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Yes, kids need routines

Kate Sidley knows that children thrive when they know what to expect. Find out more. 

25 July 2016
4 minute read

young boys lying behind piece of wood

Back in the day, babies were fed on strict four-hourly schedules, followed regimented routines, and were put to bed on the dot of 7. It’s easy to see why this routine suited parents (particularly if there was a nurse or nanny to enforce it!). But from today’s perspective, it doesn’t seem kind to leave a baby to cry himself to sleep, or make a hungry baby wait for his supper. As with all things parenting, the pendulum swung the other way. All the way to “attachment parenting”. Babies slept in mom and dad’s bed and drank whenever they felt like it. The mantra was “listen to your baby”, but more than a few moms felt stressed in their inability to interpret the mysterious signals of their newborns. Sure enough, the pendulum swung back again, this time to the likes of Gina Ford, whose Contented Little Baby books sold zillions, and a host of “new” schedule-freaks.

How flexible you are depends on your own personality, your baby’s personality and your family dynamic, but almost all families find a certain amount of routine helpful. Some are schedule-wielding sticklers, others are go-with-the-flow people but there’s usually some sort of routine, even if it’s just the morning and the bedtime ritual of sorts.

I guess I should admit to being something of a routine fan myself

I guess, in the spirit of full disclosure, I should admit to being, if not quite a stickler, at least something of a routine fan myself. Selfish reasons, mostly. I simply could not survive the early years of parenting unless the kids were in bed by 7.30. Happy to be patient, loving supermom all day, but thus far and no further! Plenty of otherwise sane people seem happy to have small humans knocking about the house until they drop, exhausted, at 9 or 10 at night. Not me.  

Our experience has been that a predictable but flexible routine with feeding times and sleep times factored in made for well-rested, well-fed and, yes, contented, babies and toddlers. And parents who weren’t weeping with exhaustion.

Why routines are great!So here’s a somewhat biased, but also supported-by-many-experts run-down of the benefits of routines.

Routines and babies

  • Babies feel secure when life is predictable and they know what’s coming next. They feel reassured that their needs will be met, that they can trust the adults who care for them, and, by extension, trust the world.
  • Babies learn to expect their food and naps in a certain order and at roughly the same time. They start to anticipate the next step in the schedule from a surprisingly early age. So if supper-bath-bed is the regular routine, baby will come to expect bedtime after bath time and be “ready” for sleep.
  • New parents often feel more secure with a routine in place. It’s easier to factor in the essentials – feeding time, sleep time, play time – and be confident that your baby is getting what she needs to thrive.

Routines and kids
Structure is just as important in toddlerhood and even into the school years. Remember, children’s brains are not fully developed. They simply can’t plan and predict the way that adults can. That’s why having a structured day and a predictable routine helps

  • Positive behaviours such as basic hygiene, chores and so on are instilled and reinforced.
  • Having a routine keeps life from becoming chaotic. When routine is consistent and the kids know and follow the pattern, you don’t have to reinvent the wheel constantly.
  • Routines develop self-control. Kids know they have to wait until after supper to play a favourite game, or can only watch TV after they’ve done their homework.
  • Routine is empowering! Routines help kids control their environment in a positive way, and develop mastery over their lives. Having mastered the small tasks of caring for themselves, and managing their day, children internalise this behaviour and extend it into the wider world, to tackle bigger tasks and to structure their own lives. When things are organised and predictable, it’s easy to get into good habits – homework before tv, packing the dishwasher after supper.
  • Routines also foster independence, as children are able to make decisions and take actions on their own, because they’re in familiar territory.
  • Routines reduce conflict. You don’t have to keep telling everyone the same thing every day (OK, that’s optimistic, but that’s the idea). Brushing teeth before bed, bathing before supper just become the things we do at this time of day. Because you’re not constantly bossing kids around, there’s less chance of a power struggle.

“But what about spontaneity?” I hear you cry. “Isn’t this all a bit rigid? Where’s the fun?” Well, here’s the kicker – routine isn’t just for mundane maintenance tasks. It’s for good times, too. What about Sunday movie night? Or a regular mom’s group and play date. Or feeding the ducks at the lake in the school holidays. And yes, you can throw out routine for a special occasion – everyone stays up late on Dad’s birthday, or kids schlump around in their pjs until midday on holiday. When life runs smoothly, and everyone is well-rested and well-fed, you can be flexible. Children cope better with changes and life is more fun. For everyone.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of 1Life or its employees.

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