Why and How To Establish Age-Appropriate Routines at Home for Your Child - Especially Right Now
By Jessica Rapp Irwin, OTR/L of @rootedinroutine
Let’s face it — we’re living in different times right now. Your child hasn’t been in school for over two months, you’ve been struggling with managing remote learning while “working” from home (ie. catering to your child’s snack requests every ten minutes), and there’s simply no end in sight with what’s going on in the world right now. Plus, summer is around the corner, and we just don’t know what the next school year will look like.
With that being said, do these sound familiar in your home right now?
“I don’t WANT to get dressed!”
“Can I watch a show? Can I play on the tablet? How about now? And now?”
“I’m not hungry for lunch!” …*immediately asks for a snack*
*crying* *yelling* *fighting with sibling*
…..And you’re thinking…..will it ever go back to normal?
The answer is - YES! But for the time being, particularly in these uncertain times, my number one piece of advice is simple, yet highly effective: make sure your children are following a consistent, age-appropriate routine at home.
As a pediatric occupational therapist, I’ve seen firsthand how effective it can be for our children if we, as parents, establish and maintain a consistent routine -- ESPECIALLY in times of uncertainty. There is ample research demonstrating the effectiveness of predictable routines for children. Routines have been proven to decrease negative behaviors, promote optimal sleep, and allow children to function at their happiest, healthiest selves.
However, I’ll be the first to tell you - this is easier said than done! It takes effort to start and maintain a routine, but the benefits are worth it. Let’s dive into the why, what, and how behind all-things childhood routines, so YOU can start implementing them to see changes at home right now.
Why are routines the answer? Simply put, consistent and predictable daily routines allow children to function their best. This is true for every area of development, including sleep, eating, play, learning, and behavior. Children crave structure -- their brains and nervous systems are still developing, and routines keep children’s brains in a calm state, helping them feel safe and secure. Plus, routines will lead to confident and empowered parenting for YOU. They allow parents to make the big decisions, while allowing your children to make the small decisions (within reasonable boundaries). These boundaries allow you to feel more confident and to TRUST yourself in your parenting. Once established, routines make your job as a parent easier -- the repetition of a routine is less work for the brain.
I always recommend parents start with my three non-negotiables: bedtime, mornings, and meals/snacks. These are the most important parts of the day to establish and maintain age-appropriate routines. “Book-ending” the day with a solid morning and evening routine is crucial. Setting structured meal/snack times will provide the predictability your child is craving throughout the day -- plus, say good-bye to constant snack requests! Your family’s day may look a little different than it used to, but if we keep routines in place for these areas, your child will feel safe and comforted within that structure. Then we can allow the time in between those parts of the day to be a little more fluid.
Here’s a general overview of a sample day that includes my non-negotiables:
- Morning Routine (bathroom, brush teeth, change into clothes, play)
- Play or Schoolwork
- Nap or Quiet Time
- Outdoor Play
- Bedtime Routine (bath/shower, brush teeth, change into PJs, read books, lights out)
When thinking about bedtime, mealtime, and morning routines, we want them to include these three components:
- Predictability - steps happen in the same order, same location, and within the same one-hour time window from day to day
- Consistency - steps happen in the same way the MAJORITY of days, and parent holds a boundary for follow-through
- Flexibility - occasional deviations from the routine can happen, but they should be an exception to the rule
If you want to read more about these three components and examples of how you make sure to include them, check out my Instagram post here.
A lot of the time, parents have an idea for a routine they want to stick to, but following through with it is the hard part. What if your child fights it? What if grandma or a babysitter is over? What if you’ve just had a long day and it just feels SO exhausting to think about doing bedtime?
Here are a few tips to make it easier to implement consistent routines at home:
- Stick to one-hour time windows as best you can. The more frequently you do this, the more your child will get used to it and even expect it. This means that your child wakes up and goes to sleep within a one-hour window from day to day. This also means that mealtimes and snacktimes occur within a one-hour window (ie. lunch occurs somewhere between the hours of 12-1pm each day).
- Use a visual schedule! Visual schedules are a GREAT way for your child to know what is coming next and relieves some of the pressure of you having to tell them. You can simply write the steps down on a piece of paper and have your child cross them off, or find a reusable visual schedule or routine chart online.
- Use a timer to indicate to your child how much time is left before the routine begins or you transition to the next step. For example, use a timer to show your child that there is ten minutes to go until bedtime, or three more minutes to finish eating lunch. When they see the time visually counting down, it makes it easy to understand, especially for younger children. I LOVE this Time Timer product because it’s small, stands up on its own, and you can easily move it from one room to the other.
There you have it! If you’re struggling with meltdowns, resistance, or general feeling of chaos throughout the day, routines are your answer. Follow the steps outlined above and I promise you’ll start to see a change - both in your child and in YOUR feeling of sanity.
And for now, happy routine-building! You got this.
If you feel like you need more of a boost, Jessica is running a 12-day Routine Reset Program that will walk you through HOW to ensure you are following an age-appropriate routine at home to make sure your child stays on track. Think of it as a “one-stop shop” for all things child routines -- we’ll dive further into bedtime, mornings, mealtimes, play, and more. The program is 100% virtual, and once you sign up, you’ll have access to the material forever! Check out more information here: https://www.rootedinroutine.com/
Jessica Rapp Irwin, OTR/L, is a pediatric occupational therapist, childhood routine expert, and lover of all things child development. She founded Rooted in Routine, an online parent coaching platform, to help parents learn simple, easy to implement routines for optimal child development starting at age one. She is passionate about educating parents on NORMAL, HEALTHY development, which is often simpler than we think. Jessica’s approach is largely rooted in going back to the basics to help you establish solid, age-appropriate routines for your child for things like eating, play, and sleep. She believes this is the most important foundation you can provide for your child - and she wants to help you do just that! Learn more about Jessica at https://www.rootedinroutine.com/about.