The Power of Routine
Smooth your daily schedule to boost kids’ sense of security and confidence.
My 2-year-old once brought home a Spiderman favor bag and a helium balloon from summer camp. On the way home, he told me how much he loved his new things, and I worried he’d want to play instead of napping.
So I told him the bag and balloon would stay on the dining table while he napped, and then he could play afterwards. He agreed, went to his room and napped. I was so impressed by his independence, thinking he simply must have been really tired.
But the truth is that he always naps after school and on the weekends after lunch. Everything is always in the same time frame and sequence.
That’s a routine: things happening in the same order at the same time.
People in general need certainty throughout their day to feel safe, by knowing what is going to happen. When things aren’t the way they’re supposed to be, everything shifts in our minds, and it can be hard to deal with every single detail of that day from that moment on. The same is true for our kids. Having routines provides them with safety, comfort and structure.
Routine is a way of living every day following the same general steps from the moment we wake up to the moment we go to bed. And with time and constancy, children tend to excel at following those steps when they know what to expect.
Children like to feel useful and love having a purpose. Preparing the clothes they want to wear the next day is not just about getting ready for tomorrow, but about decision-making and directive skills.
Families can work out routines together, and as kids get older they can participate more and offer their own suggestions.
Here are some key points to consider:
- Ideally, the whole family should stick to the same routine, eating meals and getting ready for school and work at the same time.
- Start small and incorporate new steps as the family has mastered the first steps of the routine.
- The main activities are done the same way every day (for example: wake up, go potty, brush our teeth and change our clothes before we sit down to eat breakfast). You can adjust the routine according to what’s happening that day, but the main structure should remain in place. For instance, dinner and bath time can be switched without affecting the nighttime routine.
- Try to stick to a general time for every activity, but be flexible with it, as every child and every day can vary. We start the getting-to-bed routine by 7:30 and sometimes the kids are sleeping by 8, other times until 9. But every day, bath time is ready by 7:30.
- When things don’t go the way they are “supposed to,” you can always try again the following day.
- Set realistic expectations, and plan accordingly to the child’s age.
- Place activities in the right environment. For instance, calm activities should precede the night routine to set the right energy, the room should be at the right temperature for sleeping, and children should wear appropriate sleepwear, not the shirt they wore all day.
Remember, routines must be consistent, and that’s up to the parent. If one day you don’t feel like sticking to the same sequence, that’s OK. But if you don’t remember to go back to the routine by the next day, your previous hard work will be lost as you lose momentum.
Kids need guidance with love and respect, and the things that matter take time and effort. When we give our attention, care and love in a consistent way, great things will happen in that relationship.
Once you have established a routine and the kids know what is going to happen next, there are fewer “negotiations” throughout your day. You only need to be firm and give information about the next activity: Let them know there are five minutes until bath time, for instance, and it’s time to start gathering their things. Then five minutes later, tell them it’s time to pick up and go to the bath. Repetition gives children confidence, making them feel smart and secure.
Here’s a tip: If your child is struggling with a particular step of the routine, offer them a 15-minute break. Let them choose an activity you can do together. Afterward, the child will be more open to taking part in the routine.
Little games also make everything easier, like these playful transitions: “It’s time to go upstairs and get ready for bed! Would you like to use your butterfly wings to fly upstairs or hop like a frog?” “Can you get to the car in only 10 steps?” “Dinner is ready! Let’s row our canoe to the table.”
For more inspiration, follow these accounts on Instagram: @Thebalanceafterbaby, @caleykukla, @yummytoddlerfood, @thegentlemamma and @durmiendoconamor.
Samantha Carrillo lives in Santa Fe with her husband and their two boys, ages 2 and 5.