Around 7:30 each evening, my mom would turn down my bed. (For those of you who are young and don’t know what this means, she’d uncover the bed pillows and neatly fold back the top sheet and blanket so I could slide right into bed.) It was so comforting to be able to slip into the cool sheets and know someone cared enough to make my bed cozy for me. I didn’t actually go to bed until 8:00 but the bed being turned down was a signal I should start thinking about bringing my day to a close. I also knew that turning down the bed was my mom’s signal that she was done for the evening too. It was my job was to wash my face, brush my teeth, and put on my pajamas. Although the ritual ended when I was ten or eleven years old, there were times when I was sick or out late into the evening that she would, once again, turn down my bed. It always made me feel safe and loved.
Turning down the bed was a routine that brought predictability to my life. It also helped my mom let me know what my job was without having to remind me or engage in a power struggle. Research has shown that not only do family routines help children feel safe, but they also have the effect of making the parent feel more in control and settled, which then leads to a further sense of safety in the child.1 Routines are a win-win in the wild and crazy world of parenting.
As we begin a school year that will be filled with unpredictability, routines are all the more important. According to Dr. Laura Markham, “Children, like the rest of us, handle change best if it is expected and occurs in the context of a familiar routine. A predictable routine allows children to feel safe, and to develop a sense of mastery in handling their lives. As this sense of mastery is strengthened, they can tackle larger changes.”2
There will be a lot of large changes this school year and many events we won’t be able to control. But let’s take a look at some things we can control that will make our family lives much more peaceful. Here are some routines to consider.
Morning routines: Although school may be shifting between virtual, in-person or a hybrid model, getting up at the same time each day, cleaning up, getting dressed and having breakfast are key to having children start off their days on the right foot. Doing school work in our pajamas in bed doesn’t tell our brains that it’s time to get to work. Maintaining the same schedule and pattern of activities throughout the educational shifts will make them feel less stressful for our children and us.
After school routines: There is nothing wrong with kids using technology for gaming or movies, but having a routine that establishes boundaries around when and for how long will most likely lead to diminished arguments. This routine also gives children something fun to look forward to at the end of the school day. They understand that almost every day at that time, they get to do something they love. It eliminates the stress of wondering if and when they can enjoy some free time.
Evening routines: These routines may look different depending on the age of your child, but following the same pattern each evening will help eliminate discussions or arguments around when it’s time to get ready for bed, if and when we get a bedtime snack, and how many stories we read before getting tucked in. These routines are also a time to create connections with your child and provide them with a sense of comfort, just like my mom turning down the bed being did for me.
For a wonderful list of routines you may want to consider to bring more predictability to your child’s life (and your own!) visit Heathy Families BC. https://www.healthyfamiliesbc.ca/home/articles/family-routines-children#:~:text=Having%20an%20important%20job%20to,of%20development%2C%20such%20as%20puberty.
- APA Spagnola, Mary PhD; Fiese, Barbara H. PhD Family Routines and Rituals: A Context for Development in the Lives of Young Children, Infants & Young Children: October-December 2007 – Volume 20 – Issue 4 – p 284-299
- Markham, Laura PhD Why Kids Need Routines, Aha! Pareting https://www.ahaparenting.com/parenting-tools/family-life/structure-routines