Parenting Tip: Consistent routines bring predictability and comfort to your child’s world
Posted Jan 28 2010 2:20am
I was talking to a mom the other day who sighed dispiritedly and asked, “Why is it my three year old has to protest every direction I give her?” It’s a good question and the answer has to do partly with development and partly with temperament.
First, developmentally, young children are faced with lots of tasks and transitions without being in control of very much. For example, when they get up in the morning, they might cuddle with a parent a little, visit the bathroom, play with a toy, perhaps watch a morning cartoon, somewhere in there is breakfast and getting dressed. These daily events can feel rather arbitrary when they are dictated by the adult in charge. If you are a preschooler absorbed in playing with your dinosaurs and a grownup suddenly expects you to drop everything and run to the table for breakfast, you will probably object.
Second, you have to consider the child’s temperament. If your child is slow-to-adapt (resists and adjusts very slowly to changes), then sudden changes will feel scary or uncomfortable and your child will protest. If your child is intense, then his response to such changes (things as small as being asked to use a red cup instead of his regular blue cup at lunch) will be strong.
Tool—A very useful way to avoid the emotional upset these children experience (and then inflict on others) is to rely on routines. When a child knows the sequence of a daily routine, he or she will cope better with the regular transitions and occasional changes.
“A very regular routine is the friend of a slow-adapting child,” says pediatric nurse Helen Neville, author of Temperament Tools: Working With Your Child’s Inborn Traits. A predictable daily routine will go a long ways toward helping a child feel safe and grounded. If a child knows what to expect, doing a task at a certain time will feel familiar and more like a habit than a request from a parent. A habit is much less likely to be challenged than a request.
Very active, intense temperaments, such as the Active-Alert personality type described in psychologist Linda Budd’s book Living With the Active Alert Child: Groundbreaking Strategies for Parents, also benefit greatly from absolutely clear and consistent routines. “Build them around daily habits such as bedtime, tooth brushing, dressing, and mealtimes,” advises Budd. “Try not to skip a routine, because every time you do, your active alert child will notice it and challenge you when you seek to reinstate it. When you change the order of your child’s life, he will try to negotiate it the next time around. Your child will say, in effect, ‘Brush my teeth? I didn’t have to do it yesterday after breakfast, why do I have to do it today?’”
Without established routines, your child may believe she is doing a task or a favor for you. When that happens, there is a strong likelihood she will question the need to do it at all. But if brushing her teeth is a consistent part of her daily routine, she can begin to understand that it is for preventing cavities, not just to please you. Sticking to the routine of daily brushing communicates to your child that she is doing the task for herself. This message will help prevent power struggles.