The Power Of Routines For Children

Get them accustomed to what’s to come—each day.

Routines are like magic: they can instill a sense of calm and security amid the maelstrom of carpool, after-school activities, meal planning and laundry. The structure provides a sense of security and helps develop self-discipline for children, and helps eliminate power struggles and daily conflicts for the family.


A routine can help establish a sense of security and comfort for kids. But first it has to be established and used consistently. Some routines start as house rules—bath and bedtimes, clean up responsibilities, homework. Knowing how and when things will get done makes kids feel safe.


A plan allows us to make conscious decisions about the arc of our day. When we choose a schedule and stick to it, we are choosing to include certain activities (clean up time, grace before dinner, reading before bed) and leave others out. Routines can lend everyday life a sense of order and purpose. They can also help us avoid power struggles. The routine becomes an authority in itself—sometimes more effective than a directive from a parent!


There is a temptation to fill spaces in the day with activities and classes and visits “for the child’s benefit.” As long as those things are appropriate to your child’s developmental level and interests, it’s probably going well. But remember that children of all ages need time built in to their days to relax, to have unstructured play, and to enjoy your company. Find the best balance of active and quiet time for your child.


Once you have settled into a routine, remember that you are the boss of the routine, not the other way around. The best thing about having a plan is that it is there when you need it but you can make exceptions or changes to suit you and your child. So if you usually go to the library on Thursday afternoons but it’s a beautiful day to feed the ducks, you can agree to skip a week. If your child is cranky and having a tough day, maybe skip part of your evening routine to get to bed more quickly and smoothly. Once a routine is established, you gain flexibility!

You probably already have a few routines—but may not have recognized them yet. What do you do before putting the kids to bed each night? What about after school, or on Friday nights? During Saints games? Do you make pancakes every Saturday morning, or ask your child how his day was during a snack after school? Begin with what’s already there, and honor your family’s budding traditions by noticing, validating them, and giving them a voice.


Quick Tips for creating routines in your household:

Notice what’s already there. Validate the routines your family is already practicing.

Be consistent. A routine can’t take hold if you don’t practice it.

Be practical. A routine that takes too long or requires too much effort won’t catch on.

Be positive and cheerful about routines. Sing a song, say a rhyme, make them fun!


Sarah Murray Keith, LPC-S is a Parent Educator at the Parenting Center.

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