Those “lazy days of summer” are finally here, and while summer is often synonymous with the lack of structure, it is actually a great time to evaluate the routines you implement with your children.
Why Children Need Routines
We’ve all experienced those days when we have set out a plan and nothing seems to work out! Every expectation we have seems to be superceded by a more urgent need or simply driven out of the schedule altogether by events we cannot control. Those days are so frustrating! Children experience similar frustration when we do not provide them with consistent routines. The chaos and disappointment of their day can be overwhelming, and is often manifest through undesirable behaviors.
Children have an inner drive for autonomy, and yet most of their day is essentially run by adults. This conflict can lead to worry and power-struggles. Having predictable routines in place helps to reduce anxiety and defiance and promote independence, and generally just makes things go more smoothly. As with any situation, behavior improves when a child knows what to expect, and what is expected.
Types of Routines to Consider
Routines often surround events that meet our basic needs. Consider the routines surrounding mealtimes, bedtimes, and self-care. Don’t forget that children also have a need for love and affection, which is often built-in to our routines as well with ritualistic snuggles, hugs, and kisses. These essential tasks become routine, not only because they happen so regularly, but the routineness also ensures the child that those needs will be met. There is a sense of security in that consistency. If there is a routine surrounding lunchtime, a child is less likely to be anxious about whether or not he will get enough to eat this afternoon.
Parents, consider the routines and rituals that surround bedtimes and naptimes, as well as wakings. What aspects of self-care is your child ready to be in charge of? Should she be brushing her own teeth in the morning while you still help at night? If so, being consistent in this routine will prevent arguments over whose turn it is tonight. Are there other responsibilities or chores (bed-making, clearing dishes, etc.) that your child is now ready to take over? Is there a particularly difficult part of your day that could be simplified with a more specific, consistent routine? This could include a routine for placing shoes and bags in a designated area upon returning home, a routine for cleaning up playthings, or for how and when you host playdates. Routines help to make these behaviors habit, and cause less worry about what will happen “next time”.
Summer is also a great time for teachers to consider the routines within their school day. What is your plan for arrivals and departures? What will your daily schedule look like, and how will you handle transitions between activities? How will you include the children in classroom responsibilities?
Being thoughtful and intentional in even the smallest routines helps us to create consistency as well as a balance in meeting the child’s need for order/flexibility, indoor/outdoor time, noisy/quiet activities, and so forth.
Summer is a great time to prepare. For teachers, it is often the time when we look at the year as a big picture, and create routines that will support those larger goals. For parents, it is a perfect time to tweak existing routines and introduce new ones, without the added stress of a new school year. When we prepare our children and ourselves by teaching these new routines during the summer, we will find habits already established when the new school year rolls in. This adds to the consistency and familiarity when there are already enough new things to take in. While bedtimes in the summer may not be the same as they are in the fall, you can still work on the routine of bedtime – the activities that consistently take place as you prepare to go to bed.
Summer is also a great time for introducing new routines because you are forced to implement some flexibility into your schedule. This is important for teaching your child how to adjust to changes. Different children crave different levels of order and consistency, but all need some semblance of order along with a guard against rigidity. When changes to your routines and schedules arise – as they inevitably do – prepare your child ahead of time, talking him through the order of the events so that he can mentally prepare for those changes. If your child relies on picture schedules to track the day, prepare for changes by making changes to their pictures as well.
So while you’re feeling footloose and fancy free this summer, do spend some time considering the routines that make your life run smoothly, and think about how to fine-tune them oradd to them. With our routines running smoothly, we free up time and mental energy to truly savor the summer.
Top photo by Horton Group.
Sand photo by Armin H.