Now Is the Right Time!
As a parent, you play an essential role in your child’s success. There are intentional ways to grow a healthy parent-child relationship, and daily routines provide a perfect opportunity. Routines not only help your family move through the day smoothly and on time, they can have a significant impact on your child’s success. Children ages 5-10 are establishing critical habits like getting ready for school, completing their homework, and going to bed at night that can have lasting impact for a healthy future.
Yet, we all face challenges in establishing routines. “Why do I have to go to bed when you get to stay up?” you may hear from your child. While children often engage in power struggles when they have other goals in mind like wanting to play longer, using the steps below can help navigate this struggle with skill.
The key to many parenting challenges, like establishing routines, is finding ways to communicate so that both your needs and your child’s needs are met. The steps below include specific, practical strategies along with effective conversation starters to prepare you.
Whether it’s engaging in a bedtime battle with your five-year-old, your second grader refusing to get their backpack ready, or your nine-year-old struggling to complete math homework, establishing regular routines can help your family get through the day cooperatively while building vital skills in your child.
Today, in the short term, routines can create:
- regular sleep, which helps children perform better in school;
- greater cooperation and motivation as we go about our daily tasks;
- more connection and enjoyment;
- more trust in each other that we can complete our responsibilities; and
- added daily peace of mind!
Tomorrow, in the long term, your child:
- develops a sense of safety, security, and confidence;
- builds skills in responsible decision making, hard work, and persistence; and
- deepens family trust and intimacy.
This five-step process helps you and your child establish routines. It also builds important skills in your child. The same process can be used to address other parenting issues as well (learn more about the process).
These steps are best done when you and your child are not tired or in a rush.
Step 1. Get Your Child Thinking by Getting Their Input
You can get your child thinking about establishing routines by asking them open-ended questions. You’ll help prompt your child’s thinking. You’ll also begin to better understand their thoughts, feelings, and challenges related to your daily routines so that you can address them. In gaining input, your child:
- has a greater stake in anything they’ve designed themselves (and with that sense of ownership also comes a greater responsibility for implementing the routine);
- has more motivation to work together and cooperate because of their sense of ownership;
- will be working in collaboration with you on making informed decisions (understanding the reasons behind those decisions) about critical aspects of their day; and
- will grow problem-solving skills.
Consider which daily routine needs work – morning, homework, bedtime? Questions you could ask include:
- “Let’s think about our typical day.”
- “What do we need to do when we get up in the morning?” (brush teeth, eat breakfast)
- “What do we like to do in the morning?” (watch a program, play)
- “What can be challenging when it’s morning, and we are trying to get to school on time?” (Ask key questions about those specific challenges to really understand what’s challenging for your child.)
- “I notice we tend to slow down when it’s time to get dressed. Why is that time a struggle for you?”
Step 2. Teach New Skills by Interactive Modeling
As parents, it’s easy to forget that children are learning to perform everyday typical tasks with greater independence each year of their lives. Though your child may easily pull a shirt over their head, that same child might struggle with tying their shoe. Learning about developmental milestones can help a parent know which tasks might be more difficult. Here are some examples:
- Five-year-olds are working on their fine motor skills and may struggle with tasks like tying shoes or buttoning shirts. They may need more support in these areas.
- Six-year-olds may be more apt to question your rules and refuse to proceed with the routine.
- Seven-year-olds crave structure so they may not be able to deal well with a chaotic morning that does not follow that typical routine.
- Eight-year-olds may have a limited attention span, so if a task is too challenging, they may drop it and move on.
- Nine-year-olds may be highly competent with fine motor skills but can become easily frustrated; they need directions that contain one instruction.
- Ten-year-olds have bodies that are growing rapidly so they require more movement; they also are developing a strong sense of right and wrong and fairness.
Teaching is different than just telling. Teaching builds basic skills, grows problem-solving abilities, and sets your child up for success. Teaching also involves modeling and practicing the positive behaviors you want to see, promoting skills, and preventing problems. This is also an opportunity to establish meaningful, logical consequences for when expectations are not met.
- After talking about the routine and its challenges in Step 1, brainstorm solutions to your identified challenges. For example, when talking about your morning routine, you may have identified that you tend to start nagging when it’s time to get dressed. Generate ideas together.
- “What exactly about getting dressed is a struggle for you?”
- “What ideas do you have to deal with those struggles?”
- Now write down or draw your plan with each simple step. Let your child do the writing or drawing so that they feel a sense of ownership over the plan you are developing.
- For ages 5-7: Get out a poster board, newsprint paper, or just plain paper and markers. Have your child or children write out their routine in the simplest terms such as: 1. Wake up! 2. Get dressed. For young children, they can draw instead.
- For ages 8-10: Create a checklist together of their routine on a whiteboard or chalkboard. Children at this age enjoy checking off a list.
- Post their plan in a visible location.
- Teach your child how to perform the routine. Particularly if there are new responsibilities or challenges, be sure that you’ve tried those steps out together first.
- There is a simple process called interactive modeling that teachers use that can become a powerful teaching tool for parents.1
- Say what you will model or demonstrate and why.
- Model or demonstrate the behavior.
- Ask your child what they noticed.
- Invite your child to try it.
- Ask what they noticed with their own modeling.
