By Niki Walls, MSW, LSW, Youth First, Inc.
With so much uncertainty the past few years, many young people have not been in the habit of sticking to a normal daily routine. Research proves that routines support early childhood emotional development. Familiar patterns and activities can provide comfort to children during uncertain times.
Children with regular home routines usually have better self-regulation skills, which means they are better at identifying their feelings and are less likely to become overwhelmed. Children can be more confident and secure when their day-to-day activities are predictable.
Routines are important for children of any age, as they are crucial to a healthy functioning family unit. When children can engage consistently with the same adults and children, they are able to develop relationships with others. This promotes strong social skills, allows them to gain a sense of belonging, and raises their confidence in interacting with others.
Routines do not have to be complex; it is important to keep it simple, especially with younger children. A good way to start is by breaking down the scheduled tasks that naturally occur to create a routine. For example, everyone wakes up in the morning. To create a morning wake-up routine, parents can set a specific time and choose an appropriate method for their children to wake up.
Parents should make sure they review the schedule every morning (and throughout the day) so their child can prepare for what is next on the agenda. The entire day does not have to fall apart if the routine gets off track, but it is important to stick to the same schedule as much as possible.
Parents can start implementing routines into the family’s daily life in various ways. Ensuring the routine is repeated continuously is a way to ensure it sticks. Parents can also use visuals by writing out the schedule for older kids or using pictures for younger children. If possible, it is important for adults to make the children aware in advance if there will be any changes to the schedule.
Routines give children a sense of stability and safety. If children know what to expect, they do not have to be on edge and can be more true to their authentic self. It is important for parents to remember that routines can’t be established overnight. A routine needs to be repeated often for it to become a natural habit.
Children who develop self-regulation through routine will build healthier mental health habits and typically handle unexpected stressors more effectively than their peers. Establishing a few new routines for your family is a great way to provide support and stability amidst the hustle and bustle of day-to-day life.