Why is Routine Important for a Child?
by Ray FitzGerald
Building good routines is important no matter how old you are — but especially for children and toddlers. That’s because children experience far more change than adults do. Their bodies are growing and their world is changing. Each year, they get shuttled to different classrooms with different classmates and rules.
As soon as they get used to something, it’s time to change. But good routines gives them control over some aspects of their lives.
Studies show that at least 40% of everything we do in a day centers around a habit. Our lives are filled with so many unconscious routines that we do things without realizing they’re being done — it’s the reason why people are able to eat, drive and change the radio station at the same time. We’ve trained ourselves to do things unconsciously.
At the root of all of these behaviors are keystone habits — single routines that, when altered, can create sweeping change throughout your entire life.
Changing Keystone Habits
And changing these keystone habits, for you or your child, isn’t as hard as you think.
Habits, in essence, are routines. There can be both good and bad routines that affect every moment of your day. If you tend to sleep in, you can find yourself rushing through important chores or jobs throughout the day just to catch up. That affects the quality of your work, your mood and the overall confidence in your abilities.
While habits can be hard to initially train, they become easier with practice — to the point where a once-difficult task becomes something you do semi-mechanically without thought.
How much thought do you put into taking a shower? Do you really strategize where you’ll wash first, or the method in which you dry off afterwards? Likely not, because you’ve done it so many times that your brain simply shifts into auto-pilot and completes the task for you.
Setting Routines For Your Child
Setting routines not only creates stability in a child’s day, but routines also instill good habits that last a lifetime. We’ve all worked with that one person who never seems to get to work on time for a myriad of reasons. Chances are, that person never learned good habits as a child and is paying for it now.
Creating routines and transitions in early childhood also allows your child to take control of their activities because they know what is expected of them and, in time, won’t need to be guided on how to complete tasks. That can be an empowering feeling for children who often feel powerless and dependant in most situations.
Routines and habits are also the foundation of improving a child’s time management skills, which is usually at the top of most parents’ wish lists.
Also, when positive routines take hold, your child can better envision the path to getting tasks accomplished, which automates certain processes and minimizes the mental impact when something goes goes wrong.
Have you ever woken up and had something go wrong right away? Maybe you reach over to turn off the alarm and knock over a glass of water you forgot was on your nightstand. Then comes that feeling of “oh man, this is going to be a bad day.” Positive routines can help your child get past small setbacks like that and move on to have a successful day.
Examples of Routines You Can Have With Your Family
There are many ways to build routines into your daily life at home. And instituting just one routine can affect many other aspects of your day.
Studies found that families that eat dinner together often produce children with better homework skills, higher grades, more confidence and greater emotional control. That’s one routine that isn’t too difficult to start.
Behavioral scientists link tasks like making a bed in the morning to increased productivity, stronger skills at sticking to a budget and a greater sense of well-being. Isn’t that worth waking your child up five minutes earlier?
These results aren’t because a tidy bed makes a person “better.” Instead, there’s a yet-unknown correlation linking these habits to shifts in behavior the kickstart the formations of other good habits.
On weekdays, set specific times for children to wake up for school. Create an order for daily preparations. This can include a handwritten chart that reminds the child to make their bed, brush their teeth, wash their face, put on their school clothes and other typical activities in a certain order. Keep mornings cheerful and positive to create a good start to the day.
Teaching your child to lay out their clothes and do other preparations the night before only shortens the amount of time needed in the morning and gives a cushion for unexpected delays. Make sure your child understands this, as delays happen and need to be prepared for.
Be certain your child has time to eat breakfast, no matter how much they tell you they aren’t hungry. Breakfast is, by far, the most important meal of the day. Without it, your child is at an academic disadvantage.
Routines After School
After School, create some time for your child to decompress. Even adults need down-time after work. School is work for children. They’re often forced to sit in chairs quietly and focus on a teacher for hours at a time. These activities are counter to what children want to do by nature. This period after school is their time to take control of their activities.
After a set time to relax, create a routine around homework. These routines are important to stick to, because children will often struggle to get back into “work mode” after their relaxing time. If you set a specific time for homework to start — and stick to it — there won’t be any surprises.
Evenings should include routines for family time. This can include dinner time where everyone sits together at the table, an evening chat time in the living room with no electronic devices, reading time, or anything else that fits your family dynamic. The evening should end with a set bath time and a strict bedtime.
Routines for Toddlers
Toddlers have a way of letting us know what they want, when they want it. That doesn’t mean that they should not have routines in their life.
Routines instill a level of stability and security in a toddler’s life by making their daily environment more predictable and understandable. When routines become set, toddlers become more trusting of their caretaker and are more compliant than they would be when unexpected events take place.
Use everyday routines as teachable moments for your toddler. Things like brushing teeth, cleaning up or washing their hands are skills they’ll use their whole life. The early you reinforce those habits, the easier it will be for your child to continue with them.
When infants and toddlers can expect and anticipate activities, they will become more independent over time in completing the tasks. The likelihood of tantrums, hitting or biting lessens when the child knows what’s coming. What’s more, routines can help your child develop their social, emotional and cognitive development while instilling normalcy in their ever-changing life.
Plus, when a toddler takes part in regular routines, their sleep schedules are more likely to become part of that routine. What parent doesn’t love that?
Ray FitzGerald holds Bachelor’s degrees in both journalism and education from the University of Florida and St. Leo University. He is a long-time teacher of the gifted in an elementary setting and works with parents, educators and children through RaiseALegend.com and the weekly Raise a Legend Podcast to help them raise a generation of legendary children.