One parenting tool that I have seen work time and again, but which is so difficult for many parents to adopt, is having a daily routine or rhythm. This simple technique can improve so many aspects of daily life, including moodiness (in both parents and children), power struggles, eating problems, bedtime struggles and sleep times, and so much more.
Many parents struggle with the idea of a routine. They feel as though they are not organized enough. They have a varied schedule during the week and so a daily routine seems impossible. They feel like it is too much work to maintain the same routine day after day or it seems like a chore. They feel that a routine is too constraining and doesn’t allow the child to follow his or her own lead, or that it doesn't leave time for impulsive play. However, a daily rhythm or routine can work for ALL of these people.
The trick is to not make it too rigid, if rigid doesn’t work for your family. Now, I will also say that if your family needs rigid, by all means, go for rigid! When Sofi was a toddler, rigid was the name of the game. She had to be eating by certain times every day or she just couldn't handle life. So I had alarms set for snack and meal times to remind me to start cooking before she lost it. It worked well for us at the time and it kept a lot of peace in the household. Luckily, the boys haven’t needed so much structure and Sofi has grown into being able to wait longer to eat. So the past several years we haven’t been so rigid.
So, how does one go about making a rhythm for their family? Start off with some utensil for making a list - pen and paper, computer, smart phone, whatever works for you. See how flexible this is already?! Now, think about what your family already does every day. Probably, you eat a few times. Perhaps there is a nap involved. You probably all go to bed at some point. Perhaps there is another daily event, like homeschooling, that typically happens every day. Perhaps you brush your hair and teeth every day. Perhaps you typically - even for part of the year - play outside every day (or your kids do), or just have a free play period every day. Just jot all of that stuff down.
Now, start putting it all in order of how you usually do these things. Include anything that anyone does, even if it happens simultaneously. Our day typically looks a lot like this:
Daddy wakes up early.
Sofi wakes up. Daddy may send her back to bed or it may be late enough for her to stay up.
Daddy and Sofi hang out and make their breakfast.
The boys wake up.
Mommy wakes up and gets dressed.
Mommy makes breakfast for anyone who hasn’t eaten yet.
Daddy leaves for work if he hasn’t already.
Everyone eats breakfast and cleans up the table.
Structured homeschool activities (math, spelling, sight words, whatever we happen to be working on at the time).
Kids get dressed.
Brush everyone’s hair and teeth.
Lunch time (anywhere between 11 and noon).
Elliott naps while the big kids play and Mommy does chores or computer work.
Afternoon free play and Elliott wakes up at some point.
Eat dinner - ideally between 5:30 and 6:30.
Bedtime alarm goes off and we do bedtime routine.
So, you can see, the only things on my list with any times attached are lunch and dinner, and even they are a bit flexible. The bedtime alarm does go off at 7:30 every night, but if we are still at the table, we run late for bed.
Also, we tend to only follow this routine during the week - the weekend has its own sort of routine. And, we don’t follow the routine to a T every day, either. On Tuesdays, for instance, we have swim class after lunch. But, we simply replace the portion of the afternoon routine that we would normally do with the Tuesday swim class routine - we don’t overhaul the entire day because of the change.
Our routine is very flexible, but it allows the kids to feel that they have some control over their days. They know what is coming. They know what to expect. There is no struggle most days, because they know what will happen and they don’t fight it. And if there is a part of the day that they fight - we figure out what the struggle is and how to make it less struggle for everyone.
Another nice part is that if there is something I need to happen every day, or that I’d like to add in to our day, I just look at the routine and figure out when it would be best for that to happen, and set a reminder on my phone. Then, it just becomes habit since it is part of the routine, and we all get adjusted to it.
Does your family use a routine? What does it look like at your house?
Labels: Mindful Parenting, Parenting 101