By Raising Children Network
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There are a number of reasons why you might need to create a new family routine. Here some ideas to consider when setting up a new routine.

School boy polishing shoes
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When do you need a new routine?

  • If you feel your family doesn’t spend enough time having fun together, a new routine might help. You could introduce family days, game nights, reading a book together or doing regular exercise.
  • Plan routines for demanding and stressful times in the day. If you have too much to do and not enough time – like when you’re getting the family ready for school and work, or preparing the family meal – a routine can really save the day.
  • Think about a new routine when something is regularly causing conflict in the family. Routines can be particularly good at stopping fights between children.
  • If you find yourself constantly having to ask or nag children, this might be a sign that a new routine needs to be put in place. Routines are particularly useful when you are trying to help family members develop new habits, like good hygiene, completing chores, practising an instrument, or doing homework.
  • As your children grow and develop, revise your routines to take into account all the new things they can do. Routines should help your children become more independent.
  • If there are times you can pretty much guarantee your child will misbehave, a routine can really help. You could use the tips in the Planned Activities Routine guide, designed to help parents deal with challenging situations. It helps parents to carefully plan ahead and take some of the stress out of tricky situations like going shopping, driving in the car or visiting.
Routines can have a downside, especially if children’s lives are so regimented that they don’t get to make choices, do their own thing, play, have fun and just relax. And everyone enjoys an occasional change of routine to break monotony.

What makes a good routine?

There are no easy routine recipes that will suit every family. Each routine needs to be based on your child and your situation. But effective routines share three key features.

  • Well planned: good routines are clear and understood by everyone in the family. Everyone understands their role and knows what they need to do.
  • Regular: good routines become part of everyday family life.
  • Predictable: in a good routine, things happen in the same order each time. 
Routines for children with a disability
Routines can really help children with disabilities. View a film clip on time management and routine for parents of children with a disability.

Thinking about a new routine

Bedding down a new routine can be a little tricky. This is because you will have to make some changes to the way your family does things now. Your new routine will run more smoothly if you consider the following: 

  • Routines need to meet the everyday demands of juggling activities for different members of the family, but also need to meet more long-term goals. It's worth thinking about how each activity enhances or affects longer-term goals for the family. For example, if having regular quality family time is important in your family, try to have routines that allow room for this.
  • How will new routines adapt to changes – that is, school holidays, moving house, new baby, being away from home and so on.
  • Can you make things easier by doing things ahead of time (such as packing school bags the night before school)?
  • Is everyone pulling their weight? Could other family members do more to share the burden and help things run smoothly? If so, work out their role and what they need to do as part of the new routine.
  • How can you build on family members’ strengths? What are your family members good at, and how could you work those abilities into the routine (for example, a child who is good at telling the time might be time keeper).
  • Can you build fun or play into daily tasks that you do with your children?
  • Can you make a new routine part of an old one? For example, you might get your child to take a new medicine just before he brushes his teeth.
  • How can you make the routine work without nagging? Telling them what to do isn’t the only way for you to remind your children about routines. Instead, you could use the end of a television show to signal the beginning of a bedtime routine, or you could give older children their own alarm clock to get them up and going in the morning. Simple lists, or even post-it notes, displayed in a prominent place can be good reminders. Young children might like to make a picture story book depicting the family routine.
  • What will you do if the routine does not go to plan? Do you need back-up plans when the unexpected happens?
  • Are there enough resources (financial, time, supports, even health insurance) to support the planned routines? 

Designing a new routine

If your children are old enough, get them to help you plan the routine. By the time they are about five, talking about routines can really help children organise themselves. 

  • Work out the goal of the routine. Picture the end result. For example: children are ready for school by 8.30 am – dressed, shoes on, had breakfast, teeth and hair brushed, school bag packed with everything they need for the day.
  • List the individual steps in the order they need to be done.
  • Work out what part of the routine your children can do for themselves, and where you will need to help. Think about what step you might be able to teach your child next to help him move towards independence in the routine. Make sure everyone is clear about their specific role in the routine.
  • Work out the timing of the routine. How much time does each step take? What time will you need to start to get everything done and allow time for the unexpected?
  • Think about ways of setting up the routine for success. Can you get rid of any distractions, for example, by turning off the TV during the morning routine?
  • Consider any new family rules that you might have to make. If you make some simple, clear rules about the kind of behaviour you expect, it will help your children know what to do. From a young age, children can be involved in helping to set rules and working out the consequences for breaking them.
  • Try to build time into a routine, such as breakfast time, to talk or have fun.

Before you start, talk everyone through the steps of the routine. Be prepared to do this more than once until it is clear for the whole family. 

Here is an example of a morning routine for one family.

Name of routine: Getting ready for school in the morning

Time Step Who is responsible
7 pm
(night before school day)
Read school notices Mum
Pack school bag Sarah
Prepare school lunch Dad
Check Sarah has books for library day on Wednesday Mum and Sarah
Check Sarah has everything she needs for sports on Friday Mum and Sarah
Set out clothes for tomorrow
Check alarm

6.30 am
(school day)

Mum and Dad’s alarm goes Mum
Mum and Dad get dressed Mum
7 am Sarah’s alarm goes Sarah
Sarah gets up Sarah
Have breakfast Family
Get dressed Sarah
7.25 am Brush teeth and hair Sarah
(with Mum’s help)
7.30 am Quiet reading or play time Sarah
Mum and dad get ready for work Mum and Dad
7.45 am In the car
(Mon and Thu: Dad)
(Tue, Wed and Fri: Mum) 
Mum or Dad 
8 am Arrive at before-school care, hang bag up and settle in Sarah and
Mum or Dad
8.55 am Go to school Sarah

Give your new routine time to work. It takes time to overcome old habits and learn new ways of behaving – persistence is the key to success. Inevitably, you will find ways of improving things as you go. Family members will also need time to adjust.

Look out for signs of effort, early cooperation and successes. Celebrate by giving lots of praise or even special rewards until the routine becomes part of what your children regularly do.

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