Establishing routines with our children is an effective and powerful way to set boundaries.
Setting limits helps our children feel safe, and allows them the freedom to focus on skill building and learning.
Our routines, though, may have unintended consequences.
If we spend the morning reminding, organizing and coercing our children in order to get out the door for school, what has our routine really taught our children?
Establishing good routines allows us to avoid power struggles and conflict within our family, replacing those issues with feelings of safely, trust and cooperation.
Learning important life skills and self-confidence become part of the package as our children learn to be responsible for their own behavior and exhibit competence and independence in their day-to-day activities.
Once a routine is established is seems to have a life of its own. Routines can keep us from always asking for help. If we have a mealtime routine, the table gets set, food gets on the table, dishes get into the dishwasher, food gets put away, pots get washed, and the kitchen is tidied–without us saying a word.
The first task in establishing a routine is visualizing what you want, when you want it, who is going to help you, and how you are going to feel when the routine gets established. I worked for many months to establish a snack time routine in my preschool classroom, implementing a new step in the process every week or so until the children did most everything without any adult interaction.
The key was that I had to have a plan and implement it task by task.
First I showed two of my five-year-old students how to put snack out on the serving table at 9:00 am. They were responsible for the time and getting snack on the table and ready to go. If they were late the other students gave them feedback. If children came to me wondering why snack was late, I directed them to snack patrol. I showed two other children how to make sure all the dishes were in the dishwasher and how to turn it on at 11:00 am. Each child was responsible for putting their own cup and plate in the dishwasher, and if a child forgot, he or she was reminded by the dishwasher brigade. Another two children were shown how to clean up the floor and put the tablecloth and serving dishes away.
To an outside observer the process looked effortless, but it took planning and time to implement the plan, which included me not jumping in to fix a situation.
Everything from house cleaning, meal preparation, bedtime and any other task-oriented event can benefit from an established routine. My two daughters and I used to clean our house together with a “power hour” going from room to room with each person knowing the routine of pick up, make up, suck up, and dust up—pick up the floor, make up the beds, vacuum and dust. Twenty years later all we have to say to each other is “power hour” and we’re on our way.
Visualize your ideal scenario, plan each step, implement each step carefully with plenty of time for skills to be learned… and have fun, establishing routines that allow all your family to feel like each member belongs and contributes to the good of your family. The benefits last a lifetime.