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PD Tool Card: Routines

Posted Jul 29 2010 1:57pm
In our most recent Family Conference, we used the problem-solving portion to create a Routine Chart for bedtime. The experience of creating and using it has been somewhat straightforward and predictable--and has also yielded some surprising (to me) information about one of my children.

Most parents are familiar with the need for routines and many of us use them outside of parenting, too. As someone who loves to know what to expect (I'm a "J" on the MBTI test, if you're into that sort of thing), I tend to enjoy routines: creating them, using them, wearing them like old fuzzy slippers. Love. 'Em.

Other people I happen to live with (coughcoughBrendancoughcough) tend not to love the formalized routines so much. But I submit that even those crazy wonderful people use and benefit from routines--they just might not know it, or care about it as much, or not get all excited to see a routine delineated on a big white chart with colorful markers.

By the way, I distinguish routine from schedule. A schedule is an activity (that could be part of a routine) that needs to occur within a fairly tight time frame. Routines are more general, and somewhat more flexible. Before I was beaten down by learned how to relax a bit let go of my perfectionism had three kids, I was a big believer in schedules-with-a-capital-S. Now I'm a lot more fun and chill, and a whole standard deviation's (or two) worth less obsessive, I leave the scheduling to people who run movie theaters. I prefer routine over schedule, especially when it comes to children (because nothing will make you learn how to not worry about what time something happens like having children, especially more than one!).

And it so happens that there is a Positive Discipline Tool Card for Routines!


The card says: "Help children create routine charts to encourage responsibility." And lists the steps to making an effective routine chart.

The first step is the most important one if you want that "encourage responsibility" portion of the program (and I'm supposing that you do): "Create routine charts WITH your child." I will speak from experience as a parent, and remembering from childhood, that nothing gets a person less interested in a chart than one that's presented to him as a done-deal. Even now, if you gave me a list of things to do--even if I knew it was my responsibility to handle those tasks (such as for the AOS or work around the house)--I'd be irritated and resentful of your bossing me around. And guess what? So are my kids!

We also created a Bedtime Chart, but this process can be used for many different types of routines. Our bedtime process was all over the place--literally and figuratively. It's still my responsibility to get Sean down to sleep, and his routine is necessarily different from the older kids. Even where the routines overlapped--they all three need teeth-brushing, for example--there was no consistency in remembering (on my part or Brendan's) and no easy way to figure out who had done what. Basically it's been too chaotic and unorganized for the likes of me. (I suspect everyone else wasn't as bothered by it as I was.)

So what we did at our Family Conference is worked together, all of us (except Sean who keeps milking that "I'm a Toddler" excuse for all it's worth). I actually got out a large easel pad, similar to the type I use in parenting workshops with Kelly, and my fancy-schmancy Mommy Markers (fascinating to the children as I selfishly reserve them for my own projects and do not lend them to others). I explained the process, and we all brainstormed the things that needed to get done before bed.

This is what they came up with (in no particular order)
  • Brush Teeth
  • Put on pajamas
  • Read a story
  • Big Hug and Kiss from Mom and Dad
  • Tuck In

We were missing what (in my opinion) is a very important step, so I suggested Use the potty. Oh yeah! Good one, Mom! And hence, one of my ulterior motives for this routine chart was addressed.

Next came my other two motives: Wash face and hands (because holy smokes, that needs to be done on occasion), and Pick up clothes and toys from bedroom floor. THIS was the Big One, as I'd spent much of the previous day arguing and negotiating helping Ryan declutter and organize his room. Now I have loudly and often proclaimed my low housekeeping standards, and I stand by them (or over them, rather--they're that low). But his room had devolved into such a ridiculous state that I couldn't stand it one more second. I knew that one way to help prevent future problems would be to have him pick up his toys and clothes at least once a day, and I suggested this as part of the bedtime routine.

Once we'd all agreed that yes indeed, these were things that could be done and should be done and would be done, I rewrote everything nice and neat, and then Morgan and Sean colored and decorated it (Ryan didn't want to help). We agreed to try it for a week and then talk about how it goes at the next Family Conference. We also agreed on a general time frame for the routine to begin--not a set-in-stone schedule, but a general thereabouts. Our household is probably much more flexible on this point than most. I'd venture to say that if the kids were in school, or were starting school soon (as in next week), then our routine might need to begin on schedule, to make sure everyone got enough sleep.

So we tried it. As expected, Ryan resisted and tested whether or not we were serious about this. One night he protested and fought for so long there was no time for a story (and no patience either). But after that, it hasn't been such a problem. We kept referring him back to the chart (see Step 4: Let the routine chart be the boss.) We also didn't hesitate to remind him that he'd agreed to use it (another great reason to get the child's involvement in the procedure). He understands the fundamental nature of contractual obligations , and though angry, did not deny the justice of our position.

But the surprise has been Morgan. Each night, she goes upstairs (we stuck the chart on the wall outside the bathroom), reads each step carefully, follows the directions, runs back, reads the next step, etc. This is surprising to me because it's such a Jenn-like thing to do. :o) She is so much like Brendan, that sometimes I forget she came from me, too! This child seems to take an especial satisfaction in knowing what's expected, having it written out in a clear way, and it seems as if she gets a sense of completion and pride from having finished all of the steps. The first night she was so excited that she began the routine about 15 minutes early!

This is wonderful because she is taking that responsibility I wanted her to, being independent, and she is experiencing pride in her accomplishment. Which, incidentally, is connected to Step 5 above: Do not take away from feelings of capability by adding rewards. Pride in accomplishment is an end in itself. If she were focused on winning a reward (a sticker or extra 5 minutes of story time), it could easily distract her focus from an independent first-handed feeling of pride.

This is also wonderful because I have struggled and struggled with figuring out how to help her follow processes with multiple steps. Those who know her in person are familiar with the fact that you can't give her more than two instructions verbally if you want half a chance that she'll follow the instructions. Sometimes I wouldn't place a bet on whether she'd follow an instruction with ONE step! Could it be that all we have to do is write the steps down together? Does she just not hear things? Is she primarily visual (that's me)? Does making this into a fun project with Mommy's taboo markers simply get her full undivided attention? I'm not exactly sure which factor it might be (or all of them?). Doesn't matter--we'll definitely be trying this again!

Have you ever used Routine Charts with your kids (or spouse, ha ha!)? How did they work for you? Any enlightening moments, such as my Morgan Revelation?

A routine chart--a handy way for everyone in the household to understand and agree on responsibilities, and a wonderful way to reinforce a few of the virtues , too. :o)
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