The following article is a look into why structure and routines are so important for children and provides tips on how to get started.

Structure: Why Kids Need Routines

Why do kids need routines and structure?

Because routines give them a sense of security and help them develop self-discipline.

Humans are afraid of many things, but “the unknown” edges out        everything except death and public speaking for most people.

Children’s fear of the unknown includes everything from a suspicious new vegetable to a major change in their life. Unfortunately, children are confronted with change daily.

The very definition of growing up is that their own bodies change on them constantly. Babies        and toddlers give up pacifiers, bottles, breasts, cribs, their standing        as the baby of the house.  New teachers and classmates come and go        every year.  They tackle and learn new skills and information at an        astonishing pace, from reading and crossing the street to soccer and        riding a bike.  Few children live in the same house during their entire        childhood; most move several times, often to new cities and certainly        to new neighborhoods and schools.  And few of these changes are within        the child’s control.
Children, like the rest of us, handle change best if it is expected and occurs in the context of a familiar routine.          A predictable routine allows children to feel safe, and to develop a        sense of mastery in handling their lives.  As this sense of mastery is        strengthened, they can tackle larger changes:  walking to school by        themselves, paying for a purchase at the store, going to sleepaway        camp.

Unpredictable changes – Mom called away on an        unexpected business trip, a best friend moving, or more drastic,        parents divorcing or a grandparent dying – erode this sense of safety        and mastery and leave the child feeling anxious and less able to cope        with the vicissitudes of life.
While helping children        feel safe and ready to take on new challenges and developmental tasks        would be reason enough to offer them structure, it has another        important developmental role as well.  Structure and routines teach kids how to constructively control themselves and their environments.

Kids        who come from chaotic homes where belongings aren’t put away never        learn that life can run more smoothly if things are organized a        little.  In homes where there is no set time or space to do homework,        kids never learn how to sit themselves down to accomplish an unpleasant        task.  Kids who don’t develop basic self-care routines, from grooming        to food, may find it hard to take care of themselves as young adults.         Structure allows us to internalize constructive habits.         Won’t too much structure dull our sense of spontaneity and creativity?         Sure, if it’s imposed without sensitivity.  There are times when rules        are made to be broken, like staying up late to see an eclipse, or        leaving the dinner dishes in the sink to play charades.  But even the        most creative artists start by mastering the conventions of the past,        and find the pinnacle of their expression in working within the        confines of specific rules.

There’s no reason structure has to be        oppressive.  Think of it as your friend, offering the little routines        and traditions that make life both easier and cozier.  Not only will        your kids will soak up the security, they’ll internalize the ability to        structure their own lives.

Does this mean infants should be put on routines as early as possible?

NO! Infants tell us what they need.  We feed them when they’re hungry, change them when they’re wet.  Over time, they learn the first step of a routine:  We sleep at night.  But forcing an infant to accommodate to our routine is not responsive parenting.  As your infant moves into babyhood, she will establish her own routine, settling into a schedule of sorts.  Most babies settle into a fairly predictable pattern.  We can help them with this by structuring our day around their needs, so, for instance, we make sure conditions are appropriate for her nap at the time she usually sleeps.  Gradually, over time, we can respond to her natural schedule of eating and sleeping by developing a routine that works for her and for the whole family.

Six Benefits of Using Routines with Your Kids

1. Routines eliminate power struggles        because you aren’t bossing them around.  This activity (brushing teeth,        napping, turning off the TV to come to dinner) is just what we do at        this time of day.  The parent stops being the bad guy, and nagging is        greatly reduced.

2. Routines help kids cooperate by        reducing stress and anxiety for everyone.  We all know what comes next,        we get fair warning for transitions, and no one feels pushed around.

3.  Routines help kids learn to take charge of their own activities.         Over time, kids learn to brush their teeth, pack their backpacks, etc.,        without constant reminders.  Kids love being in charge of themselves.        This feeling increases their sense of mastery and competence.  Kids who        feel more independent and in charge of themselves have less need to        rebel and be oppositional.

4. Kids learn the concept of “looking forward”        to things they enjoy, which is an important part of making a happy        accommodation with the demands of a schedule.  He may want to go to the        playground now, but he can learn that we always go to the playground in        the afternoon, and he can look forward to it then.

5. Regular routines help kids get on a schedule, so that they fall asleep more easily at night.

6. Schedules help parents maintain consistency in expectations.        If everything is a fight, parents end up settling: more TV, skip        brushing teeth for tonight, etc.  With a routine, parents are more        likely to stick to healthy expectations for everyone in the family,        because that’s just the way we do things in our household.  The result:        a family with healthy habits, where everything runs more smoothly!