One of the most important things you can do to make your young child feel safe is to establish as much routine in their life as possible. Children (and adults) feel the most secure when their lives are predictable. When adults provide environments that feel safe, children learn that they can trust others to take care of them and meet their needs, so they feel free to relax.
Young children do not yet fully understand the concept of time, so they do not order their lives by hours and minutes, but rather by the events that happen. When events happen in the same order every day, children have a better understanding of their world, and therefore feel more secure. A regular schedule gives children a way to order and organize their lives. When young children know what to expect, they become more confident in both themselves and the world around them.
Routines also help children develop self-control because they know they have to wait until a certain time to do a particular activity. A regular schedule fosters responsibility and independence because children will be able to perform more activities on their own if they have done the same activities many times before in the same environment.
A routine is especially important during particularly difficult times of day, such as bedtime or getting dressed in the morning. When there is a routine in place, there can be little argument because the expectations have been established. Here are five ideas for starting routines with your child:
- Plan at least one meal per day that you have together as a family. This meal does not have to be dinner; even a 15-minute breakfast where everyone gets to share their plans for the day can be effective. Turn off the television and do not answer the phone during your family time. This is a great way to start a routine that allows your child to take responsibility, even for something small, such as carrying the silverware to the table.
- Have a bedtime ritual, which will help your child slowly calm down, and allow him to associate certain activities with getting sleepy. Think about what calms your child. Is it taking a bath? Reading a story? Listening to soft music? Always do the bedtime preparation in the same order.
- Include preparation for transitions in the routine. For example, “We have 10 minutes left before we start getting ready for bed. When the big hand gets to the 12, it will be time to put on your pajamas.”
- Work together to make pictures that indicate each step of the routine, put the pictures in order on a colorful sheet of paper, and hang the finished product in your child’s room. You will not only be helping build creativity in your child, but you will also promote self-sufficiency, as your child will be able to look at the pictures to identify what step comes next.
- Although routine is very important for young children, do not be too rigid. Children do need to learn how be flexible and deal with minor changes. If there is an interruption to the routine, tell your child, “I know we usually do x, but today we are going to do y because (reason). Tomorrow we will go back to our usual schedule.” If most of their day is predictable, young children will be able to deal with small changes, especially if they are prepared for the changes and see you modeling calm behavior as you deal with problems that occur.
The earlier you begin to order your child’s life, the easier it will be. When you stick to a routine, you teach your child how to arrange his time in a manner that is efficient, productive and cuts down on stress.