In this blog and vlog, we are going to explore the following:
- What is a routine?
- Why is a routine vital?
- How to create a routine?
- How to know if the routine is ‘just right’?
After you watch the video and read the blog, you will be able to create a routine that not only allows you and your family to survive, but to thrive!
Key words and their definitions in accordance with how they are used in this blog and the video:
- Self: a person’s awareness of themselves and the way in which they think and feel about themselves.
- Autonomy: from the Greek roots ‘auto’ meaning self; ‘nomos’ meaning custom or law. It means a person’s ability to self-regulate; to make their own choices.
- Anxiety: a feeling of unease, worry or fear, that can be mild or extreme.
1. What is a routine?
From the French word ‘route’ meaning ‘way, path, course’, it evolved in the late 17th C to ‘routine’ meaning repetition of a set behaviour.
Why is a routine vital?
A routine allows everyone to know what is expected of them and when they are expected to do it. By creating this, it is clear and easy to see whether something is completed or not.
Routine helps children to develop greater autonomy and to learn new skills, as they are able to practice specific tasks. For example, if they routinely brush their teeth at a specific time for a certain amount of time, they will learn when they need to perform this task, and for how long they need to do it. After time, they will begin to gain confidence in their ability to complete the task independently, instilling in them a sense of pride in their achievement. Although this may seem like a small feat, if you are not having to constantly nag your child to do it, imagine how much happier you’ll both be? If you are not having to focus on reminding them, then those few minutes can be spent on something else. And, finally, if a child masters this, they will feel empowered to take on more challenges as they know that with repetition they will improve. You will also have a reference point to illustrate that by doing something routinely they will improve and you can remind them of these small achievements.
A carefully implemented routine helps to establish boundaries and develop values. For instance, if you and your family eat meals regularly at a set time, then your child learns that family time is important. You are instilling this value in your child.
For children who experience anxiety, a routine can help create a sense of security and calmness, as they have stability and a sense of certainty. You can also allocate time for them to worry. This may seem counter-intuitive, but there are many reasons why this is helpful.
First of all, worrying is not in itself a harmful activity. In fact, worrying can serve us and be useful. For example, studies have shown that worry can be a great motivational tool. This is because if someone is concerned about something, they may be motivated to take action; or, to seek further knowledge. Another way in which worry is useful is that it helps to buffer people emotionally. If people brace themselves for the worst, then it helps to mitigate negative emotions and prevent them from spiralling. On the flip side, if someone is concerned about something, and it turns out better than they had expected, their feelings of elation and joy are greatly elevated. As a result, both the bracing and worrying have an emotional pay-off once the outcome is known.
Secondly, allowing your child a set time for worrying gives them the space to vent their concerns. They are then reassured that their worries will be heard, and so they do not have to ‘worry’ about expressing them. By knowing they have allocated time to worry, it will prevent it from spilling over into their day-to-day activities, so they are not consumed with worry.
3. How to create a routine?
Sitting down with your child and allowing them to take ownership of their routine is vital in setting up a schedule that your child will consistently commit to. So, how to do this? Allow your child to sit down and contribute to the schedule. This effectively empowers your child to have a voice and so nurtures and develops their sense of ‘self’ and autonomy.
If your child deviates from the routine, you can remind them that they helped to construct it. Doing this should be from a place of trying to find out why the child is not sticking to it, and not to be used as a weapon to guilt-trip them; or, to manipulate them. This effectively sets them up to exercise their power of choice.
Power of Choice
What is ‘power of choice? Power of choice refers to someone’s ability to be able to take action in selection. Reminding a child of the routine they helped create, allows them to engage in taking action in selecting what they are going to do. Perhaps they have not completed a reading task. Rather than instantaneously deducting time from their free-time, you can ask your child what they will do to complete that task, and still have time to do what they please.
It is worth noting that children can be overwhelmed by choice. Thus, it is imperative that you follow these steps to help your child to be empowered by choice, and not be over-powered by choice.
Empowering your child with choice:
Step 1: Give them eye-contact. You may need to position yourself to be at their level.
Step 2: Give them a clear choice. Either between 2 options; or, they come up with a solution.
Step 3: Give them lots of praise to positively reinforce their selection of choice.
Using these steps helps to avoid power struggles, since you are allowing your child to take responsibility and have a say.
Moreover, having a routine helps to motivate your child to manage themselves. For example, if your child has to do some studying before having free-time, you can acknowledge that you know they want to have that time to themselves. They thus have a choice: do the task as quickly as possible to the best of their abilities, and then they will be able to move on. The longer they procrastinate, the longer they will not be able to have that time – it is their choice what they do. By doing this, you are also helping them to concentrate, as you are engaging them emotionally; the reward of doing the task outweighs the gratification of not doing the task.
