Routines & Schedules

August 2018

For many families, the summer months are significantly more relaxed than the school year, and children enjoy a greater level of flexibility in their schedules. The transition from a comparatively unstructured schedule of summer vacation to the greater structure of school can be a challenge for many families. One thing that can help with that transition, as well as support a child’s overall success and happiness, is the creation of consistent routines and schedules at home

Children’s brains are in an ongoing state of development throughout their school years. Establishing consistent routines, at any age, have significant benefits, including the following:

  • Children develop greater confidence in their world and their ability to navigate it when they know what to expect, and the responses to their actions are predictable.
  • Consistent routines help develop confidence and self- dependence.
  • Establishing routines helps students develop self- control
  • As children (and adults) experience the security that comes from being in a predictable environment they have more energy to dedicate to learning and creative endeavors.

Although there are significant benefits to following consistent routines at home, establishing those routines can be challenging. Below are five ideas, taken from, for establishing basic routines with children at home. The language used during each routine will change depending on the age of the children involved, but each of these routines can benefit families, regardless of the age of the family members.

  1. Plan at least one meal per day that you have together as a family. This meal does not have to be dinner; even a 15-minute breakfast where everyone gets to share their plans for the day can be effective. Turn off the television and do not answer the phone during your family time. This is a great way to start a routine that allows children to take responsibility, even for something small, such as carrying the silverware to the table. 
  2. Have a bedtime ritual, which will help children slowly calm down, and allow them to associate certain activities with getting sleepy. Think about what calms your child. Is it taking a bath? Reading a story? Listening to soft music? Always do the bedtime preparation in the same order, and ask your child questions such as, “What do we do after we put on our pajamas?” A great item to include in the bedtime ritual is that of talking about your day. Let your child tell you what he did that day, and prompt him if he forgets. This part of the routine not only helps children with memory, time orientation, and language skills, but it also shows them that you care about what they did that day. 
  3. Include preparation for transitions in the routine. For example, say, “We have 10 minutes left before we start getting ready for bed. When the big hand gets to the 12, it will be time to put on your pajamas.” 
  4. Work together to make pictures that indicate each step of the routine, put the pictures in order on a colorful sheet of paper, and hang the finished product in your child’s room. You will not only be helping build creativity in your child, but you will also promote self-sufficiency, as your child will be able to look at the pictures to identify what step comes next. 
  5. Although routine is very important for young children, do not be too rigid. Children do need to learn how be flexible and deal with minor changes. If there is an interruption to the routine, tell your child, “I know we usually do x, but today we are going to do y because (reason). Tomorrow we will go back to our usual schedule.” If most of their day is predictable, young children will be able to deal with small changes, especially if they are prepared

It is never too late to start a routine. You set a good example for your child when you tell her, “The way that we have been doing things has not been working. We are going to try something new. Here is our new schedule.” While you should definitely be open to the fact that the schedule may need some adjustment, you also need to be firm in sticking to the new routine.  Know ahead of time that your family may have difficulty adjusting, including potential resistance to the new routines. Be prepared with how you will handle this resistance and remain focused on the reasons you are establishing these routines.

Establishing routines can be difficult, but the benefits are well worth it.  Consistent routines teach children how to arrange time in a manner that is efficient, productive, and cuts down on stress. This sense of order is not only important for making your child feel secure in the moment, but it will also allow your child to internalize an automatic sense of how to organize her own life as she grows up. The ability to then monitor, organize, and regulate both our surroundings and our responses to them contributes to greater health and success throughout a child’s life.