Families vary in the way they organise their daily lives however all children benefit from some level of routine and structure. So why are routines important for kids?
Routines help kids develop a sense of security. Humans are naturally afraid of many things, but particularly the unknown. Children face many changes in their lives such as new experiences ranging from starting preschool and school to the arrival of new siblings, to the arrival of a new vegetable on their plate. Their bodies change as they develop and expectations change as they become older. A regular routine can provide consistency and predictability in a changing world.
Consistency and predictability allows children to learn self control. A child who knows that dessert comes after a main meal, learns to wait for rewards. A child who knows that homework must be done before playing on the computer learns that tasks need to be completed. This helps children to develop good habits which will help them succeed in the future.
Routines help reduce battles and arguments. Kids who know homework always comes before TV or computer games are less likely to argue about completing their homework because they know that it needs to be done and that when it is done a good thing will follow.
Routines help kids to be more independent. Kids who know what their daily routines are such as getting ready for school, what to do after school or getting ready for bedtime are more able to do these tasks themselves without constant reminders and nagging.
Routine makes a child's life predictable. Children do not understand time in the way adults do but will learn the sequence of activities and begin to know what comes before and after a certain activity. This allows them to feel secure and to predict and prepare for what is coming next.
Routines help parents be consistent too. When things are done consistently parents are less likely to skip important things such as brushing teeth, taking medication or reading before bed because they do not want to face a battle, they forget or because they are too tired.
Routines help set body clocks which help with eating and sleeping. A regular mealtime routine helps kids be more likely to sit and eat. A regular routine of waking, activity and rest times helps kids settle to sleep.
Routines are great for kids with special needs as they are more likely to have difficulty coping with change and are more likely to be settled and clam when their is structure in their lives.
Routines help kids learn because repetition is an important part of learning. Kids learn best from regular short practice at tasks so practicing a skill for a few minutes each day as a part of a regular routine is more likely to help a child learn that skill than a big burst of practice one day then nothing for the rest of the week. This applies to all kinds of tasks from learning to use a spoon, brush your teeth, tie your shoelaces, to learning to read and spell.
Routines for different ages.
Babies have physical needs which must be met by adults and won't always fit into an adult's routine. They need to sleep when they are tired, be fed when they are hungry and changed when they are wet. When a babies needs are consistently met they usually begin to form a routine of their own and parents can support this, for example by trying to be home at a time child usually has a sleep. Over time babies gradually learn to fit in with the routine of the rest of the family.
Toddlers may have routines around getting ready in the morning, mealtimes, bedtimes, playtime with parents, storytime and quiet time before a bedtime routine. As they get older activities such as child care, preschool, visiting grandparents and play dates may be added to their weekly routines.
School aged children may have routines around grooming, such as washing hands after the toilet and brushing teeth before bed, looking after pets, helping do chores around the house, getting pocket money, doing homework, tidying up toys, hobbies and sports may be added.
Helping children with routines.
Don't be too rigid. It is OK to be flexible about routines at times. If things occur that break the routine explain to your child that things need to change but will go back to normal next time. Kids need to learn to cope with unexpected events. If you decide to change your routine as a treat explain this to your child also. "Because there is no school tomorrow and you have been so good all week, you can stay up later tonight and watch a movie before bed. Tomorrow we will go back to our normal bedtime".
The earlier you start the easier it will be so try to introduce mealtime and bedtime routines when your child is young. It is never to late to start though so if you have an older child, explain why a new routine will be better and how it is going to work. Include a reward for sticking to the new routine.
Include preparations for transitions in your routine. This might include a warning "we are going to pack up in five minutes". Some children respond well to timers to count down the time left on a activity or the length of time they need to work at a task.
Use visuals to help your child learn a routine. This may be a schedule that shows in pictures all the things your child needs to do in the order they need to do them. Some children like to cross out they steps as they complete them or you can attach the pictures with blue tack or velcro so they can remove the pictures as they complete each step.
Children with special needs sometimes need individualised support based on an assessment of their abilities and challenges. If you need support helping your child with daily activities an appointment with an occupational therapist can be helpful.
Talking Matters provides speech pathology and occupational therapy services to children of all ages. To find out more about our speech pathology services click here. To find out more about occupational therapy click here.
Enjoy working through daily routines with your child and watching their skills and independence grow!
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