The Importance of Routines for Children

Routines in the morning, night and at mealtimes are helpful

Man preparing his son for school
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Since children thrive with structure, it's imperative that parents get them accustomed to routines. Whether kids are waking up in the morning before school, settling down for mealtime, going outside to play or getting ready for bed, they need routines to establish good habits.

Kids don’t have a lot of control in their lives, but routines can give them a sense of organization, stability, and comfort.

That, in turn, should help develop better behavior and a sense of personal control, especially in young kids. Routines not only have emotional benefits but health benefits as well.

When parents teach their children to bathe and brush their teeth as part of a morning or nighttime routines, they instill good personal hygiene and health habits. Also, building in chore time during the week, having children clear the table after dinner or tidy up the house at night establishes responsibility and work ethic. 

Why Routines for Children Matter in the Morning

Getting up in the morning can be a challenge for kids and adults alike, but starting the day with structure can set the tone for the rest of the day. With that in mind, get your children used to waking up at the same time every day. If you let them sleep in, you'll have to rush, which means beginning the day in a frenzy. Having a solid morning ritual will keep everyone's stress level low.

If your child is notoriously not a morning person, you may need to establish nighttime routines that make the mornings flow better. For example, this child may need to take baths at night and already have her clothes picked out, so in the morning all she'll need to do is brush her teeth, wash her face and get dressed.

But you'll still need to set a meal ritual for breakfast. 

How to Handle Mealtimes

Use mealtimes to establish good habits in children. There's a mountain of research that discusses the importance of eating breakfast. But an elaborate meal made up of pancakes, eggs, and bacon may not be appropriate for your family if your child's school starts very early in the morning, such as before 8 a.m. Moreover, not every child wants to eat a large breakfast. For this child, a fruit-and-yogurt cup or a small bowl of cereal may be more suitable. 

For other meals, such as lunch, snack time and dinner, you want to schedule them so children aren't overwhelmed by hunger. This can lead children to become irritable or to overeat once they're served a meal. After observing you children, you may decide that they need a meal or snack at least every four hours. 

Set a time for snacking and what kinds of foods you'll serve at snack time. A healthful snack time could include a fruit bowl or veggies with a low-sodium dip. Remember not to give your child food on a whim. By sticking to a schedule, your child will learn good eating habits.

Going to Sleep

Getting kids to sleep, whether it is for a nap or for the night, is one of the greatest challenges for parents.

Children tend to think they're missing out if they have to go to bed when their parents or older siblings are still up. But children who aren’t well rested can throw a wrench in your lifestyle, so sticking to a solid sleep schedule may be one of the most important parts of a routine. It will cut down on your child's whining and lower the chance of having an argument about bedtime with him. 

A basic bedtime ritual includes brushing teeth, going to the bathroom, taking a bath and reading a story. After that, it's lights out. With a nightly routine, children know what is expected from them. 

For younger kids who need daytime naps, timing is everything. Try for a nap too early and they may fight the entire time and never get to sleep. Go too long and they may be overtired, leading to more restlessness.

You can use many of the same routines for a nap that you use for bedtime. 

Of course, during special occasions, parents can be more flexible about nap and bedtime rituals. Sometimes, you may agree to let your child stay up a bit later than normal. But be sure to return to the normal routine the following night. A good sleep routine can keep a family sane.

Playtime

It's important for stay-at-home dads to build playtime into the day. This gives children an enjoyable activity to anticipate. Be sure to plan what to do during your child's leisure time. Activities could include everything from building a fort to visiting the park or playing a board game. Change up the activity to keep your child engaged.  

Of course, if you have older children who play team sports, you won't have much of a choice about when practice starts. However, you'll need to plan your schedule accordingly if it's your responsibility to pick your child up from practice or games. Schedule your day so that you can still meet the needs of your other children and can complete your normal tasks on practice days. Having a child in a sport shouldn't upend your entire day.