It’s a practice taught in Classroom Management 101, highly relied on by teachers as the secret to preventing behavioral problems among the masses. In fact, most of us already implement this practice in one form or another, not even realizing its true potential — we just do it because that’s how we were raised. We’re talking about routines. Whether you’re a type A parent who likes everything in its place, or a little more of a free spirit, implementing a daily routine has the potential to stop tantrums before they even begin, giving you a little peace in your home and your child the gift of predictability and foresight.
Ever notice at the start of school, your child’s teacher has every minute of each day planned out? Starting from preschool, most parents know what their child is doing at any given moment because the child’s teacher has shared a rigid schedule that is followed day in and day out throughout the entire school year. While this plan most definitely ensures that all lessons are taught throughout the day, it also ensures that the day goes as smooth as possible. (With so many working minds and various personalities, what could possibly go wrong?) When the students know what is going to happen, in order, each day and what is expected of them, most behavior problems can be squelched before coming a bigger issue.
As parents, most of us have taken this into account by implementing a routine of some kind — intentional or not – we can be creatures of habit. Whether it’s a bed time ritual that consists simply of brushing your child’s teeth, a negotiation over the dinosaur pajamas or the truck pajamas, a kiss goodnight, and lights out, or your routine starts right after dinner with bath, book, then bed, you have hopefully found a routine that works well for you and signals to your child it’s time to wind down.
Whether done for your child’s sake or simply your own sanity, routines such as bed time routines are done to add predictability to your child’s life, something their growing and developing minds crave in a constantly changing world around them. It’s when things are unpredictable that children begin to act out, whether it’s from fear of the unknown, anxiety of the inability to handle sudden change, or simply the unwillingness to want to do something other than what they are already doing at that moment. Let’s face it, no one really enjoys having last minute plans thrown into the mix. Children are really no different, and when their day to day is managed by someone else, a loss of independence and security can occur if perimeters are not put in place.
Creating a Routine has its Benefits:
- Increases Cooperation – If children understand that toys are to be picked up prior to sitting down for lunch on a consistent basis, they are more likely to get the task done without throwing a fit, or resisting your insistence. Simply knowing that “this is what we do” rather than being told on the fly gives children time to prepare and a sense of control over the situation. With little notice (or a fair warning), a struggle is sure to ensue.
- Reduces Anxiety – Without a routine, children lack a certain level of stability in their everyday activities, growing anxious over possible situations that may arise in which they lack the skills to adjust or tackle obstacles. With consistent change, they grow to realize that they have very little control over anything other than their own bodies. These feelings often result in a battle of control between parent and child, as a young child’s anxieties can often be expressed as anger or resistance.
- Develops a Sense of Responsibility – When a routine is in place, children learn that they have a role or “job”– cleaning the toy room, getting dressed, setting the table — that is important to the family. They are also taught that there are things that must be done, whether we like doing it or not because it is what is best for the family.
- Builds Confidence – Predictability offers children stability, a feeling of security, and confidence in their abilities. When a child is able to predict what is about to happen, they gain a sense of control over the situation, even if you’re the one making decisions for them. They also gain confidence from knowing that they are able to complete tasks independently on a regular basis.
- Builds a Connection – When you have a routine in place, it can sometimes become somewhat of a ritual between you and your child, leading to a closer connection. If your daily routine consists of a bath and story time after dinner, the child not only benefits from a structured bed time routine, but also gains the opportunity to spend quality time with a parent. Simply singing bath songs, snuggling your child in their fresh bath towel, or creating bubble beards and mustaches every day will become a moment your child not only looks forward to, but remembers forever. This kind of connection can help significantly in deterring poor behavior as children aim to please.
How To Implement a Routine:
Children are fairly resilient, so even if you don’t have a routine at home, it’s never really too late to start implementing some form of daily routine – big or small. Keep in mind that there’s no perfect schedule out there that will completely eliminate misbehavior, and life also requires a bit of flexibility, but there are small things that you can do on a consistent basis that will help to prevent those terrible meltdowns before the signs even begin to appear.
1. Start by mapping out a normal day in your household, then look for simple patterns that you can build upon, or change if you don’t like what you’re seeing. Start the day right by setting in place a morning routine, for example: breakfast, brush teeth, get dressed, run errands or have free play time. If you notice that most of your struggles or tantrums occur around a specific event, that might be the area that you want to focus on for building a routine, such as nap time or even implementing a specific snack time to keep all day munchies at bay. Some other areas where a routine can be implemented is getting ready to leave the house, doing chores, taking care of personal hygiene, caring for pets, homework, and cleaning up.
2. Try to divide the day into blocks (yup – just like grade school!) to make the routine seem simpler. Basing your routine around the three daily meals will help provide for manageable chunks of time. Avoid scheduling every hour of each day or you just may go crazy trying to implement it. Blocks of time are much less overwhelming.
3. Ensure that there is a routine in place for the biggest misbehavior triggers. If fighting a child to eat dinner is the norm, spend some time consciously observing your child. Perhaps they really aren’t hungry because they had eaten off-the-cuff most of the afternoon, or dinner time is so close to bed time that their resistance is more than likely due to being overly tired than your home cooking. Often children act out when they are hungry, tired, anxious, or stressed. Figuring out what is triggering your child’s outbursts and designing a routine around it may ease some of the frustration. For example, a new snack time or nap routine may need to be implemented.
4. Be consistent if you really want to see a change in behavior. Many children are not fond of cleaning up (especially if they are told out of the blue, when they worked so hard on that pillow fort!). If that’s an area that usually triggers a power struggle, make it part of your routine to have a quick daily clean up before lunch, or maybe again before bed. Figure out a time (or two) that works best for your schedule, and stick to it. A consistent routine becomes a lifestyle. If a child learns that he or she has to clean up their toys before sitting down for lunch each day, they are less likely to fight you — and in fact, may surprise you by doing it without even being reminded. Hello responsibility and self-discipline!
Finally, not only will a little routine provide some peace of mind for your children, but for you as well. With your day already planned ahead of time, you’re more likely to be productive, feel successful, and much less stressed. It’s a win-win for all!
Photo credits: Stephanie