
The benefits of having a routine in place
- Routines help children to practice making simple predictions and to understand concepts like ‘before’ and ‘after’. A routine is especially helpful during difficult times of the day like when you are getting dressed in the morning or when preparing for bedtime.
- Keeping a set routine might sound impossible when you have to balance different schedules for respective family members. However, when everyone knows exactly what is expected of them, it reduces arguments and stress for the entire family.
- If you don’t have a calm, established routine in the morning, you could be setting yourself and your child up for a chaotic start to the day. Likewise, if you don’t have a predictable schedule for evenings, you deny yourself the personal time you need to unwind after a tiring day.
7 tips for setting up a routine
1. Start with the basics:
The most basic routine can simply be built around the times family members wake up, go to bed and eat. Be realistic about your routine goals and the amount of time your child needs for each activity – especially if he isn’t used to a schedule.
2. Family time:
The best way to establish a routine with your little one is to set apart a time every day that is completely reserved for spending quality time together as a family. It can be a quick breakfast where you share your plans for the day, or a relaxed supper when you all discuss what’s happening in your world. This time should be free from distractions like television or telephones. Try to have this family time at the same time and in the same place every day.
A good bedtime routine can help to start the following day in a calm way. When you and your child are well rested, the chances of a meltdown the next morning (for you or your child) are significantly less. Help your child calm down at the end of a day with a bath, story or soft music – any activity that makes him sleepy. Do these activities at the same time and in the same order every evening and talk to your child about his bedtime ritual by asking questions like: “What do we do after we put on our pajamas?” Make use of this quiet time with your child to talk about his day. This helps develop his memory, time orientation and language skills and also strengthens the bond between you and your child.
4. Allow for preparation time:
Help your child prepare himself for certain activities by giving him some transition time. You can say: “We have ten minutes before we have to start putting away toys. When the big hand on the clock gets to 12, it will be time to take a bath.”
5. Use helpful props:
Depending on your child’s age, routine or reward charts, or even simple pictures on a colourful piece of paper, can help your child identify the steps in his routine and encourage him to start performing these independently.
6. Tailor your routine:
As your children get older, your family routine might have to allow for chore time, homework time and activity time. Remember to also plan for one-on-one time if you have more than one child. Whatever your routine entails, make sure it suits the whole family. You and your partner can take turns to perform tasks when circumstances require it.
7. Rules are made to be broken – sometimes
It’s never too late to start or change your routine. A schedule shouldn’t be oppressive or stifle your child’s creativity. It should make your lives easier and give your kids the security and self-confidence to structure their own lives. There are times when routines should be flexible enough to accommodate spontaneity. Staying up past their normal bedtime to celebrate a special occasion or swopping the dinner table for a spontaneous picnic in the garden every now and then teaches your children to be flexible and to deal with minor changes to their schedule.
When your child finds it difficult to do deal with interruptions to his routine, explain the reason for the break in his schedule and assure him that you will return to the way he is used to the next day (or as soon as possible).
Our experienced editors work with trained journalists and qualified experts to compile accurate, insightful and helpful information about pregnancy, birth, early childhood development and parenting. Our content is reviewed regularly by our panel of advisors, which include medical doctors and healthcare professionals. Meet the Living & Loving Team and our Online Experts.