Did you know that children are naturally wired to fear the unknown? From something as simple as trying a new food to more life-changing events like moving to a new house or school, surprises can be scary for kids.
When children fear the unknown, for better or for worse, negative behaviors are more likely to arise, and children are less likely to feel safe and secure. Children grow best in environments that are predictable. A schedule allows them to feel safe and gain a sense of independence, which, in return, allows them to develop stronger social and emotional competencies when unexpected times arrive.
A daily schedule might include breakfast, childcare or school, dinner, bath time and bedtime. Even adults thrive on a schedule. Routines, however, allow children to help in decision making while still providing consistency.
Routines support healthy habits. Developing morning and nighttime routines that incorporate tasks such as teeth brushing, bathing, picking out healthy bedtime snacks, or choosing fruit and vegetables to try at every meal create good habits. Children will resist less because it becomes part of their day. Much like adults, children learn from doing something over and over, and they are more likely to continue healthy habits into their adulthood if the habits are formed at an early age.
Here are three areas for developing schedules and routines to form healthy habits:
1. Create a daily schedule as a family.
· Give children the opportunity to see the order of their day. Adults often follow a schedule on a mobile device, computer, planner or wall calendar. Help children identify the order of events in the day on index cards with pictures and words or use a dry erase board.
· When a schedule changes, talk about the change and why it is happening. It may be for the day, or it may be long term, but discussing it with children ahead of time allows you to proactively handle potentially difficult adjustments. Always assume that even the little, daily changes can affect children differently than adults.
2. Create a bedtime routine and stick to it.
· Find an order of events that works for your family. That might mean books and then bath time, or it might mean brushing teeth, taking a bath and then books. Regardless, follow the order consistently. Allow children to choose the books they want to read and stick to the same number each night.
· Create a process of “closing down” for the night. It gives children opportunities to practice independence and is a simple way to create predictability. Let children pick out their pajamas, help dim the lights, lock the front doors and turn off the TV. When children have this agency, they are sending you the message that they’re ready for the next part of the day, and they feel pride in doing it by themselves.
3. Model flexibility and spontaneity.
· While it’s important to follow a consistent schedule and develop routines with children, it is unrealistic to assume that each day will run the same. Model for children how to react when something changes. A simple explanation might be an easy adjustment for an adult but can be overwhelming to children.
· Incorporate conversations about changes and get creative with ways to handle the unexpected to show children that surprises aren’t always a bad thing. For example, stop what you’re doing and go for a family walk. Or, if a parent is going to be late for dinner, talk about all the things that are still going to happen, even if they’re not home yet. These new changes can become a part of your future routines. Taco Tuesday anyone