We know that having a routine is important for children in their early developmental years, but let’s unpack why it is so beneficial to their overall level of well-being.
Young children do not have a concept of time and thus they cannot judge the passing of minutes, hours and days. The only way they can understand the passing of time is through events e.g. nap time, dinner time, bath time, bed-time, play-time, story-time etc. This understanding of the sequence of different events in their day gives them a sense of predictability and structure which makes them feel more secure in that they know what to expect.
Just as routine and predictability are vital, experiencing change is also an important step in a child’s development. Having a set routine and a strong sense of security in that routine allows children to be able to approach any changes calmly and with confidence. Coping well with a change then helps them to develop a sense of mastery in dealing with the unexpected and as this sense of mastery is strengthened, they can then feel confident to tackle larger changes. However, without the foundation of structure and routine, they are likely to experience fear and anxiety when faced with the unknown and this will reinforce that they are not able to cope and can result in avoidance of anything unknown or unfamiliar.
Here are some of the benefits of having a routine at home:
- Children are likely to be better sleepers if they have a regular routine for nap-times and bed-times. Their body clock can adjust to their routine making it easier for them to regulate themselves.
- The same is true for having regular mealtimes and they are likely to be better eaters. Having a consistent time for meals will result in better bowel routines.
- Children who have a set routine are less likely to have meltdowns and display extreme emotional reactions to things. This is because of the sense of predictability and safety that goes along with knowing what to expect and reduces feelings of stress and anxiety.
- Routines help with establishing expectations e.g. children begin to expect and complete activities without issue e.g. “after play-time we need to pack away all the toys”. This then reduces the need for parents having to nag and repeat themselves as children know exactly what is expected of them.
- Having a routine can help with developing healthy habits e.g. the knowledge that every day after breakfast and before bed, teeth need to be brushed!
- A routine at home makes it easier to adapt to a routine at school.
If your child attends extra-mural activities for e.g. Toptots, it is important to stick to the weekly routine as it helps children to feel comfortable with the environment, the other people (parents and children) and with the activities. It is important to remember that programmes like Toptots (and other extra-murals) often follow a particular sequence of steps and each week builds on the skills of the previous week.
Written by Tamaryn Hunter – BSc (Occupational Therapy) – Occupational Therapist