Family Routines: Why They're Important and How to Form Your Own

A routine, or an activity that happens at about the same time and in about the same way each day, gives your child comfort and a sense of safety. Some examples of routines are:

  • Making and eating dinner together as a family, discussing events of the day, stories about the past, and making plans about the future.
  • Finishing homework before watching TV.
  • Going to the playground together every Saturday morning.
  • Weekly family movie night.
  • Washing hands before snack time, or holding hands with an adult when crossing the street.
  • Playing fetch with the dog every day after school.

Why are routines important for children?

A routine helps to organize and give structure to the day so your family can get things done, as well as spend quality time together. Routines also:

  • Help children during stressful times such as moving to a new school or city, birth of a sibling, illness or death in the family, divorce, or during developmental changes.
  • Helps build skills that are critical for success in academic and social settings, like problem-solving, negotiation, planning and delayed gratification.
  • Teach healthy habits (like brushing teeth, exercising/being healthy, cooking fresh foods together, or regular reading time).
  • Help you set age-appropriate expectations for your kids (like putting their own toys away, picking out clothes for school the night before, taking out trash, setting the dinner table, cleaning up in the kitchen, putting plates or laundry away, making their own beds).

Families that regularly eat meals together are more likely to have children who do better in school, are of average weight, less likely to use drugs and alcohol at an early age, and consume more fruits and vegetables.
Family rituals bring you and your child closer together and give you time for valuable discussions that strengthen communication, relationships, and language development.

Why are routines important for parents?

  • Once children learn their routines, it means less nagging time and conflict for parents, and makes it easier to manage the complex demands of daily family life. In other words, less stress!
  • You can plan better for each day and week (example: if Sunday is always homemade pizza night, which helps with grocery shopping decisions and decreases the bickering over dinner choices).
  • Parents with family routines are shown to have more stable and satisfied marital relationships.

How do I form our family's routines?

  • Remember: every family is different, and every family knows best what will work for them. Choose what works with your schedule and your interests.
  • Try turning off technology when you interact. Your child will remember that they are important enough to their parents that they will turn off their phone to listen, or turn off music in the car, and make eye contact as an invitation to connect.
  • Keep the steps simple and make them age-appropriate.
  • Involve your child. They will be more likely to cooperate if they are part of the plan.
  • Use charts with photos or drawings showing the order of steps. This way you and your child create the routine, instead of you "telling them what to do."

How do we maintain our routines?

  • Start with routines your family already has in place. Chances are you already have an ebb and flow to your day that can provide a foundation for developing manageable routines.
  • Feel free to tweak a routine until it feels right for your family, and works with the rhythm and flow to your day. Once in place, it is helpful to set consistent expectations with clearly defined roles.
  • Try giving signals to stay on schedule, like a “5-minute warning” to prepare their toddlers for a change in activity. Some kids may need a 2-minute warning. And finally, “Okay, time to pick up your cars. Would you like some help?” Instead of a timer, you could also use a book, song or special game.
  • Stick to the routine as much as possible. If children take too much time for one activity (like brushing teeth or putting on pajamas), then give them a friendly reminder: ("Remember, bedtime is 8 pm. We may only have time for one story if you don't finish quickly.")
  • Make routines fun! Making laughter a daily habit gives your child a chance to laugh out the anxieties and upsets that otherwise might make them feel disconnected – and more likely to act out. And play helps kids want to cooperate.

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