Helpful Routines

Routines are an important tool to help keep a family functional. A routine is built one habit at a time, and usually is years in the constructing. Some are so much a part of childhood that we don't even recognize them as structured routines, even though they are.

Your home has a routine for getting up. It may be a disordered one, but it has one. You have a routine for mealtimes – again, it may be chaotic or ordered either one, but you have expectations and regular occurrences for mealtimes. You also have a routine for bedtime. That routine may include things that you don't like, such as the kids quarreling or getting up repeatedly, but you have a routine.

Routines can be a very effective way of bringing order to a home. They build from the same concepts as any other type of change in the home though, and have to follow the same rules. Each routine has many parts, and you cannot change an entire routine easily at once. It is often more effective to just focus on the one item that will make the biggest difference to the routine, and work on changing just that one thing, consistently, for a month. Then go back and see if you need to make another change to get it to work better.

The routines in your home also form a very nice framework around which you can add more positive habits. If you want to establish a new habit with your kids or yourself, then it will be more successful if you piggyback it onto an existing routine.

A rule of “chore before reward” can help in this also. For example, if you want to establish a set time for homework after school, then the two logical times for that are right after school, before play, or right after dinner, before TV. The important thing is though, that you tacked it onto something that happens every day, and that you put it before a built-in reward in the day.

Routines are almost always built up one element at a time. When our children were small, their routines grew with them. At the age of 2, they put their own clothes in the laundry basket when they were changed at the end of the day. At the age of 4, they were changing themselves, and putting their clothes into the laundry basket because that is what they learned previously. At the age of 6, they were helping clean up after dinner. By the time the oldest were 10 and 11 years old, we had routines for many times of the day, and those routines kept our home operating smoothly, insured that the daily tasks of living were accomplished, and that the necessary cleanup and maintenance was done in an orderly manner.

Then we moved into a home that took some time to get working right. During the month that it took us to get power, water, and heat to the house, we sort of camped in the house (it was the middle of summer). By the time that one month was over, we had lost all but a few critical routines. We tried to get them back, but with so many of them lost, and so much opposition on all fronts to getting them back, it took us 5 years to piece them back together. Partly because three of those years were spent learning to do just one thing at a time. Once I learned to focus on one change at a time, we made consistent progress. But it took years to build back what we lost in one month.

I rely heavily on the daily routines to insure that our home does not degenerate into chaos. Because if part of the hassles of daily living are smoothed by things that happen on auto-pilot, or with minimal maintenance, it leaves you free to enjoy your children and to appreciate the good things about family. When you always feel like no one is listening, and that your home is totally out of control, you feel inadequate, and always have the feeling that you'll never catch up. Not real conducive to happiness.

They are not the answer to everything, but for things that do, or should, happen on a daily basis, they can provide predictability and structure around which your family can more easily flow. If you happen to have special needs within the home, routines can also ease the difficulties associated with times during the day which are simply harder to navigate than usual.