The Importance of Routines

Regular  schedules provide the day with a framework that orders a young child’s world. Although predictability can be tedious for adults, children  thrive on sameness and repetition. “Knowing what to expect from  relationships and activities helps children become more confident,” says Dr. Peter Gorski, assistant professor of pediatrics at Harvard  Medical School in Cambridge, Massachussetts.



Routines  begin from the first days of life, says Susan Newman, a social  psychologist in New Jersey, affecting the relationship between parent  and child, setting the stage for rocky or smooth sailing as your child gets older. Babies, especially, need regular sleep and meal schedules  and even routines leading up to those activities (a story every day  before nap- or bedtime, for example).


As she  gets older, when a child knows what is going to happen and who is going to be there, it allows her to think and feel more boldly and freely, Gorski adds. When a child does not know what to expect, his internal  alarms go off. Ultimately, parents benefit as well: “Knowing what is  expected cuts down on parenting struggles,” says Jodi Mindell, child  psychologist and author of Sleeping through the Night (HarperCollins).

Tips for Implementing Routines

Plan  regular mealtimes : “It is so valuable to the developing spirit of children to have one meal together each day as a family,” Gorski says.   Sitting together at the dinner table gives children the opportunity to  share their day’s experience and get support for whatever they’re  feeling. The emphasis is on togetherness, so if your children need to  eat earlier, at least give them dessert while you eat your meal. This  is also an ideal time to introduce routines that give children  responsibility, such as setting or clearing the table. Older children  can be pre-dinner helpers and washer-uppers.


Wind down before bed : Consistent nightly rituals are soothing and take  the battle out of bedtime. But after an exhausting day, it’s tempting   to skip the preliminaries when bedtime finally approaches. Don’t,  stresses Mindell: “About 20 to 30 minutes of calm, soothing, and  consistent activities get children ready.” Find what works best for your child.  Some children are revved up by a bath or fidgety when  listening to a story. Yours may prefer doing a puzzle together or  listening to music. For older children, bedtime is an ideal time for  conversation. My 12-year-old son likes me to sit on his bed and talk for a few minutes before he goes to sleep.


In general, make the room conducive for sleep. Set aside a time each week for room cleanup (another important routine!), when your child puts  away toys and books and you change the linens.


Be consistent but flexible : Routines are essential, but allow some  room for flexibility. Although the Osborne family thought their bedtime  routine was a blessing, there have been some problems recently. “I was  completely rigid about my oldest son’s bedtime, and he is now incapable  of veering from that routine. If we are out later than his bedtime, he  becomes upset,” Eleanor says.


Unexpected  events, like surprise guests or errands that cannot be postponed, may  result in a nap in the car seat or a skipped meal. But if we react with  frustration when this happens, our kids will, too. Try to prepare your  child ahead of time for the change and reassure them that things will  return to normal tomorrow.


Liza Asher is a mother of four and writes on  parenting issues for national magazines. She lives in Montclair, New Jersey.

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