From meals to baths to bedtime, children need routines!
A child’s day is punctuated by routines: actions and events that are carried out in the same order every day, often at the same time. The more predictable your child’s day-to-day life is, the more secure they’ll feel.
A sense of security and autonomy
Routines help ensure that some of your child’s basic needs (sleep, hygiene, food, etc.) are met. But they also go beyond physical care. They also make your child feel secure and teach them to take care of their body and be more assertive.
Clearly established routines are reassuring for a child because they let them know what to expect and give them a sense of time. For example, when a child knows the steps of their bedtime routine, it makes them feel safe. This helps them fall asleep more easily, since they need to be fully relaxed and calm to doze off.
Daily routines can occupy up to 40 percent of a child’s day, depending on their age.
You can talk to your child during their routines to help them put words to these rituals and understand their purpose. For example, you can say, “It feels better to have a full stomach!” or “It’s nice to have clean hands—they smell good!”
Through routines, a child gradually learns to take care of themself: how to go to the bathroom on their own, wash their hands, brush their teeth, get dressed, and so on. For example, with a morning routine, your child learns that they start their day by getting dressed, which is followed by eating breakfast and then brushing their teeth. Knowing what to do and in what order gives them a sense of control. In this way, they develop autonomy, which in turn gives them a sense of pride.
Discover why routines are a good way to teach your child to control their behaviour.
You also help your child develop autonomy when you allow them to make choices during routines. For example, you can suggest two sweaters and let your child pick which one to wear. Giving them options, however limited they may be, can encourage your little one to take a more active role in everyday decisions. Depending on their age, they might even be able to put their sweater on by themself. If not, you can let them try and then step in if they need a hand.
Letting your child get dressed at least partway on their own will help them improve their coordination skills. It will also make them feel proud to be able to do things with less and less help.
At daycare, routines help children develop their social skills. For example, they gradually learn to wait their turn to use the sink.
Home and daycare: Separate routines
Children generally don’t have any trouble following one routine at home and another at daycare. They adapt to what’s expected in each environment and understand the differences when you explain them. However, some kids may get upset at certain times of day, such before naps or meals. If this is the case for your child, talk to their educator about what you can do to make their home and daycare routines more similar. The fewer differences there are, the less anxious your child will feel.
The secrets of a good routine
A practical way to set up routines for your little one is to choose key moments during the day. The most important ones include their morning routine (what they do to start their day) and their evening routine (what they do before bedtime). But it can also be useful to create routines around other daily activities, such as meals or tidying up after playtime.
It’s never too late to introduce routines
If you haven’t really established any routines with your child yet, it’s not too late. Your child may be a little stubborn at first, especially if they’re used to deciding what to do, but being patient will eventually pay off. Their bedtime routine is a good place to start, since it involves a sequence that’s easy for your child to understand: they put on their pyjamas after bathtime, read a story with you, etc.
Here are some tips for developing effective routines:
- Be consistent. Routines should be done the same way and at the same time every day. You and your child’s other parent have to agree to follow the same steps.
- Keep it simple. A routine shouldn’t have too many steps, otherwise your child will have a hard time remembering it.
Help your child develop good routines from morning to night. Download this Kittycat and friends routine!
- Be flexible. As your child gets older, you should adapt their routines to suit their age and ability. For example, if they’re now able to put their coat on by themself, consider adding this small task to their morning routine before daycare or school.
- Set a good example. Show your child that you have certain routines too! For example, when it’s time to clean up, you can tidy up the kitchen while your child puts their toys away.
- Involve your child. If your child feels like they have some say in their routine, they’ll be more willing to cooperate. For example, you can ask if they’d like to read a story before or after their bath. At the same time, they need to be aware that there are consequences to not following a routine. They should understand, for instance, that if they refuse to pick an outfit for the next day, you will decide on one for them.
- Make routines fun. To help your child remember and stick to a routine, try making a poster of it with fun illustrations for each step. You can also associate certain routines with songs. For example, you can sing the same song with your child whenever it’s time to clean up or wash their hands.
The benefits of school routines
Routines help children become organized and develop habits they can apply at school, such as getting dressed on their own before going outside, washing their hands after going to the bathroom, or putting their toys away after playtime.
Having routines at home will also make it easier for your child to follow instructions at school and get along with others. In addition, a child who has routines that make them feel safe and confident will be better able to learn in class.
Things to keep in mind
Routines make your child feel safe and confident.
If your child has routines at home, they’ll have an easier time following instructions at daycare or at school.
It’s never too late to establish routines with your child.
Scientific review: Solène Bourque, psychoeducator
Research and copywriting: The Naître et grandir team
Updated: April 2018
Sources and references
In Quebec, there are several different types of child care services (CPEs, subsidized and non-subsidized private daycare centres, family daycare services, and drop-in centres). To simplify the text, we have chosen to use the term daycare to refer to all child care facilities in Quebec.
Note: The links to other websites are not updated regularly, and some URLs may have changed since publication. If a link is no longer valid, please use search engines to find the relevant information.
Books for parents
Doyon, Nancy. SOS dodo : 10 raisons pour lesquelles les enfants refusent d’aller au lit… Éditions Midi trente, 2015, 96 pp.
Ferland, Francine. Viens jouer dehors! Pour le plaisir et la santé. Éditions du CHU Sainte-Justine, Montreal, 2012, 122 pp.
Karmel, Annabel. Repas et boîtes à lunch pour enfants. Éditions Broquet, 2015, 184 pp.
Martello, Evelyne. Enfin je dors… et mes parents aussi. Éditions du CHU Sainte-Justine, 2nd ed., Montreal, 2015, 150 pp.
Morin, Marie-Claude. Boîte à lunch pour enfants. Montreal, Éditions Modus Vivendi, 2013, 192 pp.
O’Gleman, Geneviève. Les lunchs de Geneviève. Éditions La Semaine, 2012, 312 pp.
Books for kids
Delaunois, Angèle. Pourquoi des lunettes? Illustrated by François Thisdale, Éditions de l’Isatis, 2008, 32 pp.
Delaunois, Angèle. Un vaccin pour quoi faire? Illustrated by François Thisdale, Éditions de l’Isatis, 2008, 32 pp.
Hewitt, Sally. Keeping Healthy. QEB Publishing, 2015, 24 pp.
Charlesworth, Liza. On the Playground. Illustrated by Louise Forshaw, Scholastic, 2015, 16 pp.
Martel, Sophie, and Marie-Hélène Tapin. Mon premier livre de yoga. Dominique et compagnie, 2013, 32 pp.
Morgan, Sally. How Do We Move? QEB Publishing, 2015, 24 pp.
Côté, Geneviève. Goodnight, You. Kids Can Press, 2014, 32 pp.
John, Jory. Goodnight Already! Illustrated by Benji Davies, HarperCollins, 2014, 32 pp.
Lallemand, Orianne, and Eléonore Thuillier. Bonne nuit, P’tit Loup! Éditions Auzou, 2014, 32 pp.
Primeau, Diane. Au lit, Dafné! Illustrated by Julie Cossette, Ma bulle éditeur, 2014, 28 pp.
Roberge, Sylvie. Au lit, Petit Gribouillis! Illustrated by Yves Dumont, Dominique et compagnie, 2012, 16 pp.