The Importance of Routines: A roadmap for love and learning

deti-ne-poseshchayushchiye-detskiy-sad-08What a cold snap at the end of December!  How tempting to stay nestled under one’s down duvet late into the morning, and just take the day as it comes. Unless you are tag teaming with another caregiver, this is likely not a description of your past few weeks. Whether cold or warm outside, with children under your roof, having a routine throughout the day has many benefits for love and learning. Here are 5 reasons for incorporating routines into daily living with toddlers and preschoolers:

  1. Routines help to create a sense of security. A regular routine provides the opportunity to experience growth and mastery and gives children the sense that they can rest in our care. As outlined in Deborah McNamara’s recent book, Rest, Play, Grow (2016), all growth takes place from a place of rest. The predictability of routine helps to create the secure base which provides that place of “rest” for children that frees them to do their most important work – to explore the world around them.
  2. Routines reduce power struggles. Without routine, each “request” can turn into a tug of war. Routines are a way for parents to “let go of the rope” but still keep the lead and be in charge. The activity just becomes what is done at that time of the day (e.g., get dressed, eat breakfast, brush teeth), and can diminish a child’s tendency to “push back”. For example, if it is bedtime, the parent can refer to a visual schedule, “It is time for bed”, and offer set choices within the routine (e.g., “Would you like your blue pajamas or your red pajamas?”).

    visual schedule

    Example of a bedtime routine visual schedule

  3. Routines help children cope with transitions. Routines help children cooperate: by knowing what comes next, and by getting advanced warning that a transition is coming up, no one feels bossed around. To bolster a child’s good intentions, be proactive by filling your child’s emotional cup throughout the day. As parents, we make sure that children are fed at regular intervals, but we sometimes forget that we also need to satiate their attachment hunger at regular intervals as well.  By “connecting before directing”, we help to keep their hearts soft and use the vital connection of our relationship to empower us in our parenting.
  4. Routines are an important opportunity for learning. There are a multitude of opportunities throughout the day for connection; mundane moments can be transformed into rich language and social learning experiences. Daily routines provide two key ingredients for learning; relationship and repetition. Often in our busyness, we can think of mealtimes, diaper changes, or bath time as tasks to get out of the way so we can move on to the next, more important thing. However, there is wonder within these everyday moments, hidden in plain sight, if we have the eyes to see it.
  5. Routines promote health and safety: Setting up routines such as washing hands before snack and after using the washroom, or holding on to a parent’s hand when crossing the street, are important habits for health and safety.

There are many developmentally normal characteristics of preschoolers that can make this phase in parenting challenging.  Young children do not yet have the ability to temper their emotional responses, and they can swing from one emotional experience to the next with no moderation or middle ground.  Incorporating routines into daily living is one way to help create a map for both parent and child to make life easier.

The ideas above were inspired, in part, by the following:

Samples of visual schedules can be found at:

Blog article written by: Dr. Karen Colburne

Dr. Karen Colburne is a registered clinical psychologist in Alberta and obtained her Ph.D. from Concordia University in Montreal in 2000. Her training and career have taken place at major pediatric centers such as the Montreal Children’s Hospital, the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario, and the Alberta Children’s Hospital. Dr. Colburne has extensive training in supporting families with children who have special needs, as well as in the area of parent-child attachment. She has a passion for helping parents discover the wonder of the world through the eyes of their children, and for strengthening early parent-child relationships. She is currently in private practice in Calgary, AB.  In her spare time, she enjoys hiking, camping, and cross-country skiing with her husband and two children.

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