Why are routines important for children?

Written by Ana Maria Fernandez on 25 January 2009.

As parents, we are usually looking for answers on how to raise a well behaved child with self esteem and social skills. Regularly we would have a daily schedule for our children with various routines that need to be strictly followed.

Therefore, it is then fair to ask ourselves if routines are really that important, how do we know if the ones we are following are actually helping our children?

Aristotle, a Greek philosopher, centuries ago said; "We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence therefore is not an act, but a habit". And he was right! A routine is something we repeatedly do for the same situation until it becomes a habit. The constant repetition of that action slowly shapes our character and builds up the foundation of who we are. Routines are crucial for our children’s life, but we need to be careful, we might be helping them to become tolerant, open minded and flexible by creating good habits, but we might be handling routines inappropriately and create the opposite without noticing.

Routines give order and structure to children and adult’s life. They give children a sense of stability and self control reducing behavioral problems, teaching time management and providing the child the opportunity to predict what will happen next, a skill that later on will be of great significance for becoming a good reader. When a child knows her boundaries and what is expected, she feels some control over the day and perceives a sense of care from the adult; that helps her to become more self-confident. Research has proven that routines influence children's emotional, cognitive, and social development.

So what makes something a good routine?

It must have 6 basic components:

  1. Goal oriented
  2. Few clear steps
  3. Easy to learn and teach
  4. Easy to scaffold, remembering one step will automatically lead action to the other
  5. Consistency; used over and over again to be activated quickly and almost in an automatic way
  6. Smooth and pleasant

Routines need to be goal oriented. Many times we see routines done more for preference and familiarity than efficiency purposes, and are generally done without full awareness of what our children are learning from them. Parents need to stop, reflect on their core values and check what the real purpose of their routine is. For example: putting away clothes teaches organizational habits, team work and collaboration, independence and classification skills. Reading time encourages family interaction, camaraderie, reading significance and thinking skills if done in combination with some thinking routines.

Routines need to have a few simple steps that can be easily followed and remembered. Depending on the child’s age, you can have some pictures of each step to help your child follow the routine. You might find yourself helping during the routine but pretty soon you will find your children being independent.

Finally, routines need consistency. It is only through their repetition that they will become a habit. Nevertheless, be careful, consistency needs to go hand in hand with flexibility. Real life is full of sudden changes and our children need to learn to overcome them and accommodate if necessary. That does not mean breaking our routine, today we might need to accommodate but tomorrow we need to go back to normal. We need to start by reflecting on our own reactions to change. Are we being open minded and calm when one of our children’s routines gets disrupted? Are we peacefully explaining to our children there is a change today but not to worry because things will get back to normal tomorrow? Are our routines set in a realistic way? Being organized, tolerant and open minded are skills your child will need time and time again in their future and can be easily learned.

What kinds of routines are good to reinforce?

There are five ways commonly used to group routines in accordance to their purpose. Housekeeping routines respond to the rules for living and working together. Place for things, trash handling, family member’s roles and responsibilities. Management routines refer to procedures we use for getting ready to do something. For instance, getting dressed, brushing teeth, putting clothes away. Discourse routines are procedures for talking and communicating with others, greeting others, courtesy and manners. Learning routines are the routines we use to go about learning new things such as potty training, eating independently, crossing the street and learning a new sport.

Unfortunately, there is another group of routines that is significantly important and not necessarily reinforced at schools or at home, which is the Thinking routines. These are procedures, structures and practices that promote and activate thinking at various levels. These routines can be confused with learning routines, but many times, learning is far from being thinking-rich, and does little to engage children mentally. With these routines, the goal is not necessarily to think, but to understand something.

Some examples of thinking routines you can use at home are:

  • Asking your child “What makes you say that?” This simple but powerful routine helps your child build up explanations and helps them think about what is really going on.
  • Headline routine: Asking your child to give a title to what happened or inventing a headline for a newspaper is a fun way to get them used to synthesizing and capturing the essence of things.
  • “What do you think?” is an excellent routine to respond back to children in their questioning stage. Many times children just want to open up a conversation by asking and we end up answering hundreds of questions when we could be having a much richer conversation.
  • “Thinking keys routine” is a set of open ended questions to help the child understand and approach a concept or thing from different perspectives. Such as asking “how is this related to something you already know?” and many others questions that can help your child have a better understanding of the world.

Wrapping up, good routines and habits are essential for life. As parents, we are constantly influencing who our children will become in their future. Setting up good routines is not that difficult, be sure to have a clear goal, be consistent and enjoy the process; if not now, when?

Examples of Routine

Goal
Brushing teeth
  • Good hygiene habits
  • Cavity prevention
Put clothe away
  • Organizational habit
  • Team work/collaboration
  • responsibility
  • Independence
  • Classification
Practicing a sport
  • Healthy habit
  • Persistence
  • Socialization
  • Passion
  • Learn to loose and win
Reading time with parents
  • Family interaction & camaraderie
  • Reading significance
Homework
  • Accomplishment
  • Responsibility
Dinning time
  • Family interaction
  • Healthy habits
  • Social manners
Bed time
  • Good sleep patter

THINKING ROUTINES

What makes you say that?
  • Interpretation
  • Justification
  • Build explanation
  • Understanding
Thinking Keys
  • Become Inquires
  • Understand concepts from different perspectives
  • Improve open ended questioning
I used to think/now I think
  • Reflect on own thinking and how it changes and why

 

I see/ I think / I wonder
  • Improve observation skills
  • Make thoughtful interpretations
  • Reason with evidence
Headlines
  • Capturing essence
Tips for home:
  • Start young
  • Define a goal for your routines
  • List individual simple steps
  • Be consistent while allowing for a bit of flexibility
  • Make them clear to understand and simple
  • Make them predictable. Things happen in the same order.
  • Work out timing of the routine. Be realistic.
  • Accommodate to natural changes like age, weather etc
  • Be consistent, persistent and patient!
  • Praise all accomplishments and tries.
  • Encourage children to participate independently when possible
  • Try to prepare your child ahead of time for any changes
  • If changes happen, be calm and reassure child that every thing is ok and things will return to normal tomorrow
  • Plan routines around particular demanding times; it will make things go smoothly.
  • Allow down time in your child’s day. Children need time to learn to entertain themselves.
  • Provide consistent reminders to your child to follow the routine without your intervention.
  • Balance routines with real life. Be flexible but consistent
  • it is necessary to help children develop the ability to handle life’s stresses and changes:
  • Give warning and time for transitions
  • Explain change
  • Validate feeling of change but reassure every thing is ok
  • Talk about change in the present
  • Explain the routine and label the steps. Giving a name to the steps makes it simpler, teaches vocabulary and gives sense of ownership
  • Be a model
  • Enjoy every steps… if not now when?

Ana Maria Fernandez