I think it is hard to appreciate how valuable routines are because they sit quietly in their place and simply enable us to get on with life.
- Video: The value of routine and why kids love it
- Routine inspection
- How to get our kids pitching in with chores
As a child, I enjoyed the predictable routine of waking up in the morning and coming into the kitchen, knowing that the table would be set for breakfast. There were the spoons and bowls, cereal and yes, even a jug for the milk, all ready to go. Looking back I now appreciate that in the simplicity and regularity of that set-up, I felt safe knowing that breakfast was a certainty. But more than that – I knew what part I needed to play. It was my responsibility to get dressed, make my bed and sit up at the table. I didn’t need to be reminded each day, because this routine was so familiar to me that falling in step with it seemed natural.
Setting it all up
In our busy family lives, routines are some of the big rocks we need to get in place first, so that the little niggly things are taken care of. And this is a job for us parents, as children can’t set up these foundational routines for themselves. The big people are responsible for establishing routines to help the family flourish. Yes, it can be tricky if you are not naturally a routine sort of a person, but it’s not impossible and even surprisingly easy once you have done the routine 60 times or so!
Sometimes it is helpful to remind ourselves that we have actually become habitual about lots of things already, like buckling our children into their car seats or seat belts, for example. It’s not up for negotiation. The law probably helped to make it a habit, but we also do this for our children because it gives them the best chance of safety. It shows our children that we are in charge of keeping them safe and that we love, value and want to protect them.
In essence, many of the routines we set up do similar things – while some of our routines enhance physical safety, many others support the emotional safety of our children.
Find what works for your family
Your routines will be unique to your family – not everyone sets the breakfast the night before. But everyone can identify some rotational and predictable routines (things that cannot be shoved off their pedestal) that happen in your family and were initially established and maintained by the parents. These routines are reflected in the stories children tell about their family. You might hear a child say, “We always play a board game on Friday night,” or, “In the holidays, we have ‘leader of the day’ and that person gets to choose stuff, like what’s for dinner and who sits next to Dad”. Routines can tell your children quite a bit about your own family culture.
Routines in your family might look like
Greetings and farewells
Your family habitually starts each day by greeting each other warmly. Every evening you always share something you enjoyed about the day, and praise your child about something they had done before you say goodnight. Children may find saying goodbye to you at daycare, preschool or school really difficult. Establishing a special family ‘farewell’ – three kisses, two hugs and a squeeze, for example – gives children a pattern to click into and a routine to feel safe in.
Eating dinner together as a family is great, but it can’t always be achieved. Even sitting down together for morning or afternoon tea is a good enough routine – it says to children that this is what we do in our family.
Making a habit of saying grace or acknowledging the cook at the beginning of each meal is great scaffolding and helps children learn to appreciate that someone spent time and energy preparing the meal.
This one tells children that despite how the day went, the bedtime routine is certain. There will be the daily habits of using the bathroom, cleaning teeth and then choosing the set number of books. The routine might include two questions or a small debrief of the day. It can often be helpful to have the routine visible on a chart somewhere, so young children can see the steps clearly.
As we head into the rush of the new school year, this could be a good routine to set up in your family. This is ‘being still’ time – on a bed or in a quiet place, so children get a break from the hustle and bustle of life. They just get to lie there and read or lie there and think. It does not mean they have to sleep – and some of you are hoping that they won’t nod off! They simply recharge and reset themselves.
Word of caution though – children may resist this one, or nudge you towards letting them use a device. Try keep this routine just for books and thinking. Secondly, protests may come, but part of establishing the routine is simply keeping at it, and it will become easier with time.
Routines set kids up for responsibility
Maybe it’s time to acknowledge and celebrate that you already have routines in place and they are worth the consistency you bring to them. It may also be time to introduce a new routine or two, and get it bedded down. Wherever you are, hang in there. If you are starting afresh, start slowly. It’s our responsibility to establish and keep the routines going – but when routines become second nature, you’ll notice how much easier it is for our children to step up and take on responsibility themselves. Children, at the end of the day (and the start, for that matter), love routine and predictability.