Creating and sticking to routines
By: Christina mcGeough, mph, rd, cdces
Just like adults, many kids thrive with structure and routines. They may not be able to clearly express how routines help them, but you can often see it in their behaviors. I have two school-age children, and on days when tv time is too long, mealtimes are too late, and bedtime regimens are unstructured, the next morning we see the impact of the chaos from the night before. The children are sleepy and irritable. Their tiredness often results in more whining on their part and more nagging on mine. As a result, we start the day in a negative funk. On days when we stick to a more defined schedule, dinner is on time, bedtime isn’t an endless battle, and mornings are so much easier. Structure and routines don’t mean things have to be exact or precise all the time, but that you and your family work together and know what is expected and when things will happen.
Routines help children learn self-control, feel a sense of security with routines, and are important to their social-emotional development. It also helps them engage in learning. Little children have short attention spans and when they lose focus or interest, it’s a sign they are done with the task. When we don’t listen to these cues, children may react with tantrums and mood swings.
I learned the importance of creating routines when my son was a toddler. He had a speech delay and transitions between tasks were difficult for him. We started using visual aids and setting timers when he was around 18 months to help him understand what would be happening next and when activities would start and stop. Even though he couldn’t communicate well verbally, he quickly started learning his morning routine: when it was time for school, mealtime, playtime, bath time and bed. Over a few months his tantrums and frustrations lessened greatly, and we learned how to better support him and anticipate his needs. It turns out his frustration was not about being rebellious; it was just his way of letting us know he was not ready to transition or he was overstimulated. As he got older and learned how to communicate more verbally, we would ask questions about his day.