Have you ever been in a situation where you were at the whim of someone else’s plan and you didn’t know what came next? Maybe you can recall a time or two, but what about a time when the majority of your life felt like someone else was in control of your schedule? I can remember a time when 50% of my day felt like a surprise, which isn’t totally comfortable for this Type A girl.
Before I was married, I lived for the better part of a year in Santiago, Chile. All my friends were Spanish-speaking Chileans and while I spoke Spanish and could engage in conversation I wasn’t 100% fluent. This was very obvious in group settings when many people were talking. This is when it became very difficult for me to follow along. I can remember times when my friends would pick me up and share we had plans to go somewhere. I often was totally surprised by the unexpected plans. They likely talked about the plans in front of me, but because it was over my head I didn’t clue in.
The same can be true for toddlers or preschoolers. They may be around while adults are talking about things the family is going to do i.e. the activities for the week or the things we need to get done before we go to bed, but often they don’t realize the plan applies directly to them. It can be confusing for a young child that is unexpectedly bundled up to get in the car, or is stripped down to take a bath, or awakened to go pick up the sibling. This is why routines are so important.
Lessons From Preschool
Routines help children make sense of their day. Routines minimize the guessing work for young kids and create expectations. If you think about when you drop your child off at preschool or kindergarten, they know what to expect. Depending on the school, they may have circle time on the carpet, then arts and crafts time, a time to sing, and then a short lesson. Each day the child comes with a level of expectation knowing the flow of the day. We can create the same expectations in our homes by establishing routines for critical parts of the day. Come with me as we explore some of the benefits of routines and how you can create them for your kids.
Routines Are Not Schedules
So, before we talk about the benefits, let’s talk about what routines actually are. It’s important to note that they’re different than schedules. Routines are more like a pattern or a sequence of events. They’re not strictly time-bound. You may know for example that you have an hour to accomplish five tasks. You likely know the order of the tasks but you don’t have the time broken out within the hour. Because routines are not as time oriented as a daily schedule, they’re more flexible and adaptive to the needs of the child during the day.
Benefits of Routines
Okay, so I get that routines are not exactly a sexy subject, but they are tremendously valuable for preschoolers and toddlers. And here’s the kicker: routines for kids also benefit parents. Here are six benefits of having routines for your kids.
Predictability is important for children; it helps them know what’s coming next. In our home, we eat dinner, bathe the kids, and then put them to bed. This is a routine we do consistently. Even when my daughter was a toddler we would be sitting at dinner and she would say “is it bedtime now?” Without my telling her what came next she could anticipate that we were getting close to sleep. I’ll admit, we had different reactions about the next step…we, the parents were excited that it was the kid’s bedtime while the kids were not looking forward to it. (who’s with me on this one?!?)
Because kids have a sense of what comes next, they are not constantly in a state of wondering what’s about to happen to them. It lessens the unknown and therefore reduces or minimizes anxiety.
This next benefit is one for both the kids and the parents. Routines help increase independence. If your child knows the bedtime routine is to put on their pajamas, brush their teeth, and lay out an outfit for the next day, they can do the process by themselves or with a little support from mom and dad. The more independent your child is, the more flexibility you have to focus on the other things that need to get done.
Helps You Remember The Important Things
Like I mentioned earlier, routines eliminate the guesswork. By having a set pattern for the busy times of your day, you can hardwire the things that are most important to you. For example, if your process in the morning is to brush your teeth, go potty, and take vitamins, you and the kids will remember to make sure they get their vitamins. If you’re like me, you’re probably constantly going around with the million little to do’s in your head or post-it notes on your desk, so minimizing the things we have to remember to do is a huge bonus!!!
Kids observe a lot by how you spend your time and what you value. If you pray every night at dinner or before bed, they connect that praying is something important to your family. If every Saturday is a family pancake and pajama day, they innately realize that family time is important. It’s pretty powerful actually. Kids really do learn from what we do and not just what we say!
Security and Control
Routines help provide kids a sense of security and control. Young children are designed to figure things out. Often the learning process is fun, but it can also be scary. The other day, for example, my husband was working in the garage and my toddler was exploring inside our home. He heard a strange loud noise from the garage, not knowing that my husband was out there, my son jumped in the air and screamed for me. We can’t control for all of these situations, nor should we, but we can encourage security and control in the other times of the day. By anticipating what comes next, toddlers and preschoolers have a sense of comfort and feel empowered with the knowledge.
How To Create Routines For Your Kids
It’s time for you to create your own routine for your kids.
- Identify the top two or three busiest times of your day.
- Think about the critical items that need to be accomplished at those times. Specifically, think about what you need your child to do. What are the steps you typically walk him through or help him with?
- Now, put the steps in a sequential order. Does it matter if they get dressed first or eat their breakfast first?
- Write out the steps. If your child can read then use words, but if they can’t then use pictures.
Make it Visual
Place the visual (words or pictures) where your child can see or easily access them. You can also check out my free printable Morning & Evening Routines for kids in the Free-Bee Library. Details are at the end of the post.
Practice Practice Practice
Once you have your routine, explain to your child that you’re going to do things in the same order every day. Verbally walk through the steps then practice it with them by helping them through the steps for a few days. Once they have a solid understanding, you can empower them to own the routine for themselves.
If your child isn’t super focused, you may want to add something fun for them to do at the end of the routine e.g. read books, watch a few minutes of a show etc. Then, add a timer and establish how long the routine should last. If they go over the allotted time, then the “fun activity” is cut short. So, perhaps you had 10 minutes to read books…if they squander that 10 minutes by procrastinating on the first 5 steps in the routine, then they won’t be able to read books that day. Make sense?
Start This Week!
Routines are things we don’t often give much thought to. They are a part of our lives and we don’t even recognize it. By defining our routines and sharing them with our preschooler and toddlers, we can encourage a safe environment where they have expectations about their day and a sense of control. We can reduce their anxiety and even teach them our family values in the process. Routines for kids helps to empower them, encourage independence, and free up some of mom and dad’s time. Take action this week and establish a routine for your little. Remember to grab my free Morning & Evening Routine printables!
For more ideas about routines, check out my post Create An Easy Morning Routine For Your Family.