A Parent’s Guide to Creating Positive Routines for Kids of All Ages

August 29, 2023

For babies and toddlers, growing kids and teens, routines offer regularity and predictability while fostering independence and growth. Best of all? There are no more Monday pizza debates if Fridays are set in stone.

Each year as summer draws to a close, families are faced with transitioning from summer vacation mode to back-to-school season. The key to staying organized while building healthy family habits? Routines. 

Routines help all members of your family to know what to expect for the day. Everyone understands who is going to do what and when. Not only does this help children feel safe and secure, but it leaves less room for arguments and ambiguity. If Fridays are always pizza night, you don’t need to argue about having pizza on Monday. 

Family Routines are Important

Routines help your children feel safe because they know what to expect. When they feel safe, they can explore the world with confidence. Routines can also ensure parents and children are building healthy habits in their daily lives. For example, getting enough quality sleep with a consistent sleep schedule and limiting screen time before bedtime, or getting regular exercise. 

Routines can help your child become more independent and confident in daily activities. As your children grow, their routines will, too, but the principles of structure and regularity will remain consistent. 

The benefits of family routines extend into children’s longer term development and school readiness as well. Research published in the Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics also shows that preschool children who engage in regular family routines, such as storytimes, play, and family dinners, exhibit higher social-emotional health. This means they are better able to understand emotions, enjoy positive relationships with other children and adults, demonstrate empathy, and control their emotions. 

For Babies 

Establishing daily routines for babies is essential for their physical and emotional development. But it’s not always easy! With young babies, routine activities might happen at different times during the day. Take note of their cues for regular feedings, sleep, and diaper changes. 

As your baby grows, setting more regular routines, like naptime or feedings at the same time each day, will help them to trust you and to self-regulate. Knowing when they will be fed or have a nap will help them stay calm, even if they have to wait a little. 

For Toddlers

Doing things in the same order and close to the same time each day is key for little kiddos. Routines to develop for your toddlers or preschoolers may include: 

  • Getting up at the same time each morning 
  • Getting dressed in the morning 
  • Eating meals
  • Playtime
  • Moving and exercising 
  • Reading stories and books
  • Quiet time 
  • Going to bed at the same time each night

As you create these routines, you can build in rituals for things that you do together, such as bedtime stories or hugs after school. 

Giving your child a description of the daily activities in the order that they will happen will also help your child understand the routine and what to expect. For example, “First we wake up, then we get dressed, then we have breakfast…” 

As your child grows, encourage them to do parts of the routine by themselves, such as getting their school bag ready or loading the dishwasher after breakfast. This will help them develop independence and grow their confidence. 

For Older Kids 

As kids grow, routines become an important part of everyday family life. Kids know what things will happen and in what order, and they begin to know what to do without reminders. For example, they need to empty and clean out backpacks on Friday afternoons so they are clean and ready for the following week. 

For growing kids, daily routines may include: 

  • Getting ready in the morning 
  • After school activities
  • Doing chores like setting the table or walking the dog
  • Doing homework
  • Bedtime around the same time each night (although you may be more flexible as kids get older; for example, you might let them stay up later during school holidays).

For Teens 

As parents of teenagers will know well, the years between 13-18 are when teenagers begin to assert their independence. Teenagers don’t necessarily need as rigorously structured a routine as younger children. But they can still benefit from a schedule. 

Work together with your teen to come up with a daily routine that works for your family. Consider questions like1

  • What time does your teen need to be out the door to get to school?
  • What time do they need to wake up to make this happen?
  • Are they responsible for making their own breakfast and lunches?

Once you’ve established some important timelines and responsibilities, your teenager’s routine might include2

  • Homework and study schedule to assist with time management and academics. 
  • Extracurricular activities. Setting a schedule and agreeing upon limits will help avoid over-scheduling. 
  • Family time. Maintaining family time is important as teens become more independent and build their own networks of friends. Set times for family activities or meals together. 
  • Quality sleep. Build healthy sleep habits with regular bedtimes (even on weekends!). Getting enough sleep is essential for physical and mental health. 

Know When to Go With the Flow 

Routines are important. They are a tool to manage busy family life, reduce anxiety about the unknown, and keep things well-planned and predictable. 

But this doesn’t mean that you can’t change when you need to. If you need to adjust your routine because of special events (like holidays or family visits), try to return to your normal patterns afterward. When you know you need to change a routine, prepare your child for what’s going to change and when. This way, you let them know everything is okay and they are still safe even if things are different for a little while.

And sometimes, it’s just one of those days that is not going as planned. Remember to stay flexible when you need to. It will help teach your child how to adapt3

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References

  1. MyDoh
  2. The Children's Center
  3. Lerner Child Development
  4. Muñiz, Elisa I. MD, MS*; Silver, Ellen J. PhD†; Stein, Ruth E.K. MD†. Family Routines and Social-Emotional School Readiness Among Preschool-Age Children. Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics 35(2):p 93-99, February/March 2014. 
  5. ASQ®: SE-2 Learning Activities & More, Twombly, Munson, & Pribble. 2018 Paul H. Brookes Publishing Co., Inc.

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