25 Mar Create a safe & supportive structure for your children
Creating a structured environment for your child gives them the foundation of physical and emotional safety and security, which contributes towards avoiding behavioural problems. Establishing a routine can be challenging, but once you have achieved it, it will make your and your own and your child’s life easier. In turn this will improve your relationship with one another, and also partners or other guardians. On the contrary if your child’s environment is unstructured and chaotic, they could feel unsettled, or anxious which is detrimental to healthy development. Having no plan in place will mean you will have to work harder to fit things in and get your own down time.
For younger children or babies, following a routine could involve feeding, naps and going to bed at certain times. And for older children it could be set times to do homework, watch TV or play out with friends.
Why is routine so important?
Children need rules to develop self-discipline and self-awareness, as well as understanding limits and boundaries. Having a routine also fosters independence, because as soon as a child knows it’s time to clear up after dinner, get ready for bed or prepare their bag for the next day, they will learn to do it themselves without being nagged. This can really help kids feel more confident and in control of their actions and decision making.
In a structured setting children learn how to cope with emotions of frustration and disappointment. As well as learning about delayed gratification. This emotional intelligence will equip them well for the realties of adult life.
How can we create structure in our children’s lives?
Establishing daily routines
Children can learn and thrive from consistency and predictability in a daily routine. It helps them to appreciate how life is easier when it’s organised. To establish routine on a daily basis, set meal and bed times at certain times of day and stick to it. It is important to be consistent with the rules here, or children will get confused about boundaries and may not respect them in other situations.
Set limits on how much time is to be spent on homework, visiting friends and screen time. If parents are co-parenting, having regular set days when they will stay or visit each parent will make it easier for the transition between the care of each parent. You can have a family calendar which lists everyone’s activities, in view for everyone to access.
Created structure in your child’s environment
Our physical environment affect the way we feel inside, and this is exactly the same for children. Allow children or teens a designated space for their stuff, they are responsible for keeping it orderly and not infringing on other’s space. Make sure all the family contribute towards tidying up in the house. You can use a family rota which lists everyone’s duties and a place to tick them off as you go. Store everyday essentials in easy to find places, and make sure everyone returns them to their designated spot.
Giving the routine time
Creating new routines can take time, so be patient. Science says it can take at least 21 days to form a habit. Remind your child of what they are to do, and after a while it will become second nature to them. Try rewarding consistency in keeping up routines, this could be with a start chart and a reward at the end of the week/month. Inject some fun into your routines by sharing a joke or story whilst carrying them out. Use this time to connect as a family.
Set some house rules
Creating rules will make your family home a happier place. What annoys members about other members? Is it that a teen is sick of their younger sibling entering their room? Is it that muddy shoes need to be taken off first? Is it that there’s a racket from everyone listing to their devices? Setting some basic rules like, respecting privacy, avoiding mess, keeping noise and distractions down can solve everyday arguments, and improve relationships. You can list these rules and display in a family space.
When to allow for flexibility
Although having set routines is great for children’s development (and adult’s sanity!) we also shouldn’t be turning our kids into robots and be too rigid about rules. Of course life itself can be unpredictable and we also need our children to be able to cope with this uncertainly.
Sometimes the most memorable occasions are the most spontaneous. Like going on an impromptu road trip, leaving the cleaning for one week, or having a late-night feast. Try to keep within your set boundaries at least 80% of the time, have weekends or set days when you allow limits to be ignored but explain to the children why that day is different. Perhaps it’s the weekend, a birthday treat or a particularly busy week so things will be done differently in that instant.
Changing structure as your child grows
As our kids grow up we can’t expect them to stick to the same rules. Routines need to be adapted for toddles and teens. This is something you can asses every 6 months or quarter. It is especially important to show children that if they respect the boundaries, they will be rewarded by getting more privileges and gaining trust. This will prevent conflict when it comes to the teenage years especially. Try not to be swayed by other parent’s rules, and have confidence in your own reasoning.
Having set structure to our lives, not only provides a stable base for our children to grow, but also offers adults the opportunity to get their own space, have designated ‘me’ or ‘us’ time and get help around the house. You may have to all compromise to create a good routine, but once you do it will improve family relationships and strengthen connection.