Updated: Aug 20, 2020
Academic literature consistently finds that routine is important for children. But, I know this to be true without having to cite any sources. Just take a listen into my world when nap time gets pushed back too far. I’ll give you a clue, it involves a lot of weeping and gnashing of teeth.
Here are 6 basics to start building a routine. These should begin to improve resiliency and consistency in your home.
Go with your child’s natural rhythms.
You probably have your day built around some rhythms already, like meal times and snack times. And if you don’t, meals are a great place to start. Consistency in the timing of meals and snacks is easy to establish from day one and gives you a good foundation to structure the rest of your day. From there, start to think about energy peaks and lulls for each of your children. When do they have the most energy to burn? These times are great opportunities to incorporate big movement - think outdoor play, indoor obstacle course, or visit to the park. When is their attention the greatest? Scheduling stationary tasks like math work and reading in those times to maximize learning potential. These rhythms may be, and probably are, different for each of your children. Do your best to fit them together but know it probably won’t line up perfectly.
A little word for the wise - know that when your child is tired or hungry, their frustration tolerance is going to be significantly lower. Don’t schedule their most challenging tasks right before a meal or sleep.
Mix up stationary tasks and movement tasks.
Children need movement. They can only be seated for so long before you start fighting an uphill battle for their attention. Research shows that a child’s attention span is 2-5 minutes for every year of life and it is on the shorter side of that span for tasks they don’t enjoy. Use movement to give their brains a break. It doesn’t have to be a full game of soccer in the front yard. Try 10 jumping jacks, a 3 minute dance break, or walking to the kitchen for a drink to help meet this movement need.
Give yourself margin.
While I love a good plan and productivity (hello, fellow type A parents!), I have learned to build flexibility into my routines. This starts with basing your routine on sequences, not exact times as much as possible. You could plan outside time after indoor play or before lunch, rather than scheduling it at 10am.. Inevitably, a toy is going to break, an adventure will be so much fun you just can’t leave, or a meeting is going to pop up. Use these unpredictable moments as an opportunity to model and teach the value of flexibility. Don’t pack your routine so full you set yourself up for failure.
Keep it consistent.
The first two weeks of implementing a new routine, you should stick to it as much as humanly possible. There will probably be big emotions (from you and your child) around things changing initially, but stick to it. It is worth it, I promise. After that, give yourself some flexibility. I’m a huge fan of the 80/20 rule. 80% of the time stick to the routine. The other 20% give yourself the freedom to enjoy some spontaneity without the routine dictating when everything has to happen.
Communicate the plan.
Children know and understand a lot more than we usually give them credit for. Morning meetings are a great time to communicate what the plan is at a developmentally appropriate level for your child. This time will help manage transitions, expectations, and coping with doing things they want to do and don’t want to do during the day. A two-year-old doesn’t need to hear about the entire plan for the day but could benefit from hearing the plan broken down into smaller pieces across the day. It may sound something like this, “This morning you are going to play downstairs while Mommy folds laundry and then we will play together in the kiddie pool before snack.” For a 9-year-old, you can communicate the plan for the entire day so they know what to expect overall. It may sound something like this “After breakfast is put away, you will do some reading work while I am in a meeting, after that we will have a quick break before office hours with your teacher. I’m hoping to get out to the park after lunch today but we need to get our to-do list done before we can do that.”
Use visual supports for you and your child.
Make the routine accessible and interactive for your child. By letting them see and interact with the schedule, they get a little bit of control and predictability. This goes a long way in decreasing big emotions and increasing compliance. At my house, we start our day by creating a visual schedule where we put pictures showing each activity of our day in order. This can then be referenced throughout the day to see what is happening next. This type of schedule can be adjusted to be a written plan for kids that can read. Older kids may also be able to view a week at a time to see when activities, subjects, or other family events are going to happen.
Another great visual support is a visual timer. Using a timer to show how much time is left during a certain activity helps me hold true to my “I just need 10 more minutes with this”, keeps my little ones attentive, and helps with transitioning between preferred and non-preferred activities. I’m a huge fan of the Time Timer when we’re at home or a timer app on my phone when we’re out in the world.
Download our visual schedule and start moving your day from crazy to consistent.
If you need help developing your routine, creating an interactive visual schedule, or you just want more information, contact us for a free 15 minute consultation!