From toddlers to teens, the most effective tool to help start the school year right is . . .
Routines. There you go, I gave you the answer right away, and I hope you will continue reading to learn just how powerful they can be and why . . .
Over the summer, my 9YO daughter began having trouble falling asleep. “I just can’t sleep!!” she whined (and she really meant it.) After several weeks of trying to talk her out of her insomnia, I decided a new bedtime routine was in order.
We brainstormed the steps, and decided to include a short foot massage in the routine. We also brought back lullabies which we hadn’t sung in years. We wrote it down with colorful markers and I’ll be darned if that new routine didn’t do the trick.
Why are routines, and more specifically routine charts the most important back-to-school parenting tool?
First, when practiced regularly, routines become automatic. We no longer have to expend energy thinking about what to do and when, we already know. Then we can use that energy for other purposes like tying shoes, giving hugs, or telling a joke.
Second, routines help children feel a sense of safety and predictability by not just clarifying what’s expected, but also giving advance notice for what’s coming next. When the brain doesn’t know what’s around the corner, it stays on high alert and in a defensive mode. When it does know what to expect, it can remain calm, receptive, and cooperative.
Third, routine charts provide a visual reminder of what’s coming and thus help shift responsibility from parent to child. Visual reminders (a chart, a picture, a list) can provide a literal picture of success that your child (not just you) can see. So rather than bark commands across the room, you can simply point to what’s next on the chart, or ask, “What’s next on your routine chart?” and let your child take it from there. Now you’re not the boss, the routine is! See below for some examples.
Fourth, if your child has helped to create the routine, then they are the boss, too, and that’s self-discipline (whew, a lot of italic emphasis there.) We all want our children, by the time they are adults, to be able to stay on track, move through tasks, and experience the satisfaction of a job completed without being watched, forced, or bribed, am I right? Most adults need external reminders to keep themselves focused (to do lists, calendars, alarms, post-it notes, etc.) Children do, too.
How to involve your child in creating the routine chart?
– ask them to help you brainstorm all the steps needed (to get out the door in the morning, to get homework done, to get ready for bed, for example)
– ask them to help you decide the order of events
– get their help in drawing or coloring pictures for each step
– ask them to pose for a picture of each step
– get their help in picking out clip art pictures for each step
– ask them to write or type it up themselves
Aren’t routine charts just for little kids?
No. All three of my children have routine charts for various parts of the day and they are 9, 13, and 16. Many of my executive coaching clients have routine charts (or lists) too!
What if you’ve used a routine chart in the past, but it just doesn’t work any more?
Routine charts get stale after a while and need to be refreshed. Or, your child’s needs may change. In general, re-visit routine charts every 6-12 months, or when they seem to have lost their punch.
Not just any routine will do. There are a few characteristics that will make your child’s routines doubly (if not quadruply) effective. In summary, here they are:
1. Make it visual.
2. Get your child involved in creating the routine itself or chart. Co-creation = co-ownership => better follow through.
3. Use it. Refer to the chart by pointing to what’s next, asking your child what’s next, or gently taking them by the hand and leading them to the chart.
4. If it’s not working, re-visit it. Involve your child in making changes so that it works for everyone.
Scroll down for some more actual examples.
If you have a routine chart you’d be willing to share, please send me a picture! I’m always on the lookout for great examples.
Routines and routine charts are one of many tools we will learn and practice in the interactive, on-line class starting March 1, Peaceful Parents, Cooperative Kids: shift from conflict and chaos to cooperation and calm in 8 weeks.