“How do you do it?” is the question I am asked all the time. I mean, all the time. How do I manage to do what I do, raise four kids, keep a clean house, maintain a schedule, and keep a routine in place with so many kids and so much to do and still find time to work out, take care of my hair, and put on make-up and real clothes every day?
It’s a good question. On one hand, I really think I just do it. You just do it, you know?
You are given this hand, and you just do it. On the other hand, my dear friend would like me to tell you that he believes wholeheartedly that I am on the spectrum and it’s my obsessive-compulsive perfectionism. Everyone else will tell you it’s my husband. He’s a far better mother than I can ever hope to be.
If we are being honest, it’s routine. And all of the above is correct. I am routine-oriented. I don’t do well with things being off-schedule. Honestly, I like routine. Order. Cleanliness.
It’s a priority for me. I run the vacuum through my SUV every single time I get out of it. I mean, it’s OCD and perfectionism to the fullest. I’m fine with it. Routine is what keeps me from having my out Dateline Special or Snapped episode. I thrive on routine, and I’m almost 40. Kids thrive on routine even more.
The key to getting kids to follow a routine without reminders is simple. Instill that into their little minds and bodies from birth. Trust me on this one. If your kids don’t follow routine easily, you are the problem. I said what I said.
The Importance of Routines for Children
According to HealthyChildren.org, “children do best when routines are regular, predictable, and consistent,” and that is the absolute truth. Listen, I’m not going to sit here and tell you that you can’t deviate from routine and break from it on occasion.
Special events, spontaneous family fun, vacations, and impromptu things will cause you to deviate from routine on occasion, and that is all right. The point is that most of your days need to be structured for the well-being of your children.
Lacking a healthy and organized routine is the gateway drug to confusion, boredom, and disorder – for the entire family. Kids need structure to help them stay on task, to understand what is happening, and to feel safe and comfortable (this is especially true of smaller children without any control over the world around them).
On the flip side of things, too much rigidity in a routine can backfire. Kids become frustrated, upset, and angry when there is no flexibility. The key to creating a good routine is to keep it simple, and allow room for mistakes, flexibility, and fun. Here’s our family routine on a typical weekday when school is in session:
Our Family School Day Routine
- Wake up
- Eat Breakfast
- Get Dressed (all school clothes are picked out on Sundays and laid out for the week, backpacks and lunchboxes are organized the evening before)
- Brush teeth and do hair
- Go to school
- Pick up from school
- Sports depending on the day
- Homework and then fun
- Dinner around the table
- Clean up after dinner
- Family activity if it’s a non-sports day (family walk, play basketball or football in the yard, challenge one another to a game of Mario Kart on the Switch, get in the pool, whatever)
- Baths and showers
- Brush teeth
- Bedtime routine – tucking everyone in, saying goodnight, telling everyone we love them, reading until lights out
Sports throw a wrench in our routine some nights, but we also have good routines on sports evenings. Sometimes, we throw caution to the wind and pick the kids up from school, go to dinner, or do something fun.
The point is that most of their days are very structured. Certain things do not get removed from the routine – weeknight bedtimes are always the same time. School clothes are always chosen on Sunday evenings for the week. Lunchboxes and backpacks are always prepared the evening before. A good routine helps kids thrive, and that’s all there is to it.
Kids Thrive on Routines
The simple fact is that routine is like a security blanket for kids. Children have such little control over anything in their lives. This is especially true for younger children. Knowing what to expect and how to expect it helps kids feel safe. Kids are especially subject to feeling fear of the unknown.
It’s why kids who are raised in households without structure tend to perform poorly at school, they are fearful, they don’t sleep well, and they do not thrive.
Change is not a bad thing, but it’s a scary thing. Even as an adults, we are conditioned to fear change because it is unknown. For me, change is always scary, but I can always look back and see why it was necessary and good. Kids don’t have that kind of mindset yet.
They don’t have the experience with change to be able to look back and say, “Oh, yeah, change usually works out really well for me.” When kids know change is coming, they are better equipped to handle it in their little minds.
Something my husband and I do with our kids is discuss change with them in advance. For example, if we are traveling and our parents are staying at our house with the kids, we make sure they know in advance of the changes to their routine and schedule.
We talk about it so it’s not a surprise to them. If we are being totally honest, it makes our lives so much easier when they’re aware of what is going on and how it affects their routine.
Chaos is Not Good for Kids
Some kids live in chaotic homes. We know kids who live in chaotic homes; everyone knows someone like this. The parents don’t put any emphasis on routine or schedule.
Their kids don’t go to bed on time most nights. Spontaneity is a way of life, and that’s not to say spontaneity is a bad thing. It’s not. But kids who live a life without any concept of what to expect tend to have issues in school. Their grades suffer. The kids are tired and cranky.
