Family Routines: Why They're Important and How to Form Your Own

Contributed by Dr. Reina Patel

A routine, or an activity that happens at about the same time and in about the same way each day, gives your child comfort and a sense of safety. Some examples of routines are:

  • Washing hands before eating.
  • Finishing homework before watching TV.
  • Going to the playground together every Saturday morning.
  • Playing Frisbee with the dog every day after school.

Why are routines important for children?

A routine helps to organize your day or time so the family can get things done, as well as spend quality time together. Routines also:

  • Promote self-confidence and positive behavior.
  • Help children during stressful times such as moving to a new school or city, birth of a sibling, illness or death in the family, divorce, or during developmental changes.
  • Teach healthy habits (like brushing teeth, exercising/being healthy, cooking fresh foods together, or regular reading time).
  • Help you set age-appropriate expectations for your kids (like putting their own toys away, picking out clothes for school the night before, taking out trash, setting dinner table, cleaning up in kitchen, putting plates or laundry away, making their own beds).
  • Bring you and your child closer together and give you time for valuable discussions.

Why are routines important for parents?

  • Once children learn their routines, it means less nagging time for parents = less stress!
  • You can plan better for each day and week (example: if Sunday is always homemade pizza night, that helps with grocery shopping decisions and decreases the bickering over dinner choices).

How do I form our family's routines?

  • Remember, a routine that works for one family may not work for yours.
  • Keep the steps simple and make them age-appropriate.
  • Involve your child. They will be more likely to cooperate if they are part of the plan.
  • Use charts with photos or drawings showing the order of steps. This way you and your child create the routine, instead of you "telling them what to do."

How do we maintain our routines?

  • Feel free to tweak a routine until it feels right for your family.
  • Give warnings to stay on schedule. (Example: "In five minutes, it will be time to put away your cars and get ready for bed.") Some kids may need a 2-minute warning. And finally, "Okay, time to pick up your cars. Would you like some help?"
  • Stick to the routine as much as possible. If children take too much time for one activity (like brushing teeth or putting on pajamas), then give them a friendly reminder: ("Remember, bedtime is 8 pm. We may only have time for one story if you don't finish quickly.")

About the Expert: Reina Patel, D.O., is a pediatrician and mother of two little rambunctious children. She has been practicing in the Dallas area since 2007.