How to establish a family routine


One of the best things about being on holiday is not having to adhere so strictly to your normal routine. If you’re lucky, your little one might sleep a little later and let you lie in past dawn. Rigid schedules of getting dressed and setting off for work or school may be replaced by lazy family breakfasts or heading out early for a day of fun-filled activities. Inevitably this might also lead to a more relaxed approach to eating habits and even more flexible bed times. But what happens when the holidays are over? How do you ease your little one (and your whole family for that matter) into a smooth-running routine with the least amount of fuss?

The importance of a routine

Experts agree that structure is vital for young children to feel safe and secure. Without a clear understanding of what comes next, your little one might feel like they are forced to simply do whatever is expected of them without any regard for their own plans. This could cause a great deal of stress or anxiety in your child and some unavoidable tantrums in your day. You wouldn’t be happy either if someone simply walked into your home and demanded that you drop everything and accompany them to an undisclosed location for an unknown reason. A predictable routine helps your munchkin understand what comes next in their day and what is expected of them during that time. When following a routine, your sweetheart also develops self-control because they understand that they have to wait until a specific time for a certain activity.

Tick tock

Your little one most likely doesn’t understand the concept of time yet. They don’t structure their days around hours or minutes, but rather by the events they expect to take place. When these events take place in the same order every day, they can predict their routine and gain a better understanding of their world. When they know they won’t be confronted with unfamiliar tasks when they are unprepared, they become more relaxed, cooperative, responsible, independent and confident.

When are routines important?

Routines help children to practice making simple predictions and understand concepts like ‘before’ and ‘after’. A schedule is especially helpful during difficult times of the day like while getting dressed in the morning or when preparing for bedtime. Keeping a set routine might sound impossible when you have to balance different schedules for respective family members. However, when everyone knows exactly what is expected of them, it reduces arguments and stress for the entire family. 

Remember, when you don’t have a calm, established routine in the morning, you could be setting yourself and your child up for a chaotic start to the day. Likewise, if you don’t have a predictable schedule for evenings, you deny yourself the personal time you need to unwind after a tiresome day.

Tips for setting up a routine

Start with the basics: The most basic routine can simply be built around the times family members wake up, go to bed and eat. Remember to be realistic about your routine goals and the amount of time your little ones need for each activity – especially if they aren’t used to a schedule.

Family time: The best way to establish a routine with your little one is to set apart a time every day which is completely reserved for spending quality time together as a family. It can be a quick breakfast during which you share your plans for the day or a relaxed supper when you all discuss what’s happening in your world. The important thing is that this time should be free from distractions like television or telephones. Try to have this family time at the same time and in the same place every day and get your little ones started on a valuable routine that can last them a lifetime. Of course this also lays the foundation for your children to discuss important life issues with you as they get older.

Bedtime: A good bedtime routine can go a long way to starting the next day in a calm way. When you and your sweetie pie are well-rested, the chances of a meltdown the next morning (for you or your child) are significantly less. Help your little one slowly calm down at the end of a day and repeat specific activities they can associate with getting sleepy. What calms your sweetheart – a bath, a story or soft music? Try to do these activities at the same time and in the same order every evening and talk to your kiddie about their bedtime ritual by asking questions like: “What do we do after we put on our pajamas?” Make use of this quiet time with your precious sweetie to talk about their day. This helps develop their memory, time orientation and language skills and also strengthens the bond between you and your child.

Allow for preparation time: Help your child prepare themselves for certain activities by giving them some transition time. You can say: “We have ten minutes before we have to start putting away toys. When the big hand on the clock gets to 12, it will be time to take a bath.”

Use helpful props: Depending on your child’s age, routine or reward charts or even simple pictures on a colourful piece of paper can help your child identify the steps in their routine and encourage them to start performing these independently. 

Tailor your routine: As your children get older, your family routine might have to allow for chore time, homework time and activity time. Remember to also plan for one-on-one time if you have more than one child. Whatever your routine entails, make sure it suits the whole family and mom and dad can take turns to perform tasks when circumstances require it.

Rules are made to be broken – sometimes

It’s never too late to start or change your routine. Remember that a schedule should by no means be oppressive or stifle your child’s creativity. It should make all your lives easier and give your kids the security and self-confidence to structure their own lives. Of course there are times when routines should be flexible enough to accommodate spontaneity. Staying up past their normal bedtime to celebrate a special occasion or swopping the dinner table for a spontaneous picnic in the garden every now and then teaches your child to be flexible and deal with minor changes to their schedule. When your little one finds it difficult to do deal with interruptions to their routine, explain the reason for the break with their schedule and assure them that you will return to the way they are used to the next day (or as soon as possible).

What about baby?

Should infants be kept to a strict routine? Of course not! Babies tell us what they need, when they need it. We feed them when they are hungry, we change them when they’re wet and eventually (after what might feel like a very long time) they develop their first routine by sleeping at night and mostly being awake during the day. However, for the first few months of their lives, it might be best to find a way for the family to adjust their routine to fit around your baby’s natural eating and sleeping schedule. But take heart, this (somewhat exhausting time) is over in the blink of an eye. 

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What are your routine tips?

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