Six Tips to Get the Most out of Your Child’s Routines

Six Tips to Getting the Most out of Your Child’s Routines

Lasondra Burks
Kim Perry


Contributed by PEP family support specialists, Lasondra Burks and Kim Perry

Why Your Child’s Routines are Important

We humans like routines. They create a structure to our days and provide a reassuring predictability to our lives. They anchor our activities, and they make us feel comfortable. Routines are not just nice to have; they are important for our mental health. Your child’s routines are no different.

For kids, especially those dealing with anxiety or other mental health issues, routines can provide a degree of comfort and certainty. When the world feels chaotic and unpredictable for kids, (as it clearly does right now as we navigate the evolving phases of the pandemic) parents can buffer the stress their children feel by establishing routines that will help them anticipate many aspects of their days.

There are several ideal times throughout the day where routines work well. Examples include when a child wakes up, when they get ready to go to school, at mealtimes and at bedtime. While routines can be very helpful, implementing them successfully takes time, patience, and a little know-how. Once you’ve created a routine for your child, there are a number of ways to help ensure it succeeds. Check out these six tips for getting the most out of your child’s routine.

Six Tips to Maximize Success

  1. Make sure you are regulated yourself. It will be very difficult for your child to benefit from the schedule you have created if you are not calm when you are guiding them through it. Before you start, check in with yourself on how you’re feeling. If you find yourself needing some support, check out this resource for some helpful tips on how parents can self-regulate.


  1. Prepare ahead of time. Nothing will throw a schedule off like not being able to find the things you need when you need them. Perhaps you’ve worked with your child on a morning routine that includes getting dressed and then eating breakfast. If the child is unable to find their shoes, your whole schedule may be derailed as you look for their footwear. Instead, prepare ahead of time and lay out clothes the night before. Make sure all the things you will need to successfully carry out the routine are available and where they are supposed to be.


  1. Use the Premack Principle. The Premack principle, often referred to as grandma’s rule, is when you use a desirable activity to reinforce a less desirable activity. In other words, have your child do a more difficult or undesirable task first. Then, once it’s done, allow them to do a more desirable task. As part of an after-school schedule, for example, you might have your child complete their homework first and then go outside to play. At bedtime, you might have them brush their teeth before you read them a story.


  1. Try visuals. There are many ways you can make a schedule more visual, such as a written checklist on a white board or pictures of the desired behaviors in order. There are also many online resources, such as this one from twinkl or this one from A Day in Our Shoes, that have printable schedules.


Another type of visual that can help with keeping to a schedule is a timer. If a child always runs out of time, the visual of sand in an hourglass can help them stay focused on the task.


  1. Remember each child is unique. Be flexible and use a little experimentation to see what techniques work well for your child. Perhaps your child loves the satisfaction of putting a check mark in a checkbox. A visual schedule that allows them to check off their activities once they are complete might be very motivating. Another child, however, may not be motivated in the same way by this visual prompt but will move willingly through a routine to get to a more desirable activity at the end.


It’s helpful to keep this principle in mind when developing the activities that are part of the routine, as well. For instance, some children may be “morning people” and jump out of bed full of energy. Others may need more time to wake up. A schedule that allows the first child to start their day by walking the dog may be rewarding and appropriate for that child. It probably wouldn’t be a good strategy with the second. Instead, the second child may need a gentle wake up warning and a few extra minutes to stay in bed before getting up. Your child’s routines should reflect their uniqueness this way.


  1. Involve the child in developing the schedule. Not only does it help you understand what a child prefers, involving the child creates buy-in. If they helped create it, they are more likely to stick to it.

These tips can help you create successful routines for your children and teens, which will help them anticipate their days. The repetitive nature of doing the same thing day after day, is comforting to kids and provides structure. Predictable structure helps them to self-regulate.

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