Why Routines are Important for Kids

All Ages17 Comments

Routine. Routine. Routine.

We all hear about it from day one of being a parent. You need to get them on a routine!

So what’s the big deal?

Why do our kids need a routine?

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I posed this question to Erin O’Keefe, MA, PCI Certified Parent Coach of The Intentional Parent.

When a child knows what to expect, their world is more comfortable, it makes sense.

Erin explains what routines do for the child:

A routine lets a child know what to expect.

A routine provides them with a sense that life is predictable.

A routine is calming, providing a child with a sense of security.

An example that Erin gives is the typical bedtime routine:

After playtime they have a bath, brush their teeth, then you sing songs with them, read them a book, give them kisses, turn out the lights and leave the room they will participate in this routine. They are comforted by this kind of consistency, knowing what to expect at bedtime.

On a more concrete level, it allows them to participate in the day to day activities. Eventually, they will begin doing things on their own, maybe taking the initiative to pick out a story for you to read, or brushing their own teeth. Here are some strategies to help your family transition to a smooth bedtime routine.

A routine can, as Erin mentioned, allow our kids to take part in our daily activities (such as the basic life skills we talked about with Deborah of Teach Preschool).

This means a routine can help encourage independence in your kids.

When your child knows what to expect is coming next, they’re more willing to do it (period), but also more willing to do it on their own. How can we encourage this through routine?

Often the routines we put in place circle around our daily, life skills.

Take a look at some of our typical daily routines:

Morning Routine: Wake up, watch a show, make breakfast, potty, eat breakfast, getting dressed, put shoes and coat on, and out the door.

Naptime Routine: Make lunch, eat lunch, play a little, read a book and then naptime.

Bedtime Routine: Take a bath, put pajamas on, brush teeth, potty, read a book, and then bedtime.

If we take a look at the routines that we set in place for the children, we can identify where they can start to take over a task on their own. Erin agrees:

Start by evaluating what your child is capable of, developmentally, maybe your one year old can try feeding themselves breakfast, your four year old is ready to start dressing themselves in the morning, or your six year old is ready brush their own hair.

Making your routine better suited for encouraging independence may require a little restructuring, but the results are well worth the effort.

Based on our routines that I mentioned above, Henry can (and does on occasion) take part in these areas:

  • Get dressed by himself.
  • Put on his own shoes and coat.
  • Pick out a book for nap and bedtime stories.
  • Wash hands before meals.
  • Wash himself during bath.
  • Put on his own pajamas.
  • Go potty completely by himself.
  • Brush his own teeth (with supervision and help).

routine and independence

Now that I’ve identified what my child could be capable of doing on his own. It’s time to put it into action.

Time. Something many of us don’t have as a luxury. An obvious suggestion, but Erin makes it a necessary part of the routine:

You may find that you need to build more time into your schedule to accommodate these learning experiences! Give yourself an extra twenty minutes or so in the morning, (self-sufficiency takes time).

Small steps like this help put the routine into use for encouraging a child’s independence.

It may be frustrating to allow your child to mess up and take four times the amount of time to do a simple task than it would for you to just do it. But wait… Erin suggests to let them try and even mess up.

While it may often be more expedient to handle these tasks yourself and just get them done, allowing them to do it themselves fosters independence. It is generally much quicker to get a four year old dressed than hand them the clothing, step back and let them give it a try themselves.

It is likely that you will have to deal with clothing that is backward and inside out. When this happened last week, my four year old was quite insistent that he wanted to wear his shirt backward and his pants inside out.

Don’t be discouraged about having to carve out more time for your child to do things on their own. Eventually, they’ll get the hang of it. And you won’t need to be there to help them out. Erin is optimistic about the outcome of children taking part in their routine:

You may be able to find more time in your morning by simply reorganizing your routine. Instead of getting your child dressed after breakfast, just before leaving for school, give them their clothing to put on earlier in the morning, while you are making breakfast, packing lunches, or getting yourself ready.

This has an added benefit of keeping them busy while you are getting ready. Before you know it, you’ll find yourself with extra time in the morning!

routine creates independence

Because a routine allows a child to know what is coming next, this gives them the confidence they need to go ahead and do it. Erin says, “When there is a consistent routine in place, a child is able to predict events and consequences. This enhances a child’s sense of self. Consistency allows children to feel more secure.”

Erin reiterates the importance of routines,

One of the best ways that you as a parent can enhance your child’s self esteem is to establish predictable routines.

In the last Parenting is Child’s Play article (Life Skills), Deborah talked about our expectations of our kids, and how to teach them what we expect. Erin explains how confidence is built when expectations are known, “When kids understand what the expectations are and they are able to live up to them, this further enhances their confidence.”

Routine is important. It’s not a schedule though. These two are often confused. At least I confused them when I had a newborn. I have learned that children thrive from routine, but flexibility is key!

