“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.” (HealthyChildren.org)
Although adults may appreciate a change from predictability, children tend to thrive on repetition and routines they can count on. As Dr. Peter Gorski, assistant professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School, says at MomMD.com, knowing what to expect helps children develop confidence.
Sometimes, of course, events happen in life that cause you to change your plans for the day (or, sometimes, for a longer period of time), but routines for young children are still important. AhaParenting.com provides multiple reasons why.
In general, routines reduce stress for the family because schedules are known ahead of time and transitions aren’t a surprise. And when you have a routine, activities such as brushing teeth, taking a nap or eating a snack are just what’s done at a particular time of day. The child therefore probably won’t perceive a parent as being bossy or nagging about those activities, and potential power struggles are defused.
Routines also give young children the opportunity to take charge of their own activities, such as packing their backpacks. This gives them a sense of independence and competency, which children enjoy, and reduces the “need to rebel and be oppositional.”
HealthyChildren.org shares ways to structure routine, offering suggestions recommended by the American Academy of Pediatricians (AAP). They include getting as much as possible ready the night before (clothes laid out, lunches packed) and making morning routines positive. They also recommend a good breakfast, whether or not your child says he or she is hungry—and here are ideas for a healthy breakfast that we recently blogged about. When it’s time for your child to leave for preschool or school, have a simple reassuring routine, such as a wave and a hug.
MomMD.com points out another time when consistency is key: mealtimes. At least one meal, Gorski says, should be eaten together as a family each day. Children can discuss their days and also help with chores such as setting the table.
Bedtime routines are also crucial, which include a regular time to hit the hay. Avoid activities that are too exciting before bedtime and create a soothingly familiar end-of-day routine that could include reading a story or having a conversation about the day. Baths relax some children but wind up others, so do what works best for your family. Make the room conducive to sleep; a nightlight might make sense, but not bright lights that aren’t different from awake-time use.
Include Room for Flexibility
Consistency is important, but don’t let that cross over into rigidity. An urgent errand may unexpectedly arise, delaying nap time, or a traffic jam may slow down the drive home, causing dinner to be late. Model good behavior for your child when these events happen by not getting upset and returning to regular routines when it’s reasonable to do so.
Looking for more ways to enrich your child’s learning and life? Horizon Education Center provides affordable quality care, including educational and enrichment opportunities for children in the following Northeast Ohio locations.