Power of Routines for Children

by: Dan Florell, Ph.D.

Most adults have general routines that they follow which give their day a bit of structure and predictability. For example, a morning routine can consist of turning off the alarm clock, going to the bathroom, taking a shower, getting dressed, and then eating breakfast. The wonderful part of a well-practiced routine is that you don’t have to devote much mental energy to get it completed. These types of routines are particularly well suited for the beginning and ending of a day. While too much of the same routine with little variation can get boring, most adults yearn for a bit of predictability given the dynamics of an ever-changing world.

Children have even more of a need for routines and predictability. Routines provide children with a sense of certainty and comfort while they negotiate all of the various demands required to grow up successfully. As parents, there are several steps that can be taken to ensure your child develops well-established routines.

Just like adults, morning and evening routines are typically the most valuable. They are also some of the most challenging times of the day for parents. Both the morning and evening are when many children have low mental energy which can make them resistant to tasks that require mental exertion. Gradually moving children into predictable routines during these times will reduce oppositional behavior and melt downs.

Establishing a routine first requires a basic script. A routine script is a lot like a movie script in that it details what needs to be done in a particular order. A bed-time routine script could consist of the children going to the bathroom and taking a shower. Once the shower is complete, the children need to hang up their bathroom towels and go to their bedrooms to put on their pajamas. After their pajamas are on, they need to go back into the bathroom and brush their teeth. Once completed, they need to go to their bedroom and let their parents know they are ready for bed. Their parents then come up and kiss the children good night before turning out the lights.

Most children will not be able to do a bed-time routine like the one above right away. All routines take time to develop. Posting all of the steps in a routine in the bathroom and bedroom can help children remember what steps are next. For children who are still learning to read, the steps can be a series of pictures highlighting each step in the routine. During the first couple of weeks of establishing a bed-time routine, parents should supervise the process and offer encouragement for each step that is followed. Eventually parents will need to offer less and less encouragement as the routine begins to stick.

Once a basic bed-routine is established, it can be expanded upon to incorporate more of the evening. Parents will find that their nightly battles in getting their children to bed will become less and less frequent.  Not only has the establishment of a bed-time routine helped the children; it has helped the parents too.

Other routines can be established during other times of the day following the same basic principles of establishing a routine script, practicing the routine while offering encouragement, and finally having a well-established routine. It will be worth the effort.

This article was published in the Richmond Register Sunday paper on November 20, 2013.

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