Five questions about routines

Five questions about routines

1. What should I do if my child is reluctant to start his evening routine?

When children have to stop doing a fun activity and start getting ready for bed, it’s normal for them to become frustrated and dig in their heels. “Giving your child a few minutes’ warning will often do the trick,” says psychoeducator Sarah Barbeau. You can set up an hourglass or a timer to give your little one a clearer sense of time.

Here are some more tips for getting your child to cooperate:

  • Give him simple choices. Ask questions such as “Which toy do you want for bath time?”, “Do you want to turn off the music or should I?”, or “Do you want to choose the story or should I?”
  • Create pictures to go with each step in your child’s routine. This can help your child gain a sense of responsibility. When she sees an image, she’ll know what to do without needing you to remind her.
  • Make routines fun. Caroline gets creative when her three-year-old daughter, Lélia, doesn’t want to take her bath. “I take a doll and pretend it’s asking her to come play in the water.”

These are just a few suggestions. You can also try hopping to the bathroom like a kangaroo, putting toys away while singing, arranging your child’s pyjamas in the shape of a person—the list goes on!

2. Can routines make it harder for my child to handle unexpected events?

Most children like routines because they provide a sense of security.

According to Nicole Malenfant, a childhood education teacher at Cégep Édouard-Montpetit, this shouldn’t be a major concern. While routines add stability to a child’s life, unexpected events will still pop up on occasion. A parent might get home late from work and have to skip bath time, or the daycare educator might fall ill and be replaced by a substitute for the day. It can be disorienting at first, but most young children naturally learn to take the unexpected in stride.

Weekends can be a handy time for getting children used to change. “Weekends are more relaxed,” says Patrick, father to five-year-old David-Michaël. “My son goes to bed and gets up later. Nobody’s in a hurry. Our only routine is going to see the grown-ups play hockey at the local rink!” As for Justine, age 5, weekend mornings mean getting to watch TV—a big no-no during the week. “That doesn’t cause any confusion,” says her mom, Stéphanie. “She understands that things aren’t always the same.”

3. My child is extremely attached to routines. Should I be worried?

 Some children are more anxious by nature and become upset at the slightest change in their routine. “Whenever possible, prepare your child by going over any changes with her ahead of time,” suggests psychologist Nathalie Parent. “Without making a big deal of the situation, tell her you know that she’s unhappy or worried. Acknowledging your child’s emotions can calm her down by making her feel understood.”

To help your little one get used to change, try skipping a step in her routine now and then or reversing the usual order. “A good way to get your child on board is to make it a game,” says Barbeau. “For example, every Friday, you could put pictures of each step in her evening routine into a hat and have her choose one at random. Whichever one she pulls out will be the one you start with that night. It’s fun for your child and adds flexibility to her routine.”

If, however, your child is so attached to her routine that she has trouble sleeping or can’t function properly (e.g., she becomes disorganized, throws tantrums, or has less of an appetite) if it changes, you should seek a doctor’s advice.

4. How do I get back into a routine after coming back from vacation?

While a break from routine can feel like a breath of fresh air, it can also be hard to get back into the swing of things! When it’s time to return to their routine, children may act out. They may challenge the rules, have trouble falling asleep, become more irritable, and even take a step backward in their development (e.g., by wetting the bed).

“To make things easier, try to maintain a degree of balance while you’re on holiday,” suggests Parent. “For example, you can put your child to bed later than usual without pushing his bedtime back too far.” You can also keep up certain aspects of your child’s routine. This will show him that some things don’t change, and you won’t have to start from scratch once your vacation is over.

Another effective strategy is to start up your routine a few days before your vacation ends. Try putting your child to bed and waking him up a little earlier each day, for example, having him take his bath and put on his pyjamas when he normally would, or setting out his clothes the night before. “It also helps to remind your child that he’ll be going back to school or daycare soon and to explain what his days will be like after the holidays,” adds Parent.

5. Should my ex and I have the same routines?

“Parents who are separated can’t have exactly the same routines, but ideally, they should be fairly similar,” says Malenfant. “This is particularly important before the age of four, as young children have a strong need for stability and reference points. The more predictable their environment, the safer they feel.” In other words, it’s a good idea to find some sort of middle ground with your ex when it comes to routines.


Photos: Maxim Morin


Naître et grandir

Source: Naître et grandir magazine, October 2018
Research and copywriting: Nathalie Vallerand
Scientific review: Solène Bourque, psychoeducator