Ready, Set, Routine!!

The Importance of Routines in Children’s Lives

By Maci Elkins, MSW, Program Manager

Lower Shore Early Intervention Program


How many times have you heard that kids need routine?  Your pediatrician, your mother-in-law, your child’s teacher, your best friend, your child care provider--  all these people may have mentioned to you or your partner the importance of routines in your child’s life.  So what’s the big?  Are routines really that necessary for children?  Simply put, yes.  Routines involve repetition.  Repetition involves predictability. Predictability involves stability. Stability involves security.  Kids crave routines because routines make kids feel safe and secure.  On a very basic level (keeping in mind that is how young children function) routines reassure children that their needs will be met. Routines also provide opportunities for children to experience success in what they are doing, which then promotes self-control and self-esteem.


As adults, we have the advantage of controlling many aspects of our lives.  Often we are able to arrange things (work schedules, child care, friendships, appointments, etc.) to enhance convenience and reduce hassle, making life just a little bit easier and probably a bit more enjoyable.  How would you feel if you had no idea what to expect in your day?  What if you didn’t know why you were leaving the house, where someone was driving you, when you were going to eat next, where you could go to use the bathroom, or when you were going to get back home again?  Children don’t have the privilege of arranging their days the way adults do; they have very little control over their environments.  Consequently, children try to find ways to control their surroundings, often resulting in undesirable outcomes, such as tantrums, defiance, and other inappropriate behaviors.  Routines and schedules help kids make sense of their day--morning, noon, and night--and know what to expect.  This reduces anxiety and apprehension, and allows for more time for kids to enjoy and learn from their surroundings instead of stressing out about them.


When the school year ends, structure often does too, at least for many children.  No longer are families required to structure their lives around school and school activities. Summer allows more time for kids to relax and explore through fun and play.  However, maintaining a routine throughout the summer will provide boundaries for children to know what is expected of them. Having regular meal times and sleep times, and even regular chores (which instill a sense of responsibility), will continue assuring children they can trust and count on their parents (and other adults) to care for them and meet their needs.


Dr. Laura Markham, on her website outlines the following “benefits for using routines with your kids:”

1. Routines eliminate power struggles because you aren't bossing them around.  This activity (brushing teeth, napping, turning off the TV to come to dinner) is just what we do at this time of day.  The parent stops being the bad guy, and nagging is greatly reduced.

2. Routines help kids cooperate by reducing stress and anxiety for everyone.  We all know what comes next, we get fair warning for transitions, and no one feels pushed around.

3.  Routines help kids learn to take charge of their own activities.  Over time, kids learn to brush their teeth, pack their backpacks, etc., without constant reminders.  Kids love being in charge of themselves. This feeling increases their sense of mastery and competence.  Kids who feel more independent and in charge of themselves have less need to rebel and be oppositional.

4. Kids learn the concept of "looking forward" to things they enjoy, which is an important part of making a happy accommodation with the demands of a schedule.  He may want to go to the playground now, but he can learn that we always go to the playground in the afternoon, and he can look forward to it then.

5. Regular routines help kids get on a schedule, so that they fall asleep more easily at night.

6. Schedules help parents maintain consistency in expectations. If everything is a fight, parents end up settling: more TV, skip brushing teeth for tonight, etc.  With a routine, parents are more likely to stick to healthy expectations for everyone in the family, because that's just the way we do things in our household.  The result: a family with healthy habits, where everything runs more smoothly.