Erin offers suggestions on how to achieve this flexibility in our daily routines:

While having routines and structure are wonderful, this does not mean that they have to be rigid and inflexible. Routines work best when you have flexibility built in. Life is often unpredictable, sometimes life just gets in the way of life!

The best way however to help children adjust to an occasional bump in the road is to stay relaxed about it yourself. Your children are watching everything you do and say, you are modeling for them (whether you realize it or not) how to handle change and deal with stress. If you are comfortable with the occasional bump in the road, your children will be as well!

So relax and go with the flow!

Remember to enjoy the bumps and mishaps and put on a smile.

And one thing that Erin would tell parents when working on routines:

… keep in mind when developing a routine that you are happy with is a process.

Change takes time, effort and consistency. Remember to praise effort, not results (as in your child making the effort to get themselves dressed, never mind that the clothing may be on backwards and inside out!).

Keep your focus on what is going well in your routine, not what isn’t. Be sure to give lots of praise and positive attention to your children when they make an effort and you will boost their self esteem and inspire them to try even harder.

Why Routines are Important to Kids

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  1. Payal says

    So, so true!! The challenge is not just in getting them used to routine so that they take ownership but also give them oppurtunity to consolidate the routine and internalise it almost as a reflex. The days I am rushed and pass off that hurry to my son, everything is delayed and the day I am relaxed and give myself the time and space to pace myself rationally, it reflects in the way my 5-years old goes through his routine. Those extra half and hour/15 minutes are the key determinants. Thanks for the insightful post :)

  2. Relationships are a spiritual practice says

    Good advice. Although, starting morning off with tv watching is very poor choice for the brain. It causes the brain to go to sleep rather than waking it up. Having an activity set up the night before that the child can anticipate for the morning (match game, sewing card, loom, coloring a special page about day, weather reporting from a trip to the back yard) will do more to boost those beneficial brainwaves.

  3. Kristin@Sense of Wonder says

    I use to be so good about routines, but the more out of the home obligations I have acquired have just created havoc on our routines. I NEED to get back in to it. I need to set boundaries with people who want me to do things outside of the home and make sure those things don't interfere with routines. It makes things easier on the child and easier on the parent.

  4. rainydaymum says

    This is great – I've never been one for schedules and have never called out day following a routine as I have always linked routine and schedule too much. Instead I said we follow the same pattern of events each day but it's flexible with timings and some variation is always. We started from day 1 with the bedtime routine and within a short amount of time both of mine would go to sleep after their story and milk (stay asleep – well no and that still doesn't happen). Mornings are our most strict routine as my husband has to be out of the door at 7:30 and before that we walk the dog, have breakfast, dress, shower and have morning milk! We can do it all in just over an hour for 4 of us – but it's very tight.

  5. Joyce @Dinosaurs And Octopuses says

    This is such a fantastic post! Brilliant! "Find a more balanced routine" was on my fall bucket list. We are kind of hectic right now and our routine has gotten hectic and wonky. I can see it's effects on R's behavior. I find that when he has a routine that we like, he is better behaved. His emotional state is better throughout everything. Thanks so much for sharing. I actually needed to read this today! Lol

  6. Michelle says

    I agree that routine and schedule are different. We had routines. I tried to have a schedule, but ended up doing whatever. We weren't much for schedules. The kids slept where they slept. If we were out during their naptime, oh well! But, we definitely had a set bedtime routine and nap routine if we were home for it.

  7. Carol - The Lazy Mama says

    I am totally the routineless and unstructured person. I need to really change my ways. I think my kid is starting to get confused with my day-to-day inconsistencies. When we do his normal routines, he is amazingly more cooperative. This makes sense to me now.

  8. Brooke @ Let Kids Create says

    We have bedtime routine down pat, it's the morning routine that's sticky for us. On mornings when Maisy doesn't have school she is very reluctant to get herself ready. And when she puts her shoes on the wrong feet I often just let her wear them that way – she gets such a nasty attitude if I tell her it's not right. I want her to learn some independence, but sometimes it is soooo tough if I want it done this century :-) Thanks for linking this post up to Monday Madness, I hadn't read it and am glad I did!

  9. Laura @Art For Little Hands says

    I am not good at routines. I am a fly by the seat of my pants kind of parent. I always make these detailed lists to follow and then every day I don't do it. That is one reason I love my kids in school. For my son who is so hard, I think the school routine is so perfect for him. I wish I could be better. I just tend to let things slide a lot.

    Thanks for sharing at Monday Madness. Hope to see you back again tomorrow.

  10. Joyce says

    I included a link to this post on a post of mine about how I have mapped out our days for less stress and less guilt on my part. I added it just because your post is so fantastic. Thanks!

  11. says

    I have found routines for my children really liberating for all of us. They enable me as a parent to plan activities in a realstic way – knowing they will be well-fed and rested at the time of activities. They also reassure me that I will have time to get done what I need to do.

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