Why do child development experts keep proclaiming that routines are so terribly important? How can it possibly matter what time mealtimes and bedtimes occur? Can a family’s habits make a difference in important outcomes for children?
The answer is YES.
Research shows that predictable, stable routines matter ― a lot. In the immediate context for children, routines are important because they provide a rhythm to the day and ensure that children are getting the attention, nutrition and rest that they need in order to thrive.
When intentional routines are in place and followed through, parents can be assured that children’s needs are being met. Children feel safe when they know what to expect and feel secure within their home environment. This safety and security fosters healthy brain development and social-emotional growth.
Researchers have documented the link between regular family routines and children’s emotional health and social adjustment. Scientists analyzed data on over 8,500 children and found that young children who regularly participated in family activities such as reading, singing, story-telling, playing and mealtimes with family members demonstrated increased levels of social-emotional health.
These healthy children were able to recognize and identify both their own emotions and those of others, to express their emotions in positive ways, and developed and sustained healthy relationships with both adults and other children. Researchers typically view social-emotional health in preschool children as a strong predictor of later school success.
Recent research has uncovered long-term benefits to stable routines as well. Adults who experienced regular sleep and mealtimes as well as consistent participation in extra-curricular, extended family and community activities as children, demonstrated a significantly higher level of time management skills and sustained attention as adults in a study conducted at the University of Albany. Researchers found a strong link between regular childhood routines and the ability to successfully manage time and attention in adult behavior.
It may seem daunting to many parents to maintain regular routines. Often, despite the best of intentions, planned schedules become disrupted and the best-laid plans go awry.
Like New Year’s resolutions in late January, intended routines set in place on Sunday fly out the window by Tuesday afternoon. Perhaps children are asked to attend an unexpected sports’ practice. Homework may take longer than anticipated or a missing ingredient throws off dinner preparations and timing.
Sometimes big life events occur that are so overwhelming that simply tucking the children into bed after reading a short bedtime story at a decent hour becomes an impossible feat of heroism. When illness, depression or life-changing decisions loom, other more mundane issues can easily fall by the wayside.
The good news is that routines do not need to be rigid in their structure, nor is it necessary for routines to be a specific set of rules and regulations. When families have manageable routines in place, life can become simpler instead of adding complications.
Unlike in formal settings such as in the military, at school or in workplaces, home routines can be flexible and relaxed. If routines are regarded as a predictable rhythm and flow to the day, complete with consistent expectations and clearly defined roles, they can become more helpful than cumbersome.
As you reflect on your own family routines, ask yourself the following questions:
What routines do our family already have in place? Chances are that you already have an ebb and flow to your day that can provide that framework for a manageable routine.
What are the important elements you would ideally want your family routine to have? Research has identified the following categories as having high significance:
-nurturing interactions (time spent giving full attention to a child)
-mealtimes as a family
-bedtimes (for adequate rest)
-shared storytimes (reading, story-telling, singing, rhyming)
What can you eliminate from your current schedule to simplify your life? Are there some areas of your life where you can ease expectations in order to spend more quality time interacting with your children?
Instead of setting a rigid time schedule for your family, try organizing your weekdays into categories and establish an order of events.
Remember that each family’s priorities, expectations and routines will look different. Find what can work for you and your family.