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Why Routines are Important for Kids

Routine. Routine. Routine.

We all hear about it from day one of being a parent. You need to get them on a routine!

So what’s the big deal?

Why do our kids need a routine?

I posed this question to Erin O’Keefe, MA, PCI Certified Parent Coach of The Intentional Parent.


When a child knows what to expect,

their world is more comfortable, it makes sense.


Erin explains what routines do for the child:

A routine lets a child know what to expect.

A routine provides them with a sense that life is predictable.

A routine is calming, providing a child with a sense of security.

An example that Erin gives is the typical bedtime routine:

After playtime they have a bath, brush their teeth, then you sing songs with them, read them a book, give them kisses, turn out the lights and leave the room they will participate in this routine. They are comforted by this kind of consistency, knowing what to expect at bedtime.

On a more concrete level, it allows them to participate in the day to day activities. Eventually, they will begin doing things on their own, maybe taking the initiative to pick out a story for you to read, or brushing their own teeth. Here are some strategies to help your family transition to a smooth bedtime routine.

A routine can, as Erin mentioned, allow our kids to take part in our daily activities (such as the basic life skills we talked about with Deborah of Teach Preschool).

This means a routine can help encourage independence in your kids.

When your child knows what to expect is coming next, they’re more willing to do it (period), but also more willing to do it on their own. How can we encourage this through routine?

Often the routines we put in place circle around our daily, life skills.

Take a look at some of our typical daily routines:

Morning Routine: Wake up, watch a show, make breakfast, potty, eat breakfast, getting dressed, put shoes and coat on, and out the door.

Naptime Routine: Make lunch, eat lunch, play a little, read a book and then naptime.

Bedtime Routine: Take a bath, put pajamas on, brush teeth, potty, read a book, and then bedtime.

If we take a look at the routines that we set in place for the children, we can identify where they can start to take over a task on their own. Erin agrees:

Start by evaluating what your child is capable of, developmentally, maybe your one year old can try feeding themselves breakfast, your four year old is ready to start dressing themselves in the morning, or your six year old is ready brush their own hair.

Making your routine better suited for encouraging independence may require a little restructuring, but the results are well worth the effort.

Based on our routines that I mentioned above, Henry can (and does on occasion) take part in these areas:

  • Get dressed by himself.

  • Put on his own shoes and coat.

  • Pick out a book for nap and bedtime stories.

  • Wash hands before meals.

  • Wash himself during bath.

  • Put on his own pajamas.

  • Go potty completely by himself.

  • Brush his own teeth (with supervision and help).

Now that I’ve identified what my child could be capable of doing on his own. It’s time to put it into action.

Time. Something many of us don’t have as a luxury. An obvious suggestion, but Erin makes it a necessary part of the routine:

You may find that you need to build more time into your schedule to accommodate these learning experiences! Give yourself an extra twenty minutes or so in the morning, (self-sufficiency takes time).

Small steps like this help put the routine into use for encouraging a child’s independence.

It may be frustrating to allow your child to mess up and take four times the amount of time to do a simple task than it would for you to just do it. But wait… Erin suggests to let them try and even mess up.

While it may often be more expedient to handle these tasks yourself and just get them done, allowing them to do it themselves fosters independence. It is generally much quicker to get a four year old dressed than hand them the clothing, step back and let them give it a try themselves.

It is likely that you will have to deal with clothing that is backward and inside out. When this happened last week, my four year old was quite insistent that he wanted to wear his shirt backward and his pants inside out.

Don’t be discouraged about having to carve out more time for your child to do things on their own. Eventually, they’ll get the hang of it. And you won’t need to be there to help them out. Erin is optimistic about the outcome of children taking part in their routine:

You may be able to find more time in your morning by simply reorganizing your routine. Instead of getting your child dressed after breakfast, just before leaving for school, give them their clothing to put on earlier in the morning, while you are making breakfast, packing lunches, or getting yourself ready.

This has an added benefit of keeping them busy while you are getting ready. Before you know it, you’ll find yourself with extra time in the morning!

Because a routine allows a child to know what is coming next, this gives them the confidence they need to go ahead and do it. Erin says, “When there is a consistent routine in place, a child is able to predict events and consequences. This enhances a child’s sense of self. Consistency allows children to feel more secure.”

Erin reiterates the importance of routines,

One of the best ways that you as a parent can enhance your child’s self esteem is to establish predictable routines.

In the last Parenting is Child’s Play article (Life Skills), Deborah talked about our expectations of our kids, and how to teach them what we expect. Erin explains how confidence is built when expectations are known, “When kids understand what the expectations are and they are able to live up to them, this further enhances their confidence.”

Routine is important. It’s not a schedule though. These two are often confused. At least I confused them when I had a newborn. I have learned that children thrive from routine, but flexibility is key!

Erin offers suggestions on how to achieve this flexibility in our daily routines:

While having routines and structure are wonderful, this does not mean that they have to be rigid and inflexible. Routines work best when you have flexibility built in. Life is often unpredictable, sometimes life just gets in the way of life!

The best way however to help children adjust to an occasional bump in the road is to stay relaxed about it yourself. Your children are watching everything you do and say, you are modeling for them (whether you realize it or not) how to handle change and deal with stress. If you are comfortable with the occasional bump in the road, your children will be as well!

So relax and go with the flow!

Remember to enjoy the bumps and mishaps and put on a smile.

And one thing that Erin would tell parents when working on routines:

… keep in mind when developing a routine that you are happy with is a process.

Change takes time, effort and consistency. Remember to praise effort, not results (as in your child making the effort to get themselves dressed, never mind that the clothing may be on backwards and inside out!).

Keep your focus on what is going well in your routine, not what isn’t. Be sure to give lots of praise and positive attention to your children when they make an effort and you will boost their self esteem and inspire them to try even harder.

Click here For more parenting tips and "Hands On as We Grow" activity ideas


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