Recently we explored why kids crave consistency and routines. The benefits are seemingly endless but we focused on these five reasons:
- Positive predictability makes kids feel safe and comfortable
- Routines give kids a sense of purpose and control
- Routines increase self-confidence
- Consistency helps build a sense of respect
- Schedules help develop self-discipline and build life-long habits
So now that we know a handful of great reasons why we should maintain a schedule or routine, how do you establish one that works for your family? There are lots of different types of schedules for everything from morning routines to bedtime routines and everything in between. How do you know what’s right for you?
While it seems simple enough, a lot of planning and thinking goes into a successful schedule. And there is no “one size fits all” routine for kids. For example, your child’s age and abilities will dictate a lot. Can your kids read or will they need a pictorial? How detailed should you be and should you include specific times, or just durations? How will you get your kids cooperation? It can be overwhelming when you set out, but relax, it’ll be ok! We can work through this together!
Before we dive into the process, here are some general tips to keep in mind.
- Keep it simple! Don’t make it any harder than it has to be. Even though it takes some thought,a good routine just needs to be a list of activities; anything more than that is extra.
- Make it easily enforcible! You have to be able to easily enforce the routine. If you can’t, it’s not going to work, no matter how well-planned it is.
- Write it down! Starting with a rough draft on a piece of paper allows me to revise and refine it, before I make a larger poster to display. Displaying it helps with accountability and any confusion that may arise. The schedule will need to be posted somewhere that everyone can see it, at the user’s eye level (not at the parents’ eye level). Young non-readers may need a picture schedule. You can find cheap supplies for posters and the like at your local $1 Store and use old magazines to cut out pictures that depict the specific step.
From the beginning, you have to decide how loosely or tightly you will schedule the time. Will you list specific times of the day, or will the schedule just be an order of events? For example, during quarantine, my children wake up at different times, but they still need to eat, practice personal hygiene, do chores, perhaps school work, before they get to play. But since the start times are different for each child, our morning ritual doesn’t list specific start and end times, but rather a duration for each task: Eat breakfast – 15 minutes; Brush teeth – 5 minutes.
Keeping these tips in mind, here is the process I’ve used many times to set up consistent schedules for our family, as the kids have grown and their needs and abilities have changed.
- Determine what exactly you’re trying to schedule. It sounds silly, but yes, determine exactly what you want to chart. Is it a morning routine for a toddler? A bedtime routine for a tween, or how about a homework schedule for your high schooler? The age(s) and abilities of your kids, as well as what activities you’re trying to establish will be integral to a successful routine. For my family, I found it worked best when I started with a small block of time, such as a morning routine, rather than starting with a full day, especially for the younger kids.
- Using one of Covey’s Seven Habits, begin with the end in mind; determine what you consider to be success. Is it a successful routine only if your child completes ALL his homework, or works on it undistracted for just 30 minutes? If your child takes a shower, but doesn’t wash his hair, is it successful?
- Once you understand what success looks like, list out each necessary step in your routine. If there’s an element to the process that is crucial to success, it has to be included in the routine. Having said that, however, keep it simpleand be careful not to micro-manage the process. Young kids, especially those with ADHD, are likely to get overwhelmed with too many steps and a lot of detail. I’d recommend no more than maybe two or three steps at first. For example, I couldn’t tell my youngest child to get himself dressed until he was six years old. Getting himself dressed was too overwhelming, and he couldn’t even start the process. For him, I had to break his morning routine down to several “subroutines”, of which getting dressed was just one. So be patient if your child needs a little more guidance at the beginning. As they get older or more used to a routine, you can try to add more steps. This is one area, however, where you need to gauge your child’s individual needs and abilities to be able to give him or her enough detail without overly dictating activities.
- After you know all the tasks in the routine, assign a specific time (ex: 10:45 am – 11:00 am) or a length of time (ex: 15 minutes) for each step. For any schedule that needs to end by a certain time, such as leaving the house in the morning before work/school, or bedtime routines, you may find it helpful to work backward. For example, if you need to get out of the house for work by 7:45 a.m., then start from there and work backwards with activities to determine what time your kids should get up. For bedtime, I want my kids in bed by 9:00 p.m., so working backward and allowing time for snacks, getting pajamas on, brushing teeth, my children’s bedtime routine starts at 8:30 p.m.
- Once it’s created, be sure to explain it to your kids at an age-appropriate level, and post it for everyone to see. Be sure to post it at their eye level, not yours. Then plan to help them implement it. This means you may have to teach them certain skills. If the morning routine includes making a bed, but they don’t know how, you will have to take time to teach, then supervise, the task until they’re comfortable performing it on their own.
Even after you have a schedule created and you’re implementing it, there are several steps to ensure it works, and tips to help make it stick.
- Don’t set them up for failure. As parents, we have to give them the tools necessary to compete the routine on a consistent basis. Using the previous example of showering, this can be as simple as making sure they know where the linens are, and that you use shampoo on your hair, rather than bar soap. Perhaps it’s making sure they have clean clothes laid out for them in the morning so they don’t have to make those choices in a hurry, or having a healthy breakfast ready that they can eat on the go.
- Success deserves reward. When your child successfully completes the routine, reward him or her immediately. Rewards don’t have to be expensive (heck, even better if they’re free); in fact, the simpler the better. You can reward them with a treat, an extra story, some snuggle time, letting them choose dinner, 5 minutes of extra screen time, etc. We use a token economy in our household. If they don’t successfully complete a routine every time, try not to punish, no matter how much you want to. And believe me, I KNOW you want to (I’m in your shoes frequently!).
- Use the timer functionality on your phone to ensure the process keeps moving. It also helps when you want to end an activity that isn’t on your routine, like gaming or hanging with friends, or looking in the toy aisle at your local store. And because our kids tend to argue and fight a lot, we’ve established a system of odd/even days to determine which child goes first for some activities like brushing teeth or goodnight hugs/kisses. (Yes my kids will physically fight over who gets a goodnight kiss first!)
- Allow older kids input on their schedules. This will help them recognize that they have some control and they may be more likely to adhere to it.
- Be prepared to make revisions as you and your family implement the schedule. For example if you find it takes your child 40 minutes to complete homework, instead of 30 minutes, it’s ok to adjust the schedule. If it only takes your child 10 minutes to unload the dishwasher instead of 15, decide whether or not it’s worth having five extra minutes built into the schedule or if that time should be adjusted.
- Once your schedule is established, be consistent! Screen time at our house ends at 8:30 p.m., no exceptions. Friday nights, screen time ends at 8:30; long holiday weekend, still 8:30; summer vacation, still 8:30. If you make exceptions to the routine, they’ll often take advantage and you will have done a lot of work for nothing.
There you have it, folks: the strategies, tips, and tricks I use whenever we need to outline a schedule or routine or process in our family. Remember that, in order to create a schedule that works for your family, you have to put some thought into it, but then keep it simple. Give your kids the tools they need for success. Let them provide input, expect revisions, and be consistent. Be sure to enforce it. Reward success immediately, and when failure happens, be patient and offer encouragement for next time. For more information about rewards, check out Our Token Economy.
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