I’m very lucky to be around my kids for the majority of the day. I’ve been able to quietly observe their habits, their idiosyncrasies, the patterns that come naturally to them. I know that my older boy wakes up famished and needs to eat a huge meal immediately, no matter what time he rises. I’ve seen that my baby son is always tired at 11am on the dot, without fail.
They each have their own rhythms and routines that are unique, but obvious if I just pay enough attention. I work to build our day around these natural rhythms. Meal times, nap times and play times are all arranged to suit their instinctive schedules. It lends a sense of stability to our days. Before having kids, I might have balked at the idea of rigidly scheduling when we eat and rest, but I’ve found that my kids need that structure.
I’m the same way, really. I work best when I can sit and schedule out my week with specific times for work or visiting friends, carving out particular times for particular items on my agenda. I like having a solid routine and being able to rely on knowing what comes next.
Of course, my schedule and my children’s schedules sometimes collide. Occasionally, I’ll need to shorten a meeting or cancel an outing in favor of bringing a sleepy child to his bed. Other times, my kids will need to eat just a bit later than usual, or forego a midday nap in favor of other plans.
Routines help kids flourish and provide stability and order to family time. Consistency is the key to building routines with your family - but what happens if you need some flexibility in your daily routine?
That’s only been possible for us by laying a solid foundation of routine, around which we can more easily bend and flex. I know that I can roll with the punches and maybe delay that bedtime by another hour or two if the baby has already taken his naps as scheduled. If I bring a small, healthy snack in my bag, we can shift our regular mealtime. Creating structure for our days while leaving room for flexibility has been the best way to build a schedule that’s good for my kids, and for me.
- Keep routines focused around the time of day. Morning, after school, nap time, dinner time, bed time. A disruption or change in one time of day doesn't mean the next routine needs to be disrupted. Make sure to follow through with the next expected routine to get your system back on track.
- Work routines into new situations when possible. For example, plan a car trip around nap time, and set up similar environments for nap and bed times in hotels - familiar books, stuffed animals, and blankeys.
- Pay attention to which routines can be flexed. If missing a nap time doesn't cause a meltdown, but a late bedtime means it'll be harder to get the kids to sleep, consider that when making plans that will disrupt your day. Once you get to know where you can give and take in a routine, you'll be able to build space and flexibility into your day without disruption.
Liz Moorhead is an English teacher-turned-writer and illustrator. She paints stationery, writes for a top wedding site, and blogs at Happy Sighs between walks to the park with her two boys.