Getting down to it

Establishing routines helps families keep their day running smoothly

Published on September 26, 2007
Tyler and Caitlin Beacock. Photo by Rhonda Hayward/The Telegram

Lisa Beacock, mother of Caitlin, 8, and Tyler, 6, is a strong believer in routines. xxFrom the time the children were very young, their dad worked four weeks on and four weeks off, so for six months out of the year I was alone with the kids. In order to accomplish things around the house and keep my overall sanity, bedtime was of the utmost importance.

She began by picking specific times for dinner, bath and bedtime, and her consistency paid off. They are still easy to get to bed, although bedtime has moved a little later in the evening now that the children are older.

Lorna Berndt Piercey, a registered psychologist, suggests routines like Beacocks help parents to do their job effectively.

The establishment of routines for children means that the children are less likely to argue about homework bath bed because these happen every night at about the same time. A child is less likely to think that these are negotiable.

Ann Douglas, author of The Mother of All Parenting Books, agrees. Kids thrive on routines, and so do parents. Routines give some order and rhythm to our lives and are particularly welcome at times of day when wed rather be on auto-pilot.

However, as Berndt Piercey notes, there is no one routine that will work for all families, but families can experiment and find one that suits their needs.

Parents can establish routines for any part of the day that they want to go especially smoothly, but Berndt Piercey especially recommends a regular supper hour, bath time and bedtime. She does not recommend material rewards for following routines, but she does suggest making routines fun which is its own reward.

Generally, children prefer to have a routine, so material rewards are not usually necessary, but parents can increase childrens co-operation by ensuring that the routines involve some fun time.

She suggests enhancing bath-time routines by including time for playing in the tub, bedtimes can include a cuddle and story, and homework can be followed by a board game or family television time.

Creating routines

When introducing a new routine to young children, Berndt Piercey advises simply informing them about how things will be done, in terms of how things are usually done.

For example: Were going to try starting homework right after supper, then you can get a bath and watch your show. She says parents can explain why the routine is changing but there is no need to engage in an argument if things have to be done in the way they have outlined.

Douglas suggests that parents give older kids as much input as possible while making sure that the important things get covered.

Its no big deal if they pack their backpack before or after breakfast, provided theyre ready on time. If packing it after breakfast means that theyre scrambling to find a missing textbook while the school bus is zooming away down the block, clearly the routine they came up with isnt working for them and theyll need to go back to the drawing board.

She also advises parents not to get stuck in old routines. As children get older, routines need to adjust to family needs and schedules.

They may be changing, your expectations of them may be evolving, and you may be changing, too. You may be wanting to sign up for a night course so that you can pursue that interest or passion thats been on hold for a long time. That will require your kids to pitch in more than they have in the past.

According to Beacock, the structure and consistency of her family routines help her kids get their rest and feel better able to keep up with their day.

I think all kids need that structure. When they dont have a routine they are fragmented and tired and may not do as well as a child with a routine.

Having a routine doesnt mean that the family has to be tightly scheduled, however. Routines should serve the family, not the other way around.

As Beacock says, (The) routines are there only for guidance and consistency but they certainly dont manipulate our day. If we dont get lunch right at noon the world wont come to and end. I think the important thing to remember is that a routine is there to make your life easier but it certainly doesnt have to rule your life.