If you’ve been a parent for any amount of time, you’ve probably heard someone talking about the importance of routines in raising children. Many parents cringe when they hear the word “routine” because it brings to mind strict schedules and set times for everything. It can be daunting to think about doing everything at a set time, especially when balancing a full life.
However, establishing a routine for your child can be done without being tied to a clock. You can create a routine that works for you and your family without worrying about a rigid and hard-to-manage schedule. In fact, establishing a routine when your child is young is an important way to provide security, stability and even improve behavior.
The Difference Between a Routine and Schedule
Before you start to establish a routine, it’s important to clarify what a routine is. Many people confuse the idea of a daily routine with a daily schedule. Daily schedules are a series of actions or activities performed at set times. For example, you might have a work schedule that assigns specific times to show up, meet with clients and turn in assignments. Your child might have a school schedule that establishes certain times for math, science, physical education and lunch.
A routine, on the other hand, is a series of actions or activities that happens in a predetermined order on most days. Think of them as a set of daily habits. For example, a routine might look like your family waking up, getting dressed, eating breakfast and performing certain chores — all in that order.
In some cases, a routine and schedule may be intertwined, especially if you need to be at work or drop a child off at school at a certain time. However, routines offer more flexibility without losing the predictability that will help you to establish positive patterns of security and behavior within your home.
How to Identify an Unstable Schedule
Research has shown that most children will face instability at some point in their lives. How parents address that instability and the solutions they provide for their child have a big impact on a child’s physical, social and psychological development. Some causes of instability are easy to identify, and others can be more challenging to identify and address. Instability in a child’s daily routine can come from many sources, but some of the most common ones include:
If you’ve recently moved to a new home, even if it’s in the same town, this may have changed the routine your family is accustomed to. Why? It’s something new and different. Even children who are old enough to understand a move and be excited about a new home may find that they struggle to maintain the same patterns of behavior they had before. Typically, this is temporary, but sometimes a move can permanently alter a family’s routine, especially if it impacts what time they have to leave for school and their proximity to friends and loved ones.
2. Parenting Changes
If parents are going through a divorce or custody arrangements change, this can impact a child’s routine. This is especially true if it coincides with moving or a parent getting a new job that demands more time or energy. Children who lose a parent or a grandparent who served as a primary caregiver may also feel the effects of instability following the loss. Instability can occur when a parent remarries because they are bringing a new partner — and sometimes other children — into the home.
Over the last year, we’ve seen firsthand how a nationwide crisis like the COVID-19 pandemic can create instability within a home. Suddenly, families are staying home more, not seeing friends and family and their work and school routines have been turned upside down. Even young children can pick up on the tension that comes from this ongoing instability, especially if members of their family are sick or struggling financially.
4. Home Life
Children who aren’t facing the other challenges listed may also feel a sense of instability due to a variety of factors. A parent may get a new job with more demanding hours. A family pet may die. Finances may be tight and causing a parent to be more stressed. For children whose parents are struggling financially, lack of necessities such as food and reliable transportation may also create instability.
Different Routine Styles
Even if your family isn’t dealing with one of the four major sources of instability, there will be seasons where you need to implement or improve on a routine. In some cases, this may happen as children get older and their perspectives are different.
For example, when a child is 5, they likely require a lot of help to get ready for school in the morning. Your morning revolves around helping them eat breakfast, get dressed and get packed for school. These needs remain as they get older, but once they’re older, children may need to start helping out with morning chores, such as feeding pets, packing their lunches or even throwing a load of laundry into the wash.
In other cases, you may realize you need a routine because of certain negative behaviors your child displays on a regular basis. For example, if your child regularly has a meltdown every evening before bedtime, it may be time to adjust the time you put them to bed or incorporate ways to help them relax leading up to bedtime, such as a warm bath or reading together.
Matching Your Routine to Your Parenting Style
It’s easy to decide that your routine needs to change. It can be more difficult to figure out how to make a new home routine. Many times, parents try to mimic the routine they observe from another family and can quickly become frustrated. This is because there isn’t a one-size-fits-all routine for families. Creating a new home routine should be a process that’s customized to your unique needs and your parenting style.
