Supporting Children with Routines
The Parenting Success Network is proud to introduce our new PSN Blogger, Lynne Brown, formerly of the Montessori School in Corvallis. Lynne has an education in journalism and a background in early education, and we are delighted to welcome her to the PSN family! Lynne’s blogs will be published bi-monthly and will upload on Monday evenings (usually).
Ah, the new year. A fresh new calendar and a return to the routine.
The end of December, with the long stretch of time off from school (and for some of us, from work) offers a wonderful opportunity to be out of the ordinary. Without the structure of the school day, we are free to sleep in, stay up, leave home, or leave town for extended periods of time. It’s exciting and fun, chaotic and sometimes exhausting.
And then it is January, and our everyday life resumes.
After the excitement of the holidays, most of us are ready to get back into our daily routine of school and work. While the unique schedules during the holidays are something we look forward to, our everyday routines are important for both growing children and their parents.
Creating regular routines – for starting the day, transitioning to naps, sharing meals, and heading to bed helps children feel safe. When babies and toddlers can predict what comes next, and when what they expect actually happens, it instills security and gives them a sense of mastery over their environment. As the young child absorbs the world around them, they reach a stage of development where they suddenly have an idea about what is going to happen next. When that idea turns out to be right, their successful prediction builds confidence and reassurance. Even school-aged children are reassured when their day is predictable and familiar.
Routines can also help children understand time and develop time management skills. When my first
four were very young our morning routine included Sesame Street and Mr. Rogers for the oldest three while I finished feeding and dressing the baby. During that phase of our family life, when my four-year-old would ask “How long until…”, I often answered with “one (or two!) Mr. Rogers”. She knew how long Mr. Rogers lasted when she watched it in the morning. Thus, measuring time by the length of that TV show helped develop her ability to think abstractly.
Routines also help children establish good habits. If getting ready for school every day includes putting dirty laundry in the hamper, brushing teeth, and combing hair, these activities become just a part of everyday life – good hygiene habits that will last them a lifetime.
Establishing a routine can reassure young children that their world is safe and predictable when:
- Starting the day. Create a predictable set of tasks that start each day, and do them in the same order each day. Do we eat first, or dress first? Do we brush our teeth immediately after we eat breakfast, or just before we head out the door? What order we do these things in is not important. What is important is to maintain consistency once you’ve decided which comes first and what is last.
- Preparing for Nap time. How will your child know that nap time is coming? In order to help with the transition to the afternoon nap, our routine included nap time immediately after lunch. When we were done eating, we headed for the changing table and then to bed. We established this routine when our children were infants and I remember the challenge of transitioning out of the morning nap. In that stage, when they weren’t sleeping before lunch but needed the afternoon nap before noon, I still maintained the routine of lunch, then nap. As I noticed the need for the nap, lunch was served. It meant some early lunches for a time. But that was short-lived as they grow out of that stage so very quickly.
- During Playtime. Even free time can have a predictable routine that helps young children learn sequencing – first, next, finally. First, we choose what we are going to play with, next we play with it, finally, we put it back where we got it.
- It is Bedtime. Like naptime, a predictable sequence of events following dinner helps children know that soon it will be time for bed. Knowing what comes next can help reduce resistance and encourage a calmer transition to sleep. Transitions can be hard for many children. Creating a sequence of events that signals a transition is coming can help these children through it.
At our house, we are working on creating a routine – and a habit – for putting things away when we have finished with them. My incredibly creative eleven-year-old still struggles with returning the tools of her craftiness to their respective places. It’s a work in progress. And that’s okay.
There will be times when the routines we have established go right out the window. We all have days when we must be flexible and do things differently than usual. How we respond to those times is also a learning opportunity for our developing children.
Our response to a break from the routine shows our children how to be resilient and flexible, and how to adjust when what we expected is different from what we experience. And how to settle back into a routine after a disruption. As long as our routine days outweigh the chaotic, our growing children will learn that the world is safe and predictable and that they can trust us to take care of them and meet their needs.