The WHY and HOW of new fall routines

As the new school year begins, families everywhere are setting new routines that will make mornings less rushed and evenings less crazy. But let’s face it: it takes a lot of energy to make children follow through on those earlier bedtime routines, the getting-up-and-out-the-door routines, and the regular homework plans.  

But don’t let that stop you. Make routines and do what you can to keep them because routines are actually so helpful to kids. In fact, they need routinesKnowing what is going to happen when gives children a sense of security and comfort, and promotes healthy development. There is so much research supporting the need for routines in children’s lives that the American Academy of Pediatrics has spelled out the kinds of “regular, predictable and consistent” routines that every family should have in their homes.  

So if, in fact, the past week felt overwhelming, remember that one reason why the first days of school are particularly difficult is because when children don’t know the routines they are likely to come home cranky and tired. Think of your first day in a new job: there is nothing worse than not knowing what to do or where to go. It’s distracting and unnerving and exhausting. Routines ease the mental load for all of us, and this is especially true for children. And when there are routines followed at home, it means less chaos and usually more sleep for all.

Need some hints on how to set up and follow through on your home routines in a positive way (and build your child’s Awareness & Regulation Skills?):

These are the more obvious…

  1. Make sure it’s a team effort. All adults in the family, and all other caregivers, need to have the same expectations and resolve for following through on routines – or it just won’t work.
  2. Make the WHY and the HOW of each routine clear to your children. Talk about how the new fall routines will work and why they are important to make everyone’s life easier.
  3. Use specific praise to encourage your kids, and let them know how following the routine makes things better for all. “You got your teeth brushed and into your pajamas right on schedule. Wow. Now we have a few extra minutes of book time together!”

This might be less obvious…

4. Make sure weekends feel a bit different. That means everyone gets a break, and even more importantly, you can use that end-of-week break as incentive:

  • “Time to start the bedtime routine. Only two more days until you get an extra half hour for playing/movie time because it will be Friday! That’s our reward after a long productive week, but only if we stick to our routines!” (And then, remember, if the routines don’t go well, the Friday reward can’t happen – at least in full…otherwise there’s no incentive for anyone to stick to the routine!)

And then there’s this one…

5. Use following the routines as a way to build a sense of team at your house. How? When children know routines and can go through them on their own, they get a sense that they are helping to make the family machine run well, and they feel good about the roles they play. This builds a sense of teamwork and community within the family unit, and makes them better team players in the rest of their lives. This also gives them a chance to build empathy and agency, and feel good about themselves — which can be especially obvious on nights when you’re feeling rushed and overwhelmed.

  • “I had the worst day at work and still have the kitchen to clean. I really need you to step up and get yourself ready for bed/go through the bedtime routine without my having to repeat myself. That way we can read together after you get ready and I finish up downstairs, and I won’t be angry and resentful. Can you do that for me?”

Awareness & Regulation Skills, one of the three types of skills children need for reading (and life) success, are grounded in routines and expectations set from a child’s earliest days. With that in mind, go ahead and make some regular doable routines in your house for this fall, and when you have to work super hard to enforce them (and for sure it will be hard, especially at first), know that it’s worth the effort.

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