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Young Children: Creating and Maintaining A Routine

April, 2009
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Routine Daily routines help a child in many ways. They offer a sense of security and allow the child to feel they have some control over their environment at a time when the world is can be seen as a big, scary place. They give a framework in which to master new skills. Routines ease your child’s natural feeling of vulnerability by giving order to their world and offer a feeling of empowerment by letting them know what to expect next. Routines also help young children manage impulsive behavior by assuring them of what is expected of them, reducing the temptation to do something outside of the ordinary. The repetitious aspect of routine helps children to develop the habit of self-discipline they need to become self-reliant.

  Your two-year-old may meet this need for sameness by setting up elaborate rituals. He may insist, for example, that his coat goes on before the hat; breaking this order is reasonable cause, to him, for a tantrum. As rigid as this may appear to you, try to work with your child’s need for order.

  Predictable schedules also ease interactions with your child, making transitions such as going to school, eating family meals, and settling down for bedtime less stressful.. For example, make morning routines less stressful by getting up, washing and eating breakfast at the same time every day. Set a time limit for breakfast and all meals. There is no need to extend mealtimes or send your child to school with their breakfast if they haven’t finished it when they have had sufficient time to eat. Twenty minutes is reasonable if this time is spent sitting down eating rather than getting up and down from the table.

  The earlier routines are introduced in the child’s life, the better, and initiating them now (if you haven’t already) will give your child the feeling of safety they need to explore the world. Don’t expect your child to accept new routines immediately or entirely. They may cry and complain, but if you remain firm and calm, they will accept the routine. Persistent repetition will help your child to understand that this is what happens at this time of day. The sameness of a sleep routine, for example, carries comfort, security, and a promise that the nightly separation is predictable and temporary. Whatever routines you create, make sure they are ones you will want to repeat and can pass on to your child’s other caregivers. This continuity of care eases the transitions that can confuse and scare young children. If you don’t want to kiss all your child’s stuffed animals and read five books every night, don’t start. Once a routine is established, it is very hard to change it. Also, make sure that an Ayi knows about your routines and can perform them. It may be helpful to put your schedule in writing, and post it as a reminder to all caregivers.

  Life is not always as orderly as we would like it to be of course, and every family’s normal routine is occasionally broken. Holidays, illnesses, visiting relatives, or even a spontaneous decision to do something different will upset the norm. Although this is bound to happen, try not to change or interrupt your child’s daily routines too often or without sufficient warning. Explain in advance when you know the schedule will change. Assure your child the change is temporary and that tomorrow (a word he or she is beginning to understand) their routine will return to normal. Throughout the year, routines will give your child a secure anchor. They promise that your home is one place where events and activities are guaranteed, secure and stable.

By Laurie Robinson

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