There’s something very comforting in the things we do on a regular basis. These routines offer for us a security and a sense of safety around what is expected. For instance, it is good to know that dinner is usually served around 5:30 PM every night. Or there is a typical series of things we do in the morning to get ready to go to work or school. Contrast that to situations where our routines are thrown off or we must cope with unexpected interruptions in your morning routine. These situations usually create stress and stress can significantly impact you and your child’s level of functioning.
What tends to happen in homes when there are inconsistent routines is that children will tend to react in a stressed manner. This can result in emotional dysregulation, noncompliance, or even anxiety.
Routines allow us to be able to predict what will be occurring in our lives. This sense of knowing what lies ahead is often very comforting for our children. It is when these situations become more unpredictable, that greater difficulties can arise.
Now it is not realistic to think that you are going to be able to anticipate every change in a routine for your child. What is more realistic though is setting up routines for your child to help things go more smoothly in the home.
For instance, getting out the door in the morning is often a stressful time for many families. As a parent, you know there are certain tasks that your child needs to complete in order to be able to go off to school more successfully. Those things might be brushing their teeth, eating something in the morning, making sure they are dressing appropriately for the weather, etc.
With this example, a parent could do a picture or written schedule their child should follow most mornings. This helps both the parent and a child anticipate what needs to occur and plan on how to make that happen. When this is not present, things become more stressed as a family system which can lead to upset, yelling, and other negative exchanges in the morning.
Look at the various times of the day (e.g. morning, after school, and evening) and ask yourself, “Does my child have a set of expectations or tasks they need to do during those times of day?” “Is it written out?” Start with one of those time periods and draw up a brief list of what your child needs to do. Have a conversation with your child to seek their input as to the expectations. Then implement your expectations. There will likely be some adjustments you will need to make but having concrete written expectations provides a level of certainty for your child.
Paradoxically, this helps create a sense of safety for them. Children who have especially experienced trauma in their lives need to be able to anticipate and predict what will occur in their life. When they were exposed to traumatic situations, many of these episodes occurred outside their ability to control the situation. Routines offer stability, and emotional safety to children since they will be able to anticipate what is expected of them in a very real and concrete way.
For parents, these routines also help you to be able to support your child as well as help them develop some of the internal structure they will need to have in order to follow routines and expectations in whatever setting your child as part of.
The side benefit to you is a child who is more emotionally regulated and more compliant as a result.