How to Help Your Child Develop a New Routine
When your child learns to follow a routine, they’re practicing various life skills that will help them grow. In this piece, we break down how to start a new routine with your child, step by step
Teacher and Copywriter
Routines are one of those common household phenomena we intuitively understand but don’t often talk about. We often create our small habits so naturally that our homes begin to develop their own unique character. You probably remember routines from your own childhood home clearly. For example, maybe you had chores growing up, or can recount exactly how dinnertime unfolded.
Routines are a natural part of everyday life, but they’re much more than that for our growing children. Participating in tasks consistently offers children boundaries, a sense of safety, and more. Our habits tend to work on autopilot though — so it’s no wonder many of us can’t pinpoint how to start new ones from scratch. Below, we’ve highlighted why routines can be so powerful for our children, and break down the steps you can take to develop a new routine with your child:
Why Routines are So Important for Children
The most practical reasons for developing routines are pretty intuitive: comfort and convenience. Routines create dependable environments for our children to predict what happens without stress. And it makes sense to welcome strategies into our lives that can cut time and effort to create a better life.
Family routines also help your child's developing brain functions. Harvard University’s Center on the Developing Child says that parents play a crucial role in improving their child’s executive functioning. These mental skills include self-control, working memory, and being able to plan out a task and adjust to changes. Parents help sharpen their children's skills through established routines, following rules and role-playing.
Beyond the evidence-based benefits, creating a predictable environment with routines has more advantages. When children know what to expect, it eliminates the common power struggle. Routines also help family relationships by encouraging a sense of belonging. When a teenager understands that completing his chores impacts life at home, the task carries weight. Being entrusted to complete their task gives them both responsibility and the freedom of enjoying leisure time after.
How Routines Fit into Montessori Learning
The Montessori method encourages a child’s independence and sense of responsibility. In her book, The Child in the Family, Maria Montessori says "any child who is self-sufficient, who can tie his shoes, dress or undress himself, reflects in his joy and sense of achievement the image of human dignity which is derived from a sense of independence." Routines take away the top-down approach of waiting for a parent to direct a child’s every move. A child can take ownership of habits when they are learned and practiced.
Take brushing your teeth. When a child doesn’t have to be reminded, they understand it’s because they have been entrusted with remembering it, themselves. Knowing that it is their job to brush their teeth before asking for a bedtime story differs from being reminded every night. It makes your child feel like an essential part of the family team.
Which Routines to Include at Home
Ultimately, you need to choose the routines that suit your family best. Here are just a few of the familiar routines that tend to show positive results at home.
A bedtime routine might be more involved for toddlers, but it doesn’t have to exclude older children. This routine might include putting on pajamas, bath time, reading a story, or turning on the night light for younger children. Having a curfew or cutoff for screen time before bed for older children helps your child understand that a good night’s sleep is a priority.
Getting ready for school, daycare, or the weekend soccer game can move forward without a hitch when you have a routine. Your child can focus on the checklist of things they need to pack for the day. For children who experience some anxiety, starting each morning with a calming ritual can be helpful, too. Try stretching, walking the dog or chatting over breakfast.
Making a routine of family time eliminates the link that routines are only chores. When Friday is movie night, children have something to look forward to every week. When children are used to a no-phone rule at dinner time, they also get used to the moments of presence and connection with you.
4 Steps for Developing a New Routine
The CDC’s leading research on childhood development recommends that new routines include three components: consistency, predictability, and follow-through. Keeping these in mind, we’ll go through the steps of developing a routine from scratch.
1. Choose a routine you can be consistent with
It’s crucial to choose a manageable task that you can see yourself keeping up with daily or weekly. Start small and build up more routines as needed. Usually, these are one-step tasks. They might include asking your child to unpack their lunchbox after school and place it on the kitchen counter during the week. Or it might mean that your teenager needs to bring their laundry basket down on Wednesday nights.
2. Create a predictable environment for success
Now that you’ve chosen your routine, you need to set your family up for success. You want to make completing a routine easy or foolproof. If you want your child’s soccer equipment in one place after practice, try installing hooks or cubbies near the door. Try the organizational hack of giving important items a particular spot to call home. If you’ve agreed your child will have leisure reading time in the evening, you could make a ritual of asking about it over dinner.
Parents will need to take the lead and pay special attention to follow-through. The truth is that tasks only become routine when we are consistent. Following through on expectations and consequences is the most effective way to learn a routine. It's important that your child understands what happens if they don’t complete their routine. They may have to return to clean up their toys before they can move onto something else. Sometimes, your child may have to experience the discomfort of losing a privilege for a time, like playing video games.
The point is to connect the consequence to their action so that your child has a sense of fairness and control. When children are aware of consequences ahead of time, you can rely on the consequence to impart the lesson without frustration or stress.
4. Be Patient
Remember that new routines mean the whole family is in learning-mode. You’ll need at least a couple of weeks to see if the routine is taking hold. If, by that time, you’re still not seeing results, start by making only minor changes to the routine. Routines take time, and reversing them or scrapping them entirely can take away their authority. Habits become stronger with time and consistency. Lastly, don’t forget to make time for self-care, since learning a new skill is tiring for anyone.
Building routines at home in your family requires some organizing, but the results are rewarding. You're helping your child grow as a whole person. By helping them harness self-regulation tools, they will be better equiped to manage life without being overwhelmed. Just don’t forget to model to your child how to complete the task and talk through it, so they understand. By working together, you'll create a sense of teamwork to help your family get through any goal together.
Oliver is a classroom educator turned copywriter and content writer. With a passion for teaching and writing, she happily splits her time between the classroom and the keyboard in the spectacular Pacific Northwest in Vancouver, Canada.
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