The Importance of Routines (especially now)

In Benton, Lincoln, and Linn County, Labor Day is where the summer schedule ends and the school year begins as school starts this week. After the free flow of July and August, settling back into a regular routine is comforting and reassuring. But this year has been anything but routine. Moving from summer to September in 2020 is no exception. Nothing has been routine about 2020.

Many of us will be starting the school year from home, just like we ended things last year. Will the habits we’ve formed being at home since March be difficult to overcome when school starts? A regular bedtime? What’s that? Rousing my three teens before lunchtime? Hasn’t happened in months.

And yet, we know the value of routines for children both big and little. Routine provides children with predictability and familiarity, helping them feel safe and confident. Especially in anxious times such as these, knowing what comes next and being able to count on that reassures our children.

A routine is simply a predictable pattern of activity. As adults we often structure our routines by the clock. We set an alarm for a certain time, we allow a set number of minutes for each task. We make appointments at specific times and allot a certain number of hours for various activities.

But for young children, more important than ‘what time’ is ‘what’s next.’ Following the same pattern of activity as we go about our days is more important than scheduling by the clock. For example, a simple morning routine might be: when we get up we use the bathroom, eat our breakfast, and then get dressed. Then we brush our teeth. Doing these tasks in the same order each day lets the child know that breakfast comes before dressing, reducing power struggles that can arise over something as simple as getting dressed. 

Another family may choose to dress first, then eat breakfast. And that’s the beauty of routines. You get to decide what works best for you and your kiddos. The importance of the routine is that once you decide, you stick with it. Even pre-verbal children can gain self-confidence and feel assured when their activities follow a predictable pattern. For older children, the habits formed in following a routine reduces conflict and builds independence.

As our children reach adolescence, routines can grow and change to prepare them for the independent living of adulthood. With much joy I noticed late last month that a routine at our house, established at least two years ago, has finally taken hold of my youngest. 

At some point in 2018 I resigned from my job as family laundress. I invited the kids, who were 10, 12, and 15 at the time, to take over washing their own clothes. My oldest, who was already in high school at the time, had no trouble doing her laundry each week. I never needed to mention it to her again.

My son and youngest daughter needed pretty regular reminders at first. But sometime in the last year, my son’s laundry started showing up in the washer and dryer without any reminders. And in this last month, the youngest, now almost 13, has not needed any prompting to take care of her dirty clothes. Not only do we have a working routine, but they have the confidence of knowing in this one small aspect, they are prepared for adulthood and living independently.

I’m looking forward to the start of school, even though they’ll be doing school from home. With school added to the schedule, we will establish some new routines. Maybe one that includes getting up before noon.

 

Lynne Brown is a freelance writer, former Montessori teacher, and mom to seven amazing kids, some of whom now have kids of their own. She loves writing on parenting and early childhood education. You can learn more about her at www.lynnebrownwriting.com.