Most parenting styles fall somewhere in between two primary approaches:
- Baby-led parenting: This approach to parenting centers around the idea that a family’s routine is dictated by a child’s needs. This is often seen most clearly in the early years of parenting because babies tend to eat and sleep at certain times. For example, a baby-led routine will establish family outings and mealtimes around feeding times and naptimes. Some families continue with this approach as children grow, determining mealtimes and bedtimes based on a child’s sports commitments and after-school activities. This is often referred to as attachment parenting.
- Parent-led parenting: On the other end of the spectrum is the parent-led approach to raising children, which encourages a routine developed around the parent’s priorities, such as work, exercise and socializing with friends and family. A family with this approach may eat breakfast together because mom and dad start work later in the day, but dinnertime may be a sandwich eaten at the counter or in front of a television show.
Creating the Best Routine for Your Family
Most families find that their routine combines a mixture of these two parenting strategies. Children’s needs change as they grow, and parents’ schedules change if they take a new job or the family moves to a new location. When it comes to how to establish a daily family routine, it’s best to combine elements of a routine with your daily schedule.
For example, your family may need to leave the house by 7:30 a.m. each morning, so there will be certain habits that need to be completed before this time. You and your children will probably need to wake up at a certain time, get dressed at a certain time and eat breakfast at a certain time to ensure you get out the door on time.
To create a daily family schedule, check out these tips on establishing a daily routine:
1. Analyze Your Days and Weeks
Take a look at your days and weeks and ask yourself the following questions:
- Which family members work?
- Who goes to school?
- What activities is each person engaged in outside of school and work?
- Who is in charge of preparing meals each day?
- Do your children have multiple sports practices or activities that meet simultaneously?
- Does your family aim to have meals together each night?
Write down each of your family’s main time commitments in chronological order, and look for any problem spots. It’s also important to think about areas of the day when your child seems to struggle the most. Do they have a hard time focusing on homework after dinner? Do they tend to have a meltdown around 5:00 p.m. each day? Note each of these trouble spots on your chronological list.
2. Think About What You Want
Once you’ve identified the things your family does each day, take a few minutes to think about your family’s priorities. What is your child’s daily routine currently? How does it need to change? This is where your routine will start to differ from the other families around you.
Each family has different priorities. Identifying what’s most important to you and your children will go a long way toward informing your routine. As you did before, write all of this down. Having it in one place where you can refer back to it can be helpful as you work to successfully implement your new routine.
3. Create a Schedule
For a routine to really take root, you’ll need to follow it with the precision of a schedule in the beginning. This can help you and your children get used to the new way of doing things. Write out a schedule of what you want to do each day. Some things may need a precise time, such as serving dinner at 6:30 p.m. every night. Other things may be a little more flexible, such as listing each thing a child should do before school in the morning.
Some things about your routine won’t be written out for your family to see, especially for younger children who can’t tell time. For example, you may not need to put the exact time you leave for school or dinnertime on the visual schedule, but you should note it on your own copy so you can stick to it when you’re planning your day.
There may also be things that don’t need to happen at a set time every day, such as making the bed or cleaning up toys. As a parent, you may have a time in your head you know you want to ask your child to do these things, but you may not need to assign the time for everyone to see.
4. Share With the Rest of the Family
Once you’ve got a plan in mind, sit down with your partner — and children if they’re old enough to understand — and talk about what you’re trying to do. Allow them to provide input, and tweak your expectations where necessary. Then write everything down clearly and hang it somewhere everyone in the family can see.
5. Try It Out for One Week
To figure out if your new routine will work, it’s important to go through an entire week following your plan. It may require a lot of reminders for your children, but do your best to stick to the plan and keep everyone on track. As you go, make notes about how things are going.
6. Revise and Repeat
At the end of the first week, evaluate how things went. Were mornings smoother? Did your toddler have fewer meltdowns? Where do things still need to improve? Remember, a family’s routine is a constant work in progress. What works at one phase of life won’t always work for another. Be willing to change things up and experiment when needed.