Although you want to create choice and allow your child to contribute, you may also want to consider Mark Twain’s advice:
If it’s your job to eat a frog, it’s best to do it first thing in the morning. And if it’s your job to eat two frogs, it’s best to eat the biggest one first.
Now, this is not saying feed your children frogs (unless it is a delicacy for you!) What it is saying, is that you should prioritise a task that you dread the most. The reason being is that the longer it is left, the more the negative emotions surrounding it will build up to the point where procrastination sets in and further delays occur.
Priming your child
Priming your child is also helpful in reducing resistance to tasks. What this means is that if your child is on their phone; or, playing in the garden, and you want them to move on to do some homework, you let them know that they have 15 mins’ left, 10 mins’ left, 5 mins’ left. It therefore prepares them for the next task and helps to mitigate the emotional charge surrounding the next activity.
To further assist your child with tasks, you can ‘chunk down’. What this means is rather than making a general statement, such as: “Clean your room”, you break it down into manageable chunks. For instance, you may say, “Take all your toys from the living-room and put them in your toy-box”. Or, rather than saying, “Do your homework”, actually have a look at what they need to do and help them break it down. For example, if your child has a research task on the Tudors for History, break it down into clear ‘bite size’ topics (the monarchs, the fashion of the time, attitudes towards women, to name but a few). If you have a teenager who has to do an essay on Shakespeare, encourage them to break down the question by identifying key words, so they can focus on one part. In doing this, it will help them to concentrate on the question and answer it fully, rather than being weighed down with the perceived magnitude of the task.
Being overwhelmed with tasks, seems particularly commonplace for children today. Since schools are closed, many teachers are using online platforms to set work, such as ‘Sam Learning’ and ‘Educake’. Now, these are great resources, but when a child sees they have over 100 tasks to do, it is very demotivating! Panic and dread quickly set in, rendering the child incapable of knowing where or how to start, so they just give up. This has been the reality for my 14 year old brother. He showed me, via Skype, the 100 tasks for English, the 80 tasks for Maths and the 60 tasks for Science! His protests that the school had set him more work than he would have done at school seemed to be true. Why had the school done this? They want to ensure children have enough work and are kept busy.
However, for my brother and his classmates, they were over-scheduled. This left him feeling helpless, so he was not focusing on the work, only the amount of work. The only subject he seemed to not mind doing was Maths. When asked why, he stated that although there were a lot of tasks, they had been broken down into topics. Within each topic, there were clear learning objectives; examples of the work and a clear expectation of what he had to do. He had to work through some questions relating to the topic and then do an end of topic test to consolidate his learning. Over Skype, I sat with him and broke his other subjects down according to their topics. This helped him to see the trees through the woods; or, the essays through the books.
Now, you may be thinking that you are not an expert in the subject. Do not let that hold you back from helping your child set up a routine that works. You can group the work according to categories. For example, he had Spanish work to do. I do not know Spanish, but I do know that to learn Spanish. You need to cover: Speaking & Listening and Reading & Writing. I also know that there are specific topics for each of these, such as: home life, describing your city, food & drink, pets, the environment, to name a few. Working together, we were able to get really specific with his work. This allowed him to have clarity with what he was doing. He also had tasks that were manageable and the outcomes measurable, so once he completed it, he felt good. Remember, concentration, focus and attention is impacted immensely by how we feel. Thus, if he felt good, he was more likely to engage with the subject and so be productive.
4. What are the indicators that the routine is not ‘just right’?
These are some indicators that the routine is too much:
- Your child is over-tired;
- Your child is moody and uncooperative;
- Your child does not want to play and have fun;
- Your child complains of headache, stomach-aches and generally feeling ill.
These are some indicators that the routine is lacking:
- Your child seems to get into a lot of mischief;
- Your child is easily angered;
- Your child is clingy and needy
- Your child lacks confidence in completing tasks.
In the beginning, when establishing a routine, it might be a challenge knowing what is ‘just right’ so do not be afraid to make adjustments.
There should be moments when your child has nothing to do. Being bored is not a bad thing. This encourages your child to think creatively and to design their own ways to entertain themselves. It also allows them moments to not be concentrating, so they can daydream or simply explore and be curious. More importantly, it allows your child to rest. Concentrating requires energy and takes effort.
A successful routine is used to:
- Empower both parents and children to know what is expected of them and when;
- It fosters shared values within the family, as they have shared experiences and it is clear what is important;
- Children gain greater autonomy and independence.
To give a routine the best chances of working, it is vital:
- That parents are consistent with the routine;
- That parents do not use the routine to manipulate children to do what you want;
- That parents are patient, empathetic and creatively engage with their children.
I would love to hear from, so please feel free to get in touch or leave a comment.
Let me know what’s working for you and what’s not.