Children need – and thrive on – some type of routine. It helps them flourish both emotionally and with their education.

Every day is a steep learning curve for chil­dren, as they’re ex­posed to new things and sit­u­a­tions. With no life ex­pe­ri­ence, they tend to fear the un­known. This could ei­ther be a big life change, like start­ing at a new day­care, or a tiny hur­dle, like be­ing faced with a new vegetable to try. For our lit­tle peo­ple, these can all be stress­ful chal­lenges.

Routine, the practice of doing things in the same order on a regular basis, can bring stability and security to their lives. There are the ones that give the day a con­sis­tent rhythm – bed­time, bath time, and meal­times – and then there are the ones, such as out­door play and fam­ily time, that are an in­vest­ment in your child’s emo­tional devel­op­ment. Chil­dren need to learn to trust their world. They need to know what to ex­pect and what’s ex­pected of them.

Young chil­dren also need rou­tine be­cause they don’t have the rea­son­ing skills to know what’s best for them, and they don’t un­der­stand con­se­quences. For ex­am­ple, if they don’t go to bed on time, they don’t un­der­stand that they’ll be grumpy and tired the next day. Here’s why rou­tine can ben­e­fit both you and your child.

Young chil­dren also need rou­tine be­cause they don’t have the rea­son­ing skills to know what’s best for them, and they don’t un­der­stand con­se­quences. For ex­am­ple, if they don’t go to bed on time, they don’t un­der­stand that they’ll be grumpy and tired the next day. Here’s why rou­tine can ben­e­fit both you and your child.

1. ROU­TINE CAN HELP CHIL­DREN SUC­CEED AT SCHOOL

Re­search con­ducted by The Prince’s Trust shows that chil­dren who don’t have a reg­u­lar bed­time or meal­time achieve lower marks at school than those who have struc­ture and di­rec­tion in their lives. So, what’s at play?

Home is the prime en­vi­ron­ment in which the child’s po­ten­tial, mo­ti­va­tion, and per­son­al­ity is shaped. This is where they will start to learn all the skills they need to suc­ceed at school.

By meet­ing the ob­jec­tives given to them by their par­ents, chil­dren learn to en­joy mas­ter­ing tasks and pleas­ing their par­ents. This leads to self­con­fi­dence, cu­rios­ity, and other healthy at­ti­tudes, she says.

Yup, a good home rou­tine sets them up with many ex­ec­u­tive func­tion­ing skills that are cru­cial for an aca­demic set­ting – time man­age­ment, self­cor­rec­tion, crit­i­cal think­ing, mem­ory, re­spon­si­bil­ity and prob­lem solv­ing and plan­ning.

Rou­tine, she says, lit­er­ally helps the brain de­velop in pos­i­tive ways. The brain needs both love and rou­tine to grow and de­velop. This is be­cause a child needs rou­tine to feel safe.

When a child doesn’t feel safe, the stress hor­mones in their brain are go­ing to be a lot higher. This ac­ti­vates the lim­bic sys­tem (the “emo­tional” part of the brain), so the “thinking” part of the brain is less likely to be ac­tive.

If your child feels happy and safe, they’re more able to learn and in­ter­act in their en­vi­ron­ment in a healthy way. If they feel un­safe, a lot of their en­ergy is chan­nelled into mak­ing their world more pre­dictable in­stead – and that’s not go­ing into learn­ing.

2. IT TEACHES THEM DE­LAYED GRAT­I­FI­CA­TION

Rou­tine also helps chil­dren un­der­stand the dif­fer­ence be­tween “be­fore and af­ter”.

A young child’s brain is go­ing through ma­jor changes, es­pe­cially the part of the brain that’s able to plan ahead and make pre­dic­tions about the fu­ture. So, a rou­tine helps kids prac­tise these sim­ple pre­dic­tions. For ex­am­ple, ‘I know what’s com­ing next.

Cru­cially, mas­ter­ing this con­cept al­lows chil­dren to learn self- con­trol. For ex­am­ple, if they learn that they have to tidy their toys be­fore they can go play out­side, it helps them learn to de­lay grat­i­fi­ca­tion. This is the abil­ity to put off some­thing mildly fun or plea­sur­able now, in or­der to gain some­thing that is more fun, plea­sur­able or re­ward­ing later.

In our chil­dren’s worlds, which is all about in­stant grat­i­fi­ca­tion – Google for an­swers, Youtube for en­ter­tain­ment, and on­line shop­ping for any­thing they dream of – wait­ing for some­thing in a controlled way is a cru­cial life skill. Again, she con­firms that re­search has shown that chil­dren who are able to de­lay grat­i­fi­ca­tion do bet­ter at school than those who can’t.