They struggle to connect with other kids. They are resentful, they worry, and they stress. Their lives are filled with chaos, and they are unlikely to learn to how manage their own lives, their time, and their environment.
Chaotic homes tend to produce children who have behavioral issues, trust issues, and more. Kids don’t know what to expect, and they are constantly confused. As they get older, they are not given the skills to cope or manage, and that tends to show itself in behavioral issues. It’s unfortunate, but it happens more often than you might imagine.
What are the Benefits of Having a Great Routine?
- Kids are less tired when they have a consistent bedtime.
- Children know what to expect, and that tends to eliminate any power struggle.
- Children with routines learn to manage their own activities and their own lives.
- Kids are more independent.
- Kids appreciate spontaneity and fun things that deviate from routine a lot more.
- Change is easier on kids who live with routine.
- Children perform better at school.
- Kids with a good routine are well-behaved on a more consistent basis.
- Kids sleep better, eat better, and function more easily with a good routine.
- Expectations are easier to manage with a good routine.
- Everyone’s life is easier, more manageable, cleaner, and more organized with a schedule.
Making Routines a Part of Life From Birth
In our house, routine is such an everyday thing for all of us that it happened naturally with each child. People always ask us how we manage to have a clean house and well-behaved kids, and it’s not a secret.
They don’t argue about bedtime, wake up during the night, get out of bed 70 times, or misbehave regularly. It is because we’ve always had a good routine. The kids just…know.
They know that if you use a dish, you put it in the dishwasher when you’re done. They know if you play with something, you put it away when you’re finished. Our kids know how the evening routine goes. They understand the morning routine.
Keeping kids on a schedule – not a strict one, but a reasonable one – from birth allows them to learn how to maintain routines. We change it regularly based on the season of life we’re living, of course, but it’s not hard.
At the risk of sounding judgmental, it’s easy for us to spot people whose kids run their lives and who don’t set a routine. Their kids are crankier, they don’t sleep at night, they get up and come out of their rooms all the time…it’s not hard to prevent that when you remember that you are the parent and you make the schedule from the start.
If your kids never learn to engage in bad habits due to a lack of schedule and routine, they just never do. I have four kids and it’s worked with all of them. It’s, like, the one thing I excel at doing.
Let Your Children Be Part of the Routine Making Process
One of the biggest reasons routine works so well for kids is that they get to be part of it. You won’t find yourself reminding your kids to follow the school morning routine if they helped make it. Kids love to feel like they have a say in the things that go on around the house, so let them.
Now, here’s how we do that. You don’t have to give your first grader decision making power. All you have to do is offer them two or three options, and let them pick the one that works best for them. For example, tell your kids that they can choose between making their bed first, eating breakfast first, or getting dressed first in the morning. They still have to do all three, but they get to choose the order. They feel powerful and in control, and they’re more likely to just do it at that point.
Put Everything in Writing
You don’t have to speak a word of reminder to the children about following the routine if it’s in writing. A white board in the hallway is the best way to handle routine reminders.
Our kids even make their own without us needing to. For example, our sixth grader has a note on the back of her door – she made it without prompt – to pack PE clothes, charge her school iPad at night, pack it in the morning, make her bed, take her medication, and brush her teeth. We never have to remind her to do any of it.
My kids are almost 15, 12, 9 and 9, and routine has been a great part of their life. I am not a parenting expert – I just know what works for all four of our kids. They’re all different, but we find a happy medium when it comes to keeping everyone on the same page. I can promise you that none of us are perfect, but we do thrive well on routine. I’m a mess.
They can be royal pains in the you-know-what at times, and sometimes my biggest win for the day is not running away from home like a petulant child mad because my mom won’t let me order the cool stuff from the DELIAs catalog (there’s me aging myself).
Give it Time
I once told my therapist that the reason I wake up early to shower, do my hair and makeup and I choose to dress myself in great outfits every single day is that it’s the only thing I can control in life. I am a mom with four kids, a husband, and all the things to do, and I feel out of control and overwhelmed – even when a great routine.
If you are struggling to find a routine that works, don’t feel like you’re alone. give it time. Every routine changes, and it always takes a week or two to feel good about it. For example, the back to school routine after three months at home is not an easy one to get back into.
Figuring out my new summer routine when the kids are home for months takes time. Getting back into the habit of routine following the Christmas holidays is a literal effing nightmare.
Like, an oh my God nightmare. January is the Monday of all new routines following all the holiday fun, and we all struggle. Just remember that everyone is going through the same struggle. To borrow a line from the late Michael Jackson (and the awesome Free Willy movies)…you are not alone.
You can also read:
- 20 Questions to Ask instead of “How Was Your Day?”
- 20 Kids School Lunch Ideas for Under $1
- 50 Awesome End of Year Writing Prompts
- 20 Organization Hacks for your Refrigerator
- 20 Holiday Traditions that Won’t Break the Bank