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Parenting -- Family routines: how and why they work

Key points

  • Daily routines help family life run smoothly. They also help families enjoy more time together.

  • Routines help children feel safe, develop life skills and build healthy habits.

  • Routines help parents feel organised, reduce stress and find time for enjoyable activities.

  • Good routines are well planned, regular and predictable.

Routines: the basics

Family routines set out how families organise themselves to get things done, spend time together and have fun. Routines help family members know who should do what, when, in what order and how often.

Routines also let your children know what’s important to your family. For example, family rituals are routines for special things your family does regularly. These can strengthen your shared beliefs and values and build a sense of belonging and togetherness in your family.

Why routines are good for children

Routines can be good for children for several reasons.

Safety, belonging and relationships Routines can be part of an organised and predictable home environment, which helps children and teenagers feel safe, secure and looked after. And a predictable family life can also help children cope during development changes like puberty or life events like the birth of a new child, divorce, illness or a house move.

Also, routines built around having fun or spending time together foster a sense of belonging and strengthen family relationships. For example, your routine might include things like reading a story together before bed each night, sharing regular family meals, or having a kick with your child before soccer practice every week.

Skills and responsibility Having chores as part of family routines helps children and teenagers develop a sense of responsibility and some basic skills like time management. These are skills children can use for life.

And when children can do their parts of the routine with less help or supervision, it also helps them become more independent.

Health and wellbeing Routines can help younger children to learn healthy habits, like brushing their teeth, taking medicine regularly, doing physical activity, or washing their hands after using the toilet.

This means that routines can be good for children’s health. For example, children who wash their hands more regularly might be less likely to get colds and other common illnesses.

Also, routines can reduce stress, and lower stress is good for children’s immune systems.

And routines can help children feel less anxious or sad during difficult times.

Daily routines help set our body clocks too. For example, bedtime routines help children’s bodies ‘know’ when it’s time to sleep. This can be a big help when children reach adolescence and their body clocks start to change.

Why routines are good for parents

Routines take some effort to create. But once you’ve set them up, they have many benefits:

  • When life is busy or difficult, routines can help you feel more organised and in control, which lowers your stress and anxiety.

  • Regular and consistent routines can build your confidence as a parent.

  • Routines help your family get through your daily tasks more efficiently and free up time for other things.

  • Routines often mean you don’t have to sort out disputes and make decisions. For example, if Sunday night is pizza night, no-one needs to argue about what’s for dinner.

* It can be easy to overschedule family life. Routines have many benefits, but it’s also good for children and parents to have free time to play, relax or be creative.

What makes a good daily routine?

A good routine is one that suits your family. It also has 3 key features.

Well planned In a good routine, everyone understands their roles, knows what they need to do and sees their roles as reasonable and fair. For example, your children know that they take turns with washing up and drying up each night after dinner. As children get older, it’s good for them to have a say in planning routines.

Regular Good routines become part of everyday family life. For example, you might all look forward to walking to school together every morning.

Predictable In a good routine, things happen in the same order each time. Everyone knows what to expect for the day. For example, you always wash school uniforms on the weekend, so you know they’ll be ready for Monday morning.

*Routines for children with disability can be a big help. They can be even more important for children who find it hard to understand or cope with change.

Toddlers and preschoolers: ideas for daily routines

For toddlers and preschoolers, you could have routines for:

  • getting ready in the morning

  • eating meals

  • spending time playing and talking together

  • reading books or telling stories

  • having a bath and going to bed at night.

*You could also have weekly routines for playdates or playgroup, trips to the park or visits to extended family. Your child will probably look forward to these special events each week.

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