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Mornings can be a chaotic time in a household with young children, as adults try to navigate getting their children (and themselves!) dressed, fed, and prepared for the day in time for school, work, or appointments. Routines and schedules are helpful tools that allow us to stay organized, calm, and prepared. For toddlers and young children, routines help them understand what is expected of them and what will happen next. With predictability and repetition, children can feel safe and stay emotionally regulated. Routines and repetition are effective learning tools for children beginning to gain independence with daily living activities such as feeding themselves, dressing, and brushing teeth.
Designing a routine to your family and child’s unique needs
Is your child an early riser or are they slow to wake? Would your children benefit from down time to play with toys between activities or while adults get themselves ready? Do they perform better when they can have something to drink or eat right away upon waking? Do they need adult assistance to eat and dress or are there activities that they can perform independently?
There is no one routine that is perfect for all families. Play to your child’s strengths to set them up for success. The best routine is the one that works for you!
Schedule activities in a consistent order
Performing activities in the same order each day helps children understand expectations and can reduce resistance and power struggles. Perhaps your family likes to eat breakfast first prior to getting dressed and brushing teeth or vice versa. Keeping the order of activities consistent will help reduce resistance when it comes to following adult directives. One helpful strategy is to create a checklist or picture schedule for your child. Avoid power struggles by directing your child back to their schedule, asking them to name or point to the activity that comes next.
Establish school day sleep and wake times
A week or two prior to the first day of school, practice having your child go to bed in the evening and wake in the morning at times that match the expectations of a school day schedule. Making this change happen gradually over the course of several days may make it easier for your child before they need to go to school.
Most young children don’t begin to develop an understanding of how to tell time until age 5 or 6.
Using tools like a light-based ok-to-wake clock or an audio alarm clock with a familiar song can help your child understand when they should get out of bed in the morning.
Predictable evening activities such as bathtime, brushing teeth and reading books can help your toddler or young child wind down from the day and understand that bedtime is coming.
Keep task expectations the same
Is your child learning how to dress themself? Perhaps your child puts on their shirt and underwear by themselves, but you assist with long pants. Communicate with other caregivers as to what is expected of the child each day. This strategy can help to maximize your child’s understanding and minimize frustration.
Build in extra time
Despite our best efforts, things can always go awry. Maybe someone spilled their milk in the kitchen or had a bedwetting accident that needs to be addressed. Padding your routine with extra time will help reduce stress when you are running late or when the unexpected occurs.
Raising children is challenging, but by establishing consistent routines we can set up our children for success. If you could use some extra support in setting up effective routines, reaching out to a pediatric occupational therapist can help you discover strategies that are successful for your child and family.