Why routines help with behaviour management

Routines help family members know who should do what, when, in what order and how often. For example, your children know that they take turns with loading and unloading the dishwasher each day. This can mean less conflict and fewer arguments about these kinds of boring activities.

A routine can also help you plan for times and activities when your child often misbehaves, like when you’re shopping, driving or visiting. For example, a simple routine for driving might be listening to music or playing ‘I spy’ together, before your child looks at books by herself.

You can also build routines for young children around play, meals and sleep. When children have had enough good-quality sleep, nutritious food and plenty of play, they’re more likely to behave the way you want.

And routines help young children feel safe and secure. They need to feel safe and secure to develop confidence and learn, including learning about appropriate ways to behave.

Creating routines

Here are some tips to get you started with family routines:

  • Plan routines for demanding times in the family day – for example, before and after work and school. Things often run more smoothly when you have a routine that gives everybody something to do or that keeps children busy while you get things done.
  • Add some downtime into your child’s routine. This gives your child time for a sleep or rest, which can help with behaviour. It also gives him time to learn to entertain himself.
  • If you want to put time limits on some activities, like screen use, make this part of the routine. For example, children can watch TV or use their tablets, but only between 5 and 5.30 pm (or whatever suits your family).
  • Link two or more activities together. This can help your child get through boring activities faster. It also works because doing one activity helps you remember to do the other one. For example, your child could clean teeth while having a bath.
  • Talk about routines with your child. Even toddlers can understand simple, consistent explanations – for example, ‘First clean teeth. Then story time with Dad’. And for school-age children, discussions about routines can help them learn important things like how to be ready on time.
  • Use language or ideas your child can understand to talk about your routine. For example, if your child is too young to understand time, try saying, ‘We only watch Play School’, instead of ‘We only watch half an hour of TV’.

Getting children to follow routines

So you’ve got a routine, but how do you get your child to follow it – without nagging? Here are some ideas:

  • Put up an illustrated poster of your routine where everyone can see it. Making the poster with your child could be fun and give you the chance to talk about the routine.
  • Involve your child in parts of the routine that she can manage by herself – for example, washing her hands before eating.
  • Find ways to remind your child to follow the routine without your help. For example, put a radio alarm clock in your child’s room. The music can be a signal that it’s time to wake up, time to start getting ready for school, or time to come out of the bedroom in the morning.
  • Think about whether parts of the routine can be your child’s responsibility. Your child can learn new skills and help the family by doing household chores. For example, a preschooler could set the table.
  • Watch out for and praise your child when he follows the routine without help.
Routines don’t mean you and your family are rigid or inflexible. Changes and last-minute diversions are a normal part of life.