As adults, we love our routines. Whether it’s going to the same coffee shop every morning or working out to the same playlist, routines make us feel comfortable. Did you know that the same goes for your little one? Children benefit from consistent routines from as young as infancy and having routines can positively affect your child’s development. You might think that sound crazy considering that an infant spends most of his or her time sleeping and eating regardless of where they are, but the truth is that consistency and predictability (easily achieved through routines) in the life of an infant, toddler, preschooler, grade-schooler, and teenager alike can lead to positive outcomes in development and behavior.
What’s the benefit?
Routines have many positive impacts on our little ones. First and foremost, they provide them with a sense of safety and stability which is important at all ages, but especially in infancy and early childhood. These young children don’t understand time like we do. Instead, their days are marked by events such as meal time, bath time, and play time rather than hours. Routines help make their life more predictable. This is comforting to them because understanding what will happen next gives the child the confidence to explore and be curious without fear of being faced with something unexpected. It helps develop trust between a child and a parent because they know their needs will ultimately be met.
Consistent routines also help children learn self-control. A child is more likely to sit for a meal if they know mealtime is followed by playtime. Routines can also help children who have difficulty with transitions cope better when an activity ends and another begins. If a child has a set routine, they are more likely to handle small changes well and be flexible. Routines should be consistent but not too rigid because as we know, life is unpredictable. For example, let’s say you bring your child to a grandparent’s house every Wednesday, but one Wednesday you can’t. You want to explain to your child the change in the routine and why. “I know we usually go to grandma’s today but she’s at the doctor so we can’t. We’re going to see her tomorrow instead.” If most of their day is predictable then they’ll be better able to tolerate small changes in routine, especially if they see a parent handling the change calmly.
Routines are also a great opportunity for learning. Daily routines are great times to practice specific vocabulary and motor skills. For example during a morning routine, you might ask your child to identify objects like shoes and a toothbrush or have them practice a skill like putting on shoes or saying good morning! Routines also help children develop healthy habits. When they consistently understand from a young age that they wash their hands before dinner, brush their teeth before bed, etc. they’re more likely to carry those habits as they grow.
Having consistent routines can also have a positive impact on the parent! When life gets busy, routines can help you feel organized and give you a sense of control. They can also help lower stress, disputes, and power struggles with your child. For example, if Sunday is spaghetti night, that’s one less decision you have to make or argument you have to have with your little one. Routines can also help you get throughout your daily tasks and free up some of your time.
There are no rules about what kind of routines you should have or how many. Find ones that work into your lifestyle! All you need to keep in mind is that routines should be planned, consistent, and predictable. Here are some examples of routines that can be incorporated into daily life.
- Getting ready in the morning
- Meal time without screens or other distractions where talking is encouraged.
- Clean-up at the end of the day
- Doing (or helping with) chores (feeding the dog, setting the table, etc.)
- Doing homework
- Daily walks
Don’t Forget About Fun Routines!
Routines don’t all have to be about daily chores like cleaning up or washing your hands. Fun routines like weekly movie nights or reading their favorite book before bed help foster relationships between family members and help with a child’s sense of belonging.
Routines can benefit you, your child, and your family as a whole. It might sound nice to go with the flow, but having consistent routines during busy, stressful, or difficult times can make them easier to handle and help your child develop positive life skills!