- Practice together.
- Provide specific feedback starting with strengths using “I notice…”
- There is a simple process called interactive modeling that teachers use that can become a powerful teaching tool for parents.1
Don’t create the plan when you are either in the routine itself, are hungry or tired, or have time pressures.
Step 3. Practice to Grow Skills, Confidence, and Develop Habits
Your daily routines can be opportunities for your child to practice new skills if you seize those chances. With practice, your child will improve over time as you give them the chance with support. Practice grows vital new brain connections that strengthen (and eventually form habits) each time your child performs the routine.
Practice also provides important opportunities to grow self-efficacy – a child’s sense that they can do a task successfully. This leads to confidence. It will also help them understand that mistakes and failures are part of learning.
- Allow your child the chance to try out the routine, taking responsibility for their own tasks – even when you know you could do it faster and better.
- Be sure and consider how you can create the conditions to support their success (like making sure they wake up with enough time to complete their morning routine).
- Initially, practice may require more teaching, but avoid taking over and doing it for your child.
Step 4. Support Your Child’s Development and Success
At this point, you’ve taught your child a new or challenging task, and you are allowing them to practice it so they can learn how to do these new tasks well and independently. Now, you can offer support when it’s needed by reteaching, monitoring, coaching, and, when appropriate, applying logical consequences. Parents naturally offer support as they see their child fumble with a situation in which they need help. This is no different.
- Initially, your child may need active support. Use “Show me…” statements and ask them to demonstrate tasks or even the whole routine for you. When a child learns a new skill, they are eager to show it off!
- Recognize effort by using “I notice” statements like, “I notice how you went in to brush your teeth after breakfast without my asking. That’s taking responsibility!”
- On days with extra challenges that make completing routines harder, proactively remind your child to help them be successful. In a gentle, non-public way, you can whisper in your child’s ear, “Remember our next step? What is it?”
- Actively reflect on how routines are going. You can ask questions like:
- “How are you feeling when it’s time to get dressed? Is it working to select your clothes in the morning? Or do you need to set them out the night before?”
- “Seems like you got to bed later than we hoped last night. Were you feeling tired today? Did you have a hard time paying attention in class?”
- Apply logical consequences when needed. Logical consequences should come soon after the negative behavior and need to be provided in a way that maintains a healthy relationship. Rather than punishment, a consequence is about supporting the learning process. First, get your own emotions in check. Not only is this good modeling, when your emotions are in check you are able to provide logical consequences that fit the behavior. Second, invite your child into a discussion about the expectations established in Step 2 for the routine. Third, if you feel that your child is not holding up their end of the bargain (unless it is a matter of them not knowing how), then apply a logical consequence as a teachable moment.
Don’t move on or nag. Children often need more time to perform tasks that challenge them even if we believe they are simple and don’t require much time. Be sure to wait long enough for your child to show you they are competent. Your waiting could make all the difference in whether they are able to do what you need them to do.
Logical consequences should not be used as a threat to get your child to complete their routines. Threats harm the relationship with your child and decrease your child’s decision-making skills.
Step 5. Recognize Effort and Quality to Foster Motivation
Though adults tend to forget, your attention is your child’s sweetest reward. It’s easy to get caught up in the busyness and business of getting tasks accomplished to get to work and school on time in the morning. But, if your child is working hard to get to school on time – even in small ways – it will be worth your while to recognize it. After all, your recognition can go a long way to promoting more of the same positive behaviors and expanding your child’s sense of competence and responsibility. You can add to your child’s motivation to work hard with the following actions.
- Recognize and call out when it is going well. It may seem obvious, but it’s easy not to notice when all is moving along smoothly. When children are completing their homework tasks on time, for example, a short, specific call out is all that’s needed: “I notice you completed your homework today on your own in the time we agreed upon. Yes! Excellent.”
- Recognize small steps along the way. Don’t wait for the big accomplishments – like the full bedtime routine to go smoothly – in order to recognize effort. Remember that your recognition can work as a tool to promote more positive behaviors. Find small ways your child is making an effort and let them know you see them.
- Build celebrations into your routine. For example, after getting through your bedtime routine, snuggle together and read before bed. Or in the morning, once ready for school, take a few minutes to watch a favorite cartoon together. Include hugs, high fives, and fist bumps in your repertoire of ways to appreciate one another.
Avoid stickers, gifts, or other physical rewards for performance. These actually have a de-motivating effect on children. When you remove the candy, for example, have they internalized the skills and also the sense of responsibility for performing them? There’s less of a chance if you’ve offered a “bribe.” Focus on your attention as the best reward.
Be specific. “Good job” seems to not carry much meaning. However, a specific compliment about a pointed behavior – “You put your game away when you were finished; love seeing that!” – can promote more of the same.
If you focus only on outcomes – “You got out the door on time” – you miss the chance to influence the process. Better to say – “You were able to brush teeth, make your bed, and come downstairs right on time.”
Engaging in these fives steps is an investment that builds your skills as an effective parent to use on many other issues and builds important skills that will last a lifetime for your child. Throughout this tool, there are opportunities for children to become more self-aware, to deepen their social awareness, to exercise their self-management skills, to work on their relationship skills, and to demonstrate and practice responsible decision making.