It’s probably no secret that I love a good routine. But, it wasn’t always that way. Until I learned how to truly utilize them, I didn’t fully appreciate the benefits a solid routine could bring to my children or me. I didn’t even realize all of the areas of our life where a simple routine could help. And the truth is, while I thought a bed time routine was important for my kids, I didn’t want to get too hung up on having them throughout the rest of our days because I thought that they were too stifling, and I know I wasn’t alone in that belief.
Schedules and routines get a bad rap. Especially as they pertain to families. There are many who believe that we shouldn’t follow schedules or set routines for our kids, because they are restrictive. They believe routines make us slaves to the clock instead of our natural instincts, or that routines don’t allow for spontaneity or freedom.
In fact, these beliefs couldn’t be further from the truth. And once I began to understand the true value and freedom (yes, freedom) that a good routine can add to your day, I realized how many benefits there really are in having set rhythms and routines throughout your day.
Here are four common myths about routines and why they are wrong:
Myth 1: Routines and schedules aren’t good for kids.
The reality: kids thrive on routines. They set boundaries for them. Routines help kids know what to expect so they can mentally prepare for what comes next. They provide the opportunity to learn important life skills and gain independence. Routines also aide with transitions and provide stability. If you want a good example of this, check out my post about how our school mornings dramatically improved with the implementation of a simple routine (and learn to do the same in your house).
According to a study highlighted by this NPR report, routines are linked to healthier lifestyles for children and reduce their risk of childhood obesity. And an earlier study, released in 2014, showed a link to routines for children and better social-emotional health, which translates to more highly developed social and emotional skills than children who do not have established rituals or routines in their homes.
Myth 2: Routines and schedules are too restrictive and stifling.
In fact, routines help you prioritize what is important. Things that don’t require much thinking can be done on autopilot with a good routine, saving brain power for more important tasks. We all have a limited working memory capacity, and research into cognitive load, a theory developed by John Sweller in 1988, indicates that the more tasks that can become automated (meaning your working memory isn’t busy thinking about every decision along the way), the higher the capacity we have to learn new things without fatiguing.
Myth 3: Routines make us slaves to the clock instead of our natural instincts.
Routines are meant to work within your life, not the other way around. In addition to freeing up brain space, routines provide freedom by helping you identify where there are margins in your day and space to fit more into your life that you want or need. When something becomes routine, you can predict the amount of time it will take to complete. This allows you to find that chunk of time in your day when it is available to complete. When you know that, you’re not trying to fit an hour task into 20 minutes simply because you realized you needed to do something at 11:30 but you have to get your child to preschool by 11:50. This is precisely why routines are so productive. Because you know that task X takes an hour and you wouldn’t attempt to do it during a 20 minute window.
When you approach routines this way, they are flexible. Maybe one day you do a certain combination of tasks when you first wake up, and another you fit it in after you have worked out or completed another task. When you have a solid flow for a set of tasks (aka, a routine), you are better able to see the white space in your day — the time that you have available to do other, non-routine activities like calling your sister, or an impromptu trip to the park. You can find time you didn’t know you had and be more intentional about using it in a way that is valuable to you.
Further, establishing routines gives you an opportunity to execute them at times that work best for you. If you’re not a morning person, your routine for doing housework or packing for the day doesn’t need to take place in the morning. You can create a solid nighttime routine, during which you do most of the preparation for your next day, at a time that works better for your natural rhythms.
Myth 4: My kids will never follow a routine.
If by that you mean that your kids will never fall asleep at 7 p.m. on the dot and sleep for exactly 12 hours, or take a 2-hour nap every day from 12:30-2:30, or be ready to eat lunch right at noon each day…sure. But they most definitely will follow a routine, and will probably more willingly do things like go to bed (not necessarily go to sleep, but yes, be in bed) at the same time every day with a solid routine.
Clocks and time are really abstract concepts for young children. But they can understand the concept of certain tasks following others. They can understand that every day before lunch you pick up you your toys and wash your hands. Or that after brushing your teeth, putting on pajamas and reading books, it’s time to go to bed. When you set a routine, the tasks that lead to a certain event, like going to school or bed for example, gently cue the transition. They help children mentally prepare for what is coming. They know what to expect from you and what is expected of them. And they are empowered when they can execute many of the tasks themselves.
According to this article from Aha! Parenting, routines allow kids the opportunity to take ownership of their own activities. “This feeling increases their sense of mastery and competence. Kids who feel more independent and in charge of themselves have less need to rebel and be oppositional.”
Most of the time, once you have established a routine with your children, they are happy to follow it. It provides boundaries and structure and helps them manage expectations, eliminating a lot of battles – win for everyone! 🙂
Give Them a Fair Shake
Try creating an easy, short routine for yourself or your kids. Try for something fairly simple, like what your kids can do to get ready for meals, or a consistent bed time routine, or even an after-dinner clean-up routine. Stick with it for a month. You’ll be amazed at the difference it can make. If you need more guidance, you can find it here.
If you want routines that works, sign up for my free workbook designed to help you create custom routines for you and your family.
So, what about you? Do you have any experience or ideas about routines in your life? I’d love to hear about it. Let me know in the comments below, or send me an e-mail at Kristin @ totally the mom dot com.
A brilliant post. I believe routines are so important for younger children. My two year old takes himself to bed because he’s tired and knows its coming.
Thank you! And wow, that is impressive! I’m sure that makes bed time a lot smoother in your house! 🙂