Routines are important to the health and well-being of your family. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), children do best when routines are regular, predictable, and consistent.
This is a challenge for most busy families, especially working, single-parent households. The key is to create a routine that helps reduce chaos and create a comfortable, orderly home environment where everyone knows their role and feels prepared for the day. If your family has trouble establishing new routines, simply try to add 1 new routine each week or month to begin—like putting backpacks and important papers in their proper place after school. This can be a huge step in making the next morning that much easier. Once you find success with one routine, build on that and add another, and another.
The more you can get the whole family involved in creating a routine, the more likely they will take ownership of it—rather than feel like it’s a new “rule” that you are making them do. So ask your children what they think would help make the morning go more smoothly, or the after school hours more productive. Have a discussion with them about what would motivate them to stick with a new routine.
You can make checklists or reward charts for each child, or find a fun app for older children, to set up rewards and incentives.
Here are a few examples tips to get started:
You’ve heard it before, but it bears repeating and if you only add one routine, it should be this: Make a healthy breakfast a priority!
Breakfast has been associated with:
- Better memory
- Better test scores
- Better attention span
- Decreased irritability
- Healthier body weights
- Improved overall nutrition
Small children may need more time in the morning to get things done and may not be able to do quite as much for themselves as older children. Morning routine:
- Set an alarm and wake with plenty of time to get ready.
- Wash and brush hair.
- Get dressed.
- Eat a good breakfast.
- Make sure backpack, papers and lunch boxes are by the door.
- Brush teeth.
One tip from the AAP is to make sure you take a moment to say goodbye to your young child, give them a hug and say something positive to them as they walk out to the door. This small act makes a big impact on their day.
After school routines are sometimes the most difficult because of sports, after school activities and work schedules. Even if your child is in latchkey program or you’re not home when they arrive on the bus after school, you can set up an after school routine with rewards and incentives.
Here are a few things your child can do when they get home to help the next day go smoothly:
- Put backpack in its place
- Put important papers in a designated spot (Parents: your routine is to regularly review/sign papers and go over them with children)
- Clean out lunch box
- Do homework
- Change clothes & put dirty clothes in laundry (this is especially important if your child wears a uniform to school)
A simple, healthy dinner and an evening ritual is important to promote optimal health. A good night’s sleep is one of the best gifts you can give to your child and will help them to focus and learn at school the next day. These are the AAP’s sleep guidelines for school age children:
- Children 3 to 5 years of age should sleep 10 to 13 hours per 24 hours (including naps)
- Children 6 to 12 years of age should sleep 9 to 12 hours a night
- Teenagers 13 to 18 years of age should sleep 8 to 10 hours a night
Here are a few tips for evening rituals that promote a good night’s sleep:
- Set a time when all screens and devices are turned off
- Start bathtime and winding down early, at least a half hour or more before lights out
- Read together or allow older children to read in bed
- Sing a quiet song together or to your child
- Don’t allow children to take a screen to bed
If you have very young children, this article Brush, Book, Bed is a good start for establishing a healthy bedtime routine early in life.
Setting healthy routines doesn’t need to be complicated. Start with one or two small changes and gradually add new routines and expectations. Have conversations to ask for ideas from the whole family about the routines they would like to add to their day. Make sure to give yourself a routine and lead by example.