There are some common expressions about “routines.” Expressions such as, “an apple a day keeps the doctor away” or “stuck in a rut” come to mind.
“An apple a day keeps the doctor away” could mean that apples are good for you and/or it’s important to eat healthy food regularly. Whereas “stuck in a rut” could mean boring or trapped but could also mean safe and secure.
Routine is consistently found to be important for children. Routines help infants and toddlers feel safe and secure in their environment. Young children gain an understanding of everyday events and procedures and learn what is expected of them as routines make their environment more predictable. Children also need to have predictable routines that have room for flexibility.
Infants and toddlers who have effective routines are often more engaged with their environment and the people around them. Katherine Arlinghaus and Craig Johnston reported in the journal AM J Lifestyle Med that bedtime routine is associated with increased family functioning and improved sleep habits. They also reported family routines have been linked to the development of social skills and academic success.
Important in this year of stress is the finding that sticking to family routines has been found to be important for family resilience during this time of crisis.
Research has shown individuals in good health have highly routine health behaviors. A healthy lifestyle includes the routine/habitual consumption of nutritious foods, regular physical activity and consistent sleep. Everyday routines are full of learning opportunities for young children. It’s a time to start teaching the importance of washing their hands or the importance of brushing their teeth.
Forming a routine can take a long time and is highly variable among families. These researchers also reported in a study in the United Kingdom the participants were asked to change one behavior such as eating a piece of fruit with lunch. They found it took an average of 66 days before this habit became automatic or routine.
Having a routine can be helpful at any time, particularly if you’re trying to establish healthy habits. Routines can be more important when life events cause uncertainty. During times of great stress, maintaining structure and routine can help people feel more organized and in control.
Routines play an important role in mental health. Routines help people manage stress and anxiety. The key is to create a routine that adds structure and a sense of predictability to the day. Sticking to a basic structure for when you will wake up, eat, work (at home or online school), do activities and sleep can help with the feeling of stress and disorganization.
One suggestion is to make a list of what is normally done in a day, so there’s an outline of what you need to accomplish. Such an outline is helpful for adults and children. Stress makes it hard to concentrate, so an outline helps focus on what is important.
Sally Robinson is a clinical professor of pediatrics at UTMB Children’s Hospital. This column isn’t intended to replace the advice of your child’s physician.