Establishing a Routine at Home With Your Child

Children are busy bees and are constantly moving from one activity to the next. You know how it goes – the second they dump out their box full of blocks, their coloring book catches their eye. Did you know that children actually thrive off routines and take comfort in knowing what to expect next? If you’re noticing increased meltdowns when you try to change activities or move from playtime to lunchtime, it might be time to consider implementing a solid routine.

Be Predictable & Encourage Consistency
Consistency is the key to success when establishing a routine with your child. You should expect protests in the beginning, but if you remain consistent with the same schedule every day, your child will begin to take comfort in knowing what to expect. “It increases their sense of security because they know what’s coming next,” says Jean M. Thomas, M.D., clinical professor of psychiatry and behavioral science at The George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences, in Washington, D.C. “The more secure children feel, the more they can focus on things like learning, exploring, and playing.” It’s important to remember that although it might be tempting to let them sleep in and lounge around all day on the weekends or during breaks from school, this will ultimately make it more difficult for them to function when Monday morning rolls around. Beginning the day with an early morning routine including getting dressed, brushing teeth, and eating a healthy breakfast will set the pace for the day ahead. Throughout the day, it’s important to stick to segmented activity times that include playing, learning, snacking, lunch, and naps. If your child knows what to expect each day, it will significantly help prevent tantrums. Just as important as your morning routine, make sure to establish a nighttime routine that includes a healthy dinner, relaxing bathtime, and a quiet activity such as reading right before putting your little one in bed for the night.

Prepare For the Day Ahead
In order to maintain a consistent schedule, it’s important to “set the stage” the night before. This means that when your children are snoozing the night away, it’s time for you to begin preparing breakfast, lunch, and maybe even dinner for the next day. This is the time for you to clean up all the toys, rearrange toys so they appear new, wash your child’s favorite blankie or stuffed animal, pack your diaper bag, and lay out outfits for the next day. This will help ensure you have enough time to follow through with your child’s routine instead of rushing through it. “Skipping your child’s whole routine when you feel strapped for time is usually not a good idea in the end,” says Marni Axelrad, Ph.D., a child psychologist at Texas Children’s Hospital, in Houston. “The meltdown that ensues will inevitably take even longer to deal with than if you’d just stuck to the schedule in the first place.”

Give Your Child Choices
When you’re beginning to establish a routine with your child, it’s important to give them choices so they feel like they are involved in the process. In the morning, let them decide what shirt they’d like to wear, and give them a couple of options to choose from when you serve their breakfast. This helps develop a sense of independence and gives your child a sense of control. While the same routine day in and day out might be repetitive and dull for you, it is important to remember that your child thrives on consistency, and by sticking to a predictable schedule, your child will throw less tantrums, feel more secure, and more confident.