As summer vacation begins to wind down, your children may not be the only ones dreading the beginning of a new school year. Just the thought of getting up early again, getting to school and work on time, helping with homework, and managing bedtimes can leave you feeling exhausted. Taking the time to establish a routine for your children once school is back in session may just help to alleviate much of the stress and confusion.
Pediatricians, teachers, and yes, even your mother-in-law , stress the importance of routine and structure in a child’s life. Why? Let’s put things into perspective: As adults, we have some amount of control over certain aspects of our lives. We have the ability to make decisions about our schedules, workloads, appointments, and many other factors that affect us. Now, imagine if, from day-to-day, you never knew what to expect – where you were going, what you were doing, when you would eat, when you could rest. Eventually the stress of the unknown would take its toll.
Establishing a structured daily routine provides children with a sense of safety and security. This reduces anxiety, stress, and all those less-than-wonderful behavioral issues that can result (think temper tantrums). Knowing what to expect allows a child to exhibit more self-control, promotes self-esteem, and reassures him that his daily needs will be met. Eliminating stress at home also leads to better performance in school and fewer behavioral problems.
Developing a daily routine is easy. First, sit down and outline what tasks need to be accomplished every day. For older children, you may find it helpful to post a daily checklist. Children are able to consult the list, check off the items they have completed, and see a reminder of the items left to do. Providing a checklist gives your child a sense of responsibility and empowerment while taking much of the burden off the parent.
Keep the schedule simple; trying to follow a complicated agenda will only result in confusion and frustration. Children learn by example, so try to develop a routine for yourself as well. If your kids see you doing the same thing every day in the same order, they will begin to follow suit. Following a routine facilitates everyone getting out the door in a calm, timely manner and arriving at school or work on time.
After-school routines are also important. Once a child returns home, there are homework assignments to complete, supper to be prepared, next–day preparations to be made, and bedtime routines to oversee. To make evenings go more smoothly, designate a place for children to store all their belongings. This includes book bags, shoes, jackets, sports equipment, and toys. Not only will this reduce clutter in your house, but it will eliminate the frantic chaos that ensues first thing in the morning when homework is forgotten and shoes go missing.
If your child is old enough to have homework, be sure to set some ground rules. You may want him to finish all his homework before he is allowed to have freetime, or you may decide to give him a few minutes to himself before he hits the books. Whatever you decide, make sure you clearly convey to your child what is expected of him. Give him a clean, quiet spot where he has enough space to spread out books and papers. Once his assignments are finished, have him pack his book bag for the next day.
Finally, establishing a bedtime routine will help make evenings more relaxed. Bedtime routines may include a warm bath and 20-30 minutes of calm activity such as reading a story, doing a puzzle, or listening to soft music. If the child is calm and relaxed, he is more likely to fall asleep quickly and remain asleep through the night.
Remember that life is not always predictable, and occasionally situations arise where you will need to deviate from your schedule. Be flexible, and if possible, let your child know of schedule changes beforehand so he will be prepared. Daily routines set the framework for success later on in life. By surrounding your child with balance and structure, you are laying the groundwork for a happier and more satisfying family experience.