3. THEY’LL BE HEALTH­IER ADULTS

Talk­ing of “screen time”, and get­ting our chil­dren mov­ing is in­creas­ingly a chal­lenge – which is why it’s so im­por­tant to build con­sis­tent time into their day for them to be ac­tive.

This will keep them fight­ing fit but will also have last­ing ben­e­fits.

A team at the Univer­sity of Cal­i­for­nia con­ducted re­search that shows that ac­cess to ex­er­cise in child­hood in­creases the vol­un­tary choice to do ex­er­cise in adult­hood.

4. IT SETS THEIR BODY CLOCKS

A reg­u­lar bed­time rou­tine – go­ing to bed the same time every night and wak­ing the same time every morn­ing – is im­por­tant to a child’s day­time func­tion­ing. Our bod­ies are pro­grammed to do cer­tain things through­out the day.

For ex­am­ple, when the sun starts to set, our bod­ies start to pro­duce the hormone mela­tonin, which makes us sleepy. Having those regular points in the day is thus important from a bio­log­i­cal point of view.

Re­search pub­lished on the site Sci­encedi­rect shows that chil­dren who have a two-hour dif­fer­ence in bed­time across the week are six times more likely to dis­play hy­per­ac­tive be­hav­iour. It’s called “so­cial jet­lag” – the dif­fer­ence in sleep times af­fects your child’s cir­ca­dian rhythm or “body clock”. This is the daily cy­cle that tells our bod­ies when to sleep, wake and eat. When your cir­ca­dian rhythm is dis­rupted, sleep­ing and eat­ing pat­terns can go out the win­dow.

5. ROU­TINES RE­DUCE POWER STRUG­GLES

If you’re fol­low­ing a rou­tine, a child knows what will hap­pen next, but you can also use the struc­ture to em­power them with mak­ing de­ci­sions. For ex­am­ple, you can let them choose a bed­time story or de­cide if they would like to bath be­fore or af­ter they’ve brushed their teeth. Be­cause they feel in con­trol by be­ing given sim­ple choices, they’re less likely to throw a strop when you ask them to com­plete a task.

For tod­dlers you may need to re­mind them of the process. For ex­am­ple: “I know you want a bis­cuit. But it’s time for our walk. Re­mem­ber, af­ter walk time, it’s snack time.”

As the par­ent, you be­come a part­ner in that rou­tine, rather than the per­son who’s telling the child to “do this” and “not do this”. When chil­dren feel em­pow­ered and in­de­pen­dent, they’re less likely to rebel or re­tal­i­ate.

6. ROU­TINES HELP CHIL­DREN COPE WITH TRAN­SI­TIONS

Switch­ing from one ac­tiv­ity to the next can be chal­leng­ing for some kids. Rou­tines help them prac­tise the tran­si­tions that hap­pen dur­ing the day. For ex­am­ple, switch­ing from play­time to nap time; or leav­ing the park to go home. Be­ing able to change ac­tiv­i­ties with­out feel­ing stressed is a cru­cial skill for chil­dren in prepa­ra­tion for preschool.

7. IT FOS­TERS FAM­ILY BONDS

It can be difficult to gather the family around the table for every meal, incorporating at least one shared meal into your daily routine. Switch off the TV, sit at the ta­ble, and talk to each other.

This is the time to build your family bonds and speak to each other about your day.

It’s not just about the feel-good fac­tor. There are many ben­e­fits.

It’s about con­nec­tion, and we can’t learn and develop without links to other peo­ple. If a child doesn’t have anyone regulating them, their brain is stressed. So, they need that quality time to help them be co-reg­u­lated.

Your chil­dren will also learn how to take turns in con­ver­sa­tion, lis­ten to oth­ers, wait for food to be served, and help you clean up.

These are all great so­cial skills that will help them later on in school and life. They’ll also lap up lan­guage and vo­cab­u­lary. Clever tot!

8. IT ES­TAB­LISHES HEALTHY HABITS

Prac­tice makes per­fect. From get­ting them dressed to brush­ing their teeth, rou­tines help es­tab­lish healthy habits, and they’ll learn to bet­ter man­age their time. As they grow older, they’ll have more self- dis­ci­pline in terms of groom­ing and other habits.

THE IM­POR­TANCE OF FLEX­I­BIL­ITY

They say rules are made to be bro­ken. Routines need to be flexible. The importance of spontaneity and cre­ativ­ity cannot be overstated. They need to be shown that it’s okay to deviate from a task and come back to the routine because that’s what happens in life.

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