By Dr Justin Coulson
Many parents are stressed out or struggling to maintain order in their families for one simple reason: they can’t seem to implement structure and routine in their home. Some parents don’t like the idea of being dictated to by a timetable or family routine, while others don’t see how it can work in their circumstances.
But routine matters. It makes families happier. It reduces tension. It improves children’s (and parents’) behaviour. It even helps us sleep better, and our kids do better at school and with friends.
How does having a routine do all that?
5 ways routines can help families
1. Routine promotes security and stability
Children thrive when they feel safe and secure, and when life is predictable. If our kids know what is coming and when, they feel comfortable. They’re not producing stress hormones. Instead, they’re developing healthily and happily.
Family routines can also be helpful by preparing our children for what’s coming. They can look forward to story time, play time, park time, or whatever it is that falls naturally in their routine, when it is well established and predictable.
2. Routine reduces cognitive stress
Barack Obama, former President of the United States, sticks to routine to reduce cognitive fatigue. His brain doesn’t have to think about certain things, which leaves him with more brain space for other things that matter more. As an example, his morning routine always includes 45 minutes of exercise, the same food for breakfast, and the same suits to wear.
Routine can have the same effect on us and our children. As our routine becomes habitual and automatic, we don’t need to think about what else we should do. We simply move through our day, completing things as needed.
3. Routines empower our children – even with their chores!
In our home we have a simple chore chart. There are fifteen simple chores listed, grouped into four separate lists. Each day our kids have afternoon tea and then start on their chores. It’s the routine. There are no power struggles. There is no fighting. The kids “get it”. They know that after school they can have a snack and then get into the routine. Simple.
The best thing is the routine promotes responsibility and empowerment. We occasionally remind them, but rarely do we need to nag. The routine makes it easy.
4. Routine improves social-emotional health
A study published in a 2014 issue of The Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics found that routines matter for our kids. Researchers examined the family routines that 8,500 preschoolers engaged in with their families. The routines they were interested in were eating dinner as a family (five times per week), singing, story-telling, reading and playing at least a few times a week. They found that, in families where none of these routines were practised, just one in ten children experienced high social-emotional health. Comparatively, when families did all five of those routines, one in four children had high socio-emotional health.
The numbers aren’t huge, and there are certainly other things that can impact on our kids’ social-emotional health, but this is still a significant difference between the two groups.
5. Routine improves sleep, school and learning
This research indicates that when our kids have a good sleep routine (meaning they go to bed within 30 minutes of the same time each night), they sleep better, learn better and regulate their behaviour more effectively.
Routine does not mean rigid
Some people criticise routines due to the fact that they require so much rigidity. Research shows that being overly rigid is unhelpful and creates stress. The routine should be a framework that supports us rather than dictating our every move to the minute. In fact, an added bonus of routines is that they give you the power to be flexible when you need to because you can always come back to the structure you need.
If your family is stressful, perhaps a new routine for your morning or evening could be just the thing to reduce stress and improve health and wellbeing.
How do routines work in your family? What things are strict and what things stay flexible?
Read more on Kidspot:
- 6 surefire ways to create calm household routines
- Helping kids cope with change
- 11 questions that teach kids to be happy