Young children don’t have an understanding of time. Routines for children establish a sense of security and help them develop self-discipline.
Doing the same thing every day at the same time sounds kind of boring. It may be for you, but young children don’t have an understanding of time; they think about the recurring events you have scheduled for them.
They know to expect breakfast, lunch, and dinner at specific times during the day. Scheduling play dates, doing homework, and enjoying a snack often occur around the same times after school each weekday.
Predictability and change in a child’s routine
Predictability equals comfort and safety to most children, and that’s a good thing because there are lots of unknowns sprinkled throughout their day. Too much change can be stressful; when something new is introduced into a routine, it’s easier to handle.
Change can’t be avoided. Even when positive events such as a new baby, a move, or a family vacation occur, it breaks up the structure. That’s why it’s important to set up a routine for your children.
Having a schedule in place gives children a way to control their environment. They know that when they get up they need to shower, brush their teeth, dress, and get ready for the day ahead. This simple routine helps them get organized and sets up constructive habits for the future.
Some parents worry that too much structure interrupts a sense of spontaneity and, without that, you lose creativity. A paper in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology showed that boredom can promote creativity.
Routines for children should start when they are toddlers, not infants. Infants first routines are eating and sleeping. From there, we as parents establish their schedules introducing routines at the toddler stage.
Why routines for children are important
- Routines make parents the good guys. By establishing a schedule, your child will know her exact bedtime, thus eliminating a power struggle.
- Routines reduce stress. When we know what comes next, there are no surprises. This makes children cooperative. Plus, when you do introduce something that’s not on your child’s schedule, the security of what’s to come helps your child ease into the new situation.
- Over time your child will take charge. This is a good thing! Your child will settle into a schedule and will do the things expected of him, like teeth brushing, washing, and clearing the dinner plates. It’s about developing good habits. Eventually, your child will do things without giving it much thought. The best part is that this occurs without you having to nag.
- Your child will look forward to certain activities. Maybe it’s snack time, or an hour watching TV, or playing video games, or visiting a friend. This is the fun part of the routine.
- Schedules are good for parents, too. Yes, your child may try to stray from the schedule. She may ask to stay up later or make a different change. By having a schedule in place, you can refer to it. It cuts down on fights. If your child opts to skip brushing his teeth, for example, you can point to the schedule and show that it’s expected.
Every once in a while, you may change your child’s routine, and that’s okay. Life is unpredictable, and something unexpected can occur. If you know that a change is coming, talk to your child about it. Whether the change is major or minor, she’ll still have a good part of her routine to follow, which is comforting to children.
February 27, 2020
Janet O’Dell, RN