Is routine the secret to happy families?
I have a confession. It’s not something I would have admitted when I was younger, but the truth is, I’m happier when I have structure and routine in my life.
Don’t get me wrong, I love holidays too and the chance to abandon the usual routines. But after a few weeks of late nights and general chaos at home, it’s almost a relief when we all get back to school, work and regular activities. This Christmas break in particular seemed to involve a lot of travelling, late nights and excessive consumption of…well, everything.
While it may not seem fashionable or fun the reality is, in my experience, children thrive when they have a routine. And they’re not the only ones.
Certainly, doing the same things at the same time everyday, doesn’t sound very exciting. But routine is the framework around which more interesting, creative and stimulating activities can happen. If children are exhausted, not eating well or always disorganised they are likely to experience stress at home and school, which often manifests itself in disruptive behaviour and poor concentration. Not much fun for anyone.
Because babies and young children have no understanding of time, regular events during the day and week help them to make sense of the world and feel more secure. Establishing a good bedtime routine is a good place to start. I found bath, milk and story at a set time made it easier to get my children to bed when they were infants and a similar routine still works with my eight year-old daughter.
Children will inevitably face changes to their routine. Events such as a new baby, a divorce or starting school can be unsettling but if meal, bedtimes and other activities are the same, children cope better with the changes. Also, establishing routines when they are young such as brushing teeth and washing hands, means they become automatic as children get older. I wish I’d done this with other tasks too, such as tidying bedrooms, putting toys away, washing and ironing…ok, perhaps the last one is wishful thinking.
Of course, it’s important to adjust the routines as children grow up but teenagers benefit from structure just as much as younger children. They experience so many other hormonal and social changes, that consistency at home can be a welcome relief – although they may not show it! We have a family roast (or barbecue in the summer) every Sunday, so even if has been a busy week we have a regular chance to catch up with each other’s news.
Routines can also reduce arguments in our house. The children know when bedtime is, what’s acceptable screen time, when to leave for school and generally accept these long standing ‘rules’. My son has even started to establish his own routines such as organising his school books the night before, because he has discovered he’s “allergic to rushing in the mornings”.
Occasionally, household routines can backfire. My daughter is so keen not to be late for school, she is often dressed and breakfasted by 8am and then nags me to get ready. I can see who’s responsible for my son’s allergy to rushing in the mornings.
Sarah Kingsley is a freelance writer and a member of the BBC Parent Panel.