Why Your Family Needs Routines

Originally published in Parents & Kids, October 2012.

PDF: P&KRoutines

You’re ready to scream. It’s the first day of school after the holidays, and your kids are running rampant around the house. It’s a chore just to get everybody out the door, and when you finally get the last child dropped off, you just want to crawl back in bed. Unfortunately, you have to get yourself ready for work, so off you go, only to slog through the day and repeat the whole thing tomorrow.

Every home experiences its share of these mornings, but many homemakers have found that their homes are happier and less frantic with scheduled routines.

“Research indicates that family routines are vital to the healthy development and success of families with children,” says Tashmia Prowell-Turner, area extension agent with the MSU Extension Service. “Mealtime, bath-time, and bed time are the most commonly practiced occurrences in families where routines prove to be very helpful. Having a consistent practice or ritual revolving around these events could provide for family functioning to operate like a well-oiled machine.”

This may sound like a no-brainer. After all, Ward and June Cleaver never had these problems, did they? Well, although the idyllic family setting of Leave it to Beaver was largely a fantasy even then, it seems that many of us have forgotten how to function as a family. And with everybody’s attention on some screen or other constantly, the challenge seems bigger than ever.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (www.healthychildren.org), children “do best when routines are regular, predictable, and consistent.” They should know. Much recent research has helped bolster the notion that if our kids are to be happier and healthier, it all starts at home. Structured activities can lead to kids who are better able to handle transitions, and may help in cases where children may have special needs.

“Routines provide the structure needed to establish a firm foundation for success in the lives of the children in families that practice them,” Prowell-Turner notes. “This foundation secures the healthy development of children in all areas of their lives, including social and emotional. They also give children the sense of safety and security that they need to assist in their development of trust—a vital milestone to reach in their developing a healthy sense of self (identity).”

In other words, you can get a lot of mileage from establishing a family habit. So how do you begin? Start small, say the experts, and don’t get discouraged when it seems to fall apart. Something as simple as sitting down together around the dinner table can facilitate communication, provide a peaceful forum for discussions, and help create treasured family memories. From there, set up special times each day for each activity. Then build on that success, and don’t make it all about work. Setting up special opportunities for fun is crucial to the success of a family routine.

Prowell-Turner notes that, although everybody has difficulty cramming their lives into a predictable framework, with patience and time, you can establish routines. “As with instilling any belief or habit in a child, practice and consistency will be the keys in implementing a successful routine,” she says. “Recognizing the importance of prioritizing and establishing a schedule to complete the most important tasks will be of utmost significance to contest the issue of limited time.”

She urges parents to be persistent and firm, and to practice often. “The rewards after the initial hard work will prove innumerable,” she says. “No matter how often children may gripe or complain of structure, rules, and routine, it’s really what they all want, need, and deserve.”

  • Put as many things in order as possible the night before.
  • Keep wake-up routines cheerful and positive.
  • Be sure your child eats breakfast.
  • Even if she is not hungry in the morning, have her get some food in her system to start the day.
  • Finally, round out each morning by saying goodbye to your youngster. A simple hug and a wave as she heads out the front door or slides out of the car are extremely important. They will give her a positive feeling with which to begin the day’s activities.

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