Remember that your family is unique and your job is to develop a routine that works for you. Don’t stress if you don’t eat dinner at the same time as your family did growing up. Children want to feel secure, stable and loved. Any routine that results in these three things is a successful routine.
How to Create a Routine Chart for Your Children
Many parents find the best way to create a daily routine with toddlers and older children is to give them a visual reminder of what they’re expected to do in a day. There are pre-made charts you can buy to help with this, but since a family’s routine is unique, these charts don’t always fit with what your family needs. A great way to give your children a visual reminder is to create a routine chart. This is especially beneficial for younger children who are just learning how to do chores and help out at home.
1. Gather Supplies
The first thing you’ll need to create a routine chart is a large piece of paper — poster board works great — as well as a variety of markers, colored pencils and other writing utensils. Having a variety of colors will be helpful because you can color-code things for each family member. This is a great way for kids to quickly see and understand their responsibilities. If your child is too young to read, find or draw pictures you can incorporate to illustrate what they need to do each day.
A chalkboard or other erasable surface is also a great option if you want to create a way for your child to mark off their task when it’s completed. Giving children a way to show their progress gives them a sense of accomplishment and praise for completing what’s asked of them each day.
2. Identify Tasks for the Day
Refer back to the routine you planned out and use this to identify the tasks your child needs to complete each day. Some common tasks for children include:
- Get dressed
- Make the bed
- Brush teeth
- Feed pets
- Brush hair
- Go to the bathroom
- Take out the trash
- Clean up toys
- Complete homework
- Set the table
- Help with dishes
Customize these tasks for your family’s needs, but remember to put them in the order that you expect them to be done during the day. Separating them by morning and afternoon is helpful. A long list of tasks may overwhelm a child and make them less likely to engage in the routine you’re trying to establish.
3. Display the Chart Where Everyone Can See It
Once the chart is ready, show it to your family and explain how it will be used. Establishing a routine won’t happen overnight. No matter how old your kids are, you’ll probably have to remind them to complete their chores and follow the family routines several times. The point here is to develop habits, and habits take time to cultivate. Be patient while everyone adjusts — we promise it will be worth it later.
How to Teach Your Kids the Routine and Set Expectations
Depending on the reasons for establishing a new routine, it could take a while to see results. If your child has experienced a major life event, such as moving or the death of a loved one, it may take a long time for them to sink into a new routine. That’s OK! It will take time — and a lot of trial and error — before you feel settled into a new routine. So how can you make the transition and stay the course while you wait for results?
1. Be Patient
Remember, if you are struggling to adjust to a new routine, your child probably is too. When they forget to make their bed or put their laundry away, remind them of your expectations and give them a chance to try again later.
2. Set Expectations
Patience is important, but that doesn’t mean you should back down from your plan. Be upfront with your family about your expectations. Remind them when they forget to follow through. Young children, especially, will need guidance as they develop new habits. They may complain and say they don’t want to do something. Continue to work with them to establish the pattern you want to set.
3. Be Flexible
If things don’t go the way you planned, reevaluate. A variety of things can derail plans, such as holidays and illness. Even families who have a tried-and-true routine may find that their habits and expectations fall to the wayside when these things occur.
Routines can also be difficult because each person in your family is human. They have days when they’re tired, grumpy or feeling lazy. Many children struggle with anxiety, meaning they may have meltdowns before school each day or become easily overwhelmed when things feel new or different. Showing grace when a child is struggling isn’t a sign your plan is failing. Brush it off, love your child and try again tomorrow.
What Is Your Child’s Daily Routine?
Creating a daily routine for children doesn’t have to be overwhelming. It’s clear that the benefits of routine for kids are significant and far reaching. If you’re looking for ways to create a better routine at home, consider Haymarket Children’s Academy’s online remote learning program.
Combining safety with a robust commitment to education, our program was designed to serve families whose children are currently attending virtual school. Staffed by college-educated professionals, this program is designed to help children through their virtual curriculum while providing a structured daily routine.
For more information about this and other programs, contact Haymarket Children’s Academy today.