Routines 101

Routines 101
Routines make up the better part of a young child’s day—and for good reason! Not only is a daily routine good for kids, but it can also make parents’ lives a lot easier.

Routines make up the better part of a young child’s day—and for good reason! Not only is a daily routine good for kids, but it can also make parents’ lives a lot easier.

When they know what to expect in their day, children feel safe and secure. For three-year-old Lélia, for example, weekday mornings follow a familiar pattern: rise and shine around seven, cuddle with mom, eat breakfast, play, pick an outfit with dad, get dressed, brush teeth, prepare backpack for daycare, leave at eight thirty.

Reassurance in repetition

“Routines are things that we do every day, in the same order, at the same time,” explains Nicole Malenfant, a published author and childhood education teacher at Cégep Édouard-Montpetit. “They make young children feel safe and reassured by providing stability and allowing them to predict what will happen next. Having a sense of control over their day minimizes their stress and anxiety.”

What age is the best time to begin introducing routines? “Routines often take shape on their own,” says psychologist and author Nathalie Parent. “But they’re easiest to establish around the six-month mark, when a baby’s schedule becomes more regular. And after about 18 months, children start to participate more actively as they become more autonomous.”

The concept of time

Routines help children predict what’s coming next and develop a sense of time.

One of the advantages of having routines is that they help children understand the concept of time. “Once the evening routine starts, a child knows he’ll have to take a bath, put on his pyjamas, brush his teeth, and listen to a bedtime story before going to bed,” says Malenfant. Most basic needs—such as eating, drinking, sleeping, bathing, and getting dressed—lend themselves well to routines. “Up until the age of five, routines make up about 40 percent of a child’s day,” Malenfant explains.

Increasing independence

Routines help young children develop autonomy, and they evolve as kids grow older. “At first, parents have to walk their children through each step; that turns into simply lending a hand, until eventually, the kids can do it on their own,” says psychoeducator Sarah Barbeau. “That’s how children learn to brush their teeth, wash their hands, get dressed, etcetera. They take pride in being able to take care of themselves. It boosts their self-esteem.”

To help your child become more independent, allow her to choose between two options during her routines. For example, ask if she would prefer to have a banana or an apple or wear her blue or yellow shirt.

A smoother family schedule

 Another great thing about routines? They eventually become second nature. “That’s why they’re super-handy in the morning, after getting home at the end of the day, and at bedtime, when there’s lots to do in not a lot of time,” says Barbeau.

Caroline, mom to Lélia and nine-year-old Sébastien, agrees. “When my son was younger, it was hard to get him to put away his toys and start getting ready in the morning and at night,” she says. “My husband and I eventually established routines, which made a big difference. We stopped having to repeat ourselves all the time. With Lélia, we’ve had routines right from the start, and that’s working well. She knows what she has to do.”

Routines don’t have to be limited to the start and end of the day. You can also incorporate them into other repetitive activities, such as trips to the park, meals, or cleanup after playtime. Not only will your child develop good habits, but your day will also go more smoothly.

What about siblings of different ages?

Every family has to figure out what works for them. Some parents might take turns taking care of each child. “That makes it possible to spend time with each one,” explains Parent. She adds that it can be helpful to stagger routines if the age differences are significant: for example, the youngest child can start getting ready for bed first, followed by the next eldest sibling.

Another option is to have the older kids help out with their younger siblings’ routines. From time to time, a big brother or sister could read to the baby in the family or help her get dressed.


It’s never too late to start

If you haven’t established routines with your child, it’s never too late to start. “Take things one routine at a time,” advises childhood education teacher Nicole Malenfant. “The bedtime routine is the best place to start, since that one’s the most important.” Parents should aim to build routines gradually, two steps at a time.

Your child’s evening routine, for instance, might start with taking a bath after dinner and then putting on his pyjamas. Once he’s gotten used to that sequence, add another two steps—maybe picking out a bedtime story and choosing an outfit for the next day. Keep doing this until the routine ends with tucking your little one into bed. “It won’t always be easy,” Malenfant warns. “Your child may not want to cooperate. But if you stay calm and keep trying, things should turn out okay.”


Photos: Maxim Morin


Naître et grandir

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