Every family needs routines. They help to organise life and keep it from becoming too chaotic. Children do best when routines are regular, predictable, and consistent. Routines let children know what’s important to their family. Highly meaningful routines are sometimes called rituals. These can help strengthen their shared beliefs and values, and build a sense of belonging and cohesion in families.
One of a family’s greatest challenges is to establish comfortable, effective routines, which should achieve a happy compromise between the disorder, and confusion that can occur without them and the rigidity and boredom that can come with too much structure and regimentation, where children are given no choice and little flexibility.
Routines are important because:
- They give structure to the day
- The set the body clock, making a difference between day and night
- Routines encourage healthy habits such as regular mealtimes and regular sleeping patterns
- Children feel safe and secure when they have a routine as they get to know what will happen each day
- Routines help a parent to feel they are doing a good job and being organised reduces stress
- Routines can strengthen the parent/child relationship when time is spent together each day at playtime and story-time
- As children get used to following a routine themselves, the parent needs to give fewer instructions.
Parent should review the routines in their household to ensure that these routines accomplish what the parent wants.
Why routines are good for children
- An organised and predictable home environment helps children and young people feel safe and secure.
- They can be a way of teaching younger children healthy habits, like brushing their teeth, getting some exercise, or washing their hands after using the toilet.
- Routines built around fun or spending time together strengthen relationships between parents and children. Reading a story together before bed or going for a special snack after an event can become a special time for you and your children to share.
- Daily routines help set our body clocks. For example, bedtime routines help children’s bodies ‘know’ when it’s time to sleep. This can be particularly helpful when children reach adolescence and their body clocks start to change.
- If your child needs to take medicine regularly, a routine for this will help make both of you less likely to forget.
- Having an important job to do in the family routine helps older children and teenagers develop a sense of responsibility.
- Routines help develop basic work skills and time management.
- Routines can help promote a feeling of safety in stressful situations or during difficult stages of development, such as puberty.
- When children reach adolescence, the familiarity of regular home routines can help them feel looked after. Predictable family routines can be a welcome relief from the changes they’re experiencing.
- Routines for children with disabilities can be a big help. They can be even more important for children who find it hard to understand or cope with change.
Why routines are good for parents
- When things are hectic, routines can help you feel more organised, which lowers stress.
- A routine will help you complete your daily tasks efficiently.
- As children get better at following a routine by themselves, you can give fewer instructions.
- Routines free you from having to constantly resolve disputes and make decisions. If a book is read every night before sleep, no-one needs to look to do other activities
Older children might grow out of, or challenge some routines. Being flexible and adapting routines as your child gets older can help with this issue.
Routines can help establish trust and build resilience
Settling into a routine not only makes things easier for a parent it also is teaching a baby about trust and building a resilient child. Throughout each day a sequence of events is repeated. Baby wakes and cries. Parent comes and baby is fed. After milk comes bath; after bath, quiet time; then nappy is changed and it is time for sleep.
With repetition, a pattern is formed in a child’s mind: there are things a baby can expect, things he knows will happen next. As events are repeated, a child understands they will happen again. When a baby can trust that what has happened in the past will happen again, he also becomes able to wait.
Routine is the beginning of other kinds of trust too; trust in people that they can be relied upon to do for him what needs to be done, and trust in himself, that he can express what it is he needs from other people. A routine that suits both a baby’s needs and a parent’s needs promotes trust.
Here are some suggestions for gently settling an infant into a good daytime—night time routine:
- Make sure that your baby receives enough food during the day
This may mean a parent spending a little more time with each daytime feed. When a child has finished feeding, let him rest for a while and then try feeding him again but do not force him. If a baby is getting enough food for his age and weight (which can be checked with the Public Health Nurse/Health Visitor), then if he wakes during the night there are probably other causes.
- Keep baby in the same room as other members of the family in the evening.
If a baby is left in a cot in his bedroom during the day, it is not surprising that he will sleep all day with little to stimulate his interest. If he is in the same room as other members of the family he will enjoy listening to the sounds of voices and will explore the world around him. By the time night comes he will be ready for a good long rest.
Making a Routine Happen
The day starts with everyone getting up and getting dressed. Dressing a baby is a parent’s job but a toddler will be able to do some of the simpler dressing tasks herself, such as putting on a hat or socks. Children learn to be independent and self-sufficient by doing things for themselves. This is a gradual process and a child needs a parents help to learn. As time goes on, a toddler may be able to do more and more and parents should be alert to opportunities to help this process along. It may take longer, but it will be time well spent.
Play is how young children learn and it is important that playtime is part of a child’s daily routine. Playtime should be fun for both parent and child, and is a good time to talk with a young child. As a child progresses from solitary play to co-operative play, these types of activities have an important role in a child’s development.
Mealtimes teach a child how to develop a healthy lifestyle and have numerous social benefits like language development. It also gives the family a time to check in with one another.
- Make mealtimes a pleasant time for the whole family to enjoy being together
- Children should be provided with well-balanced, nutritious meals
- For young children breakfast is an important meal, they need a good breakfast to give them energy for the day’s activities.
- Children enjoy feeling they are helping. A child should be encouraged to ‘help’ set the table from a young age, for example, 2 year olds can set spoons on the table. This is an opportunity to work on language skills and following directions, i.e., “Put the spoons beside the plates”
- The amount of time a child is expected to sit at the table can be gradually increased over a period of time.
©Lifestart Foundation 2018