Gail Joan Cohen
ROUTINES FOR PARENTS SAKE
Do you have a routine? Is it strict? Is it flexible? Is it non-existent? Are you comfortable with it?
The purpose of a routine is to make life easier for you and the entire family. People innately like to please. A routine lets them know exactly what is expected and makes it easier to please. A routine helps guide children to the expected behavior. When children push for their independence, it is easier to point to the routine and say that this is what we will do. With an older child (or spouse) the routine can be discussed and changed if everyone agrees. Then you have a new routine that is followed.
When a child knows the bedtime routine, it becomes a habit and they are conditioned to go to sleep at a preset time. It might look like a short story at seven to relax and unwind. Then take a bath to be clean. Then put on pajamas to signify this is bedtime. Don’t forget to brush teeth. Then bed and sleep at eight. You may want to do the bath, teeth and pajamas first before the story. Adjust the routine to fit your lifestyle.
Sometimes we think if the children stay up later, they will fall asleep faster. I do not believe this to be true. I think we all have a natural rhythm and a time we get sleepy and fall asleep fastest. After this time passes, I believe it is more difficult to fall asleep. So, a child that stays up later may take longer to fall asleep. Also, the child will more likely be cranky (and so will the parents).
Suppose all of your children were asleep by eight at night. How would that look for you? Would it give you more time for yourself? Would this be important to you?
A routine will become habit and will be followed automatically. This will free your mind for other things. You and everyone in the family will not constantly be trying to decide what to do next. And, you will not have to constantly remind your children what to do.
There are times when a routine can be flexed or even changed. That is okay and will not be a problem. Tell your child (or spouse) in advance if possible. “Tonight there is a special party and we will be staying up later”. Children will not expect this to change the daily routine if the exception is explained. If you are out visiting or shopping it can affect the routine. But if a routine is part of your usual day, it can be easily adjusted to fit other circumstances.
How do you start a routine? Most infants can be guided to a routine fairly early. Every baby has different needs and the routine will be around those needs. Some babies need to eat every two hours and some can go four hours. Or, some may vary feeding times during the day (and night). But, most babies will vary the same way every day. You may be able to stretch the times between feedings by talking or playing with your baby. If your baby has a fussy time it is usually at the same time every day. Try giving the baby a bath during that time. You may use that time just to sit with the baby or go for a walk. The routine should serve, and make life easier, for both you and the baby.
If your child is older you could start by writing your routine down. Make a commitment to it. Even small children that cannot read, respect something that is written down and read to them. Start today. Be sure the schedule takes into consideration everyone’s needs and the outside activities that cannot be changed. This can be difficult with all of the activities children are involved in today, coupled with working parents (sometimes two jobs). You may want to evaluate all that you are doing. Discuss your priorities and decide if all that you and your children are doing, is really in line with what you want to do. Perhaps cutting some things out may help eliminate some of the stresses.
Sit down with the whole family so that everyone has some input in planning the schedule. This will usually make everyone more willing to comply with the schedule. Be sure it is a schedule you can live with and feel strongly enough about to be willing to stand by it when it is challenged! And, challenged it will be! Make the routine practical. Allow ample time for each segment. Do not expect the children to be in bed by seven if dinner is not until six. You can put as much detail into the written routine as you like or you can bunch items together.
A simple routine may be as follows:
6:00 AM Awake, make bed (yes, even small children can make their beds), dress
6:30 AM Eat breakfast, clean dishes, brush teeth
7:00 AM Leave for school and/or work
4:00 PM Return home, homework, play
5:30 PM Make dinner, wash hands (if not already done so), set table
6:00 PM Eat dinner
7:00 PM Clean up kitchen (everyone or rotate kitchen duties)
7:30 PM Take bath, put on pajamas, brush teeth
8:00 PM Story, video or quiet game
8:30 PM Bedtime
If your schedule includes many outside activities (or many children) and picking children up at sitters or friends, you may need to schedule in five or ten minute intervals instead of half hours. Make a schedule that works for you. You may need to play with the schedule and work with it. Adjustments can be made.
If you are not currently on a schedule it will take time to put a schedule in place. You may initially have to take the children by the hand and lead them to follow the schedule. In the beginning it may be a real challenge. Don’t give up! Persevere until it becomes a habit for everyone. It will be well worth the struggle.