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A Blog from Your Kaiser Permanente Pediatricians in Northern California

Mother and kids leaving house

Why Routines Are Important

Your mornings are a hectic blur of trying to get resistant kids out the door on time, right? Then, you end up each day exhausted from trying to get them to go to back bed. Yup, I get it. I’ve been there.

Dr. Michele Evans, a pediatrician colleague and expert in child abuse, recommends parents use “rhythm, regularity, and routine” to help their kids behave well and make your days go more smoothly.

If children know what to expect, they’ll feel more secure and less likely to act out. Sticking to routines can make every day easier!

But how do you get to this blissful ideal? Here are some tips.

Create routines together with your kids. Start with one difficult time of the day – like bedtime – and ask your child to help you. “What are the things we need to do each night to get ready for bed?” Then make a list together: take a bath, put on PJs, brush teeth, use the potty, read 2 books, kiss goodnight, and lights off.

Decide together what needs to be done by letting your child have some say.

  • Create a tracking chart together: Let them decorate it and help decide where to post it.
  • Ask questions and let your child tell you the steps of a routine, instead of you telling them. For instance, if they want to put shoes on in the morning before they brush teeth, try it. This will help them cooperate.

Break a routine into smaller steps and ask them to remind you what’s next.

  • Instead of saying, “Get ready for bed,” say, “It’s time for bed, what do we need to do?”
  • Post pictures of the various steps as a reminder.
  • Check off the steps on their chart.

Practice the routine together, when you’re not rushing.

  • Do a few items at a time, and gradually work up to doing the whole routine.
  • Appreciate your child’s efforts and praise their work.
  • Ask for their help sticking with the routine going forward.

Set a good example and hold kids accountable to routines. Here’s some ways to do that:

  • Say, “I noticed you haven’t put your shoes on. Please do that now.”
  • Ask: “What did we agree to about brushing teeth?”
  • Don’t lecture, nag, or do it for them. Just wait, right in front of them, until they do what they agreed to do.

Prepare them for changes in the routine. If you know a routine will be disturbed, discuss that ahead of time. Knowing what to expect makes kids feel safe and calm – unexpected changes can really throw off some kids.

Plan to check in and see if the routine needs adjustments.

  • Ask your child what steps they think are working.
  • Share your ideas on changes that might make things smoother.
  • Offer appreciation and encouragement to continue the teamwork.

All these ideas can work even with older kids, too. For instance, they can have routines for doing homework: coming home from school, having a snack, playing at the park for an hour, or relaxing in their room.

With teens, when the routine isn’t going well (such as they’re repeatedly late leaving the house for school), checking in with them to ask what they might need to change can help get things back on track. “I’ve noticed you’ve been having trouble getting off to school on time recently – what do you think might help?” You’ll need to be willing, curious, and listen to their ideas – collaboration and respect works.

Children thrive on routines – they feel calmer, safer, and are less likely to misbehave when their days stick to a familiar routine. This advice won’t solve everything, but it’ll go a long way to getting kids out the door or into bed on time – and without driving you crazy!

Disclaimer: If you have an emergency medical condition, call 911 or go to the nearest hospital. An emergency medical condition is any of the following: (1) a medical condition that manifests itself by acute symptoms of sufficient severity (including severe pain) such that you could reasonably expect the absence of immediate medical attention to result in serious jeopardy to your health or body functions or organs; (2) active labor when there isn't enough time for safe transfer to a Plan hospital (or designated hospital) before delivery, or if transfer poses a threat to your (or your unborn child's) health and safety, or (3) a mental disorder that manifests itself by acute symptoms of sufficient severity such that either you are an immediate danger to yourself or others, or you are not immediately able to provide for, or use, food, shelter, or clothing, due to the mental disorder. This information is not intended to diagnose health problems or to take the place of specific medical advice or care you receive from your physician or other health care professional. If you have persistent health problems, or if you have additional questions, please consult with your doctor. If you have questions or need more information about your medication, please speak to your pharmacist. Kaiser Permanente does not endorse the medications or products mentioned. Any trade names listed are for easy identification only.