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Mom's The Word: Back-To-School Routines

Think of a routine as a kind of habit.  We all know how tough it is to break a bad habit.  Well, by the same token, it is also hard to break a good habit.  Overall, I would suggest nurturing beneficial routines in young children.  Once established, they will be difficult to break.

We sometimes say that something is “routine” and it has a negative connotation such as boring or humdrum.  But, having a set way of doing particular things can be practical because it means you can do them without thinking.  They become second nature and automatic.  Once you have worked out the best way to perform a particular task, repetition will lock it in.  In the future, you don’t have to re-invent a way to approach it—it just comes naturally.  If it falls short, you can make an adjustment although as noted, it is hard to change once we are set in our ways. 

Family routines turn out to be good for kids.  Researchers at Syracuse University have linked family routines to better academic performance, better social skills and even language development.*  Routines are also good for kids because they know what to expect and predictability contributes to a child’s sense of security and safety. 

Obviously, there are numerous routines all families engage in on a daily basis.  For kids, these usually pertain to wake up and bed times on school days, nap time for young children, homework time, bath time, and so forth. 

The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests several routines for kids that should be at the top of the list.  Breakfast is an important routine to get into.  Kids should not go to school on an empty stomach.  Dinner time should be a family affair whenever possible.  Understandably, it is not always possible to do so, but the goal should be to get everyone together around dinner because much research shows that family meals correlate highly with positive child development.  Bed time rituals are very important.  It is easier to get a child to sleep if regular and repetitive steps are taken every night.  I would add the importance of a routine for reading.  You can couple this with bedtime or set it aside during another time of the day.  Literacy and language skills are the foundation for all other academic subjects.

Parents often wonder about appropriate scheduling for homework time.  Some ask whether it should be right after school or later after some free play.  The particulars in your family depend on a lot of things such as your child’s temperament, age, and after-school schedule.  Older children have complicated agendas and it might have to be different on different days.  Some kids might need to blow off steam before settling down to homework.  Others might prefer to have only a short break and then get the homework out of the way so they can relax for the rest of the afternoon and evening. 

Once the relevant factors are taken into account, you can make an informed decision.  When you decide on what is best for your child (and it might be different for each of your children), then the important thing is to stick to it.  Your child needs you to set a time (in consultation with them), provide access to resources, and set aside a comfortable area to work.  You should be available to answer questions and to check the results of their effort.  The more “routinized” you can make this activity, the less stressful it will be for you and your kids.

*Spagnola, Mary & Fiese, Barbara H.  (2007). Family Routines and Rituals:  A Context for Development in the Lives of Young Children, Infants & Young Children, Vol. 20, (No. 4), pp. 284–299

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