Some folks say that routines and predictability are boring.  That may be true, but boring can be a good thing.  In today’s article,  we’re going to explore the benefits of routines for everyone, from toddlers to adults.  Resource links are included throughout the article. I’ll reveal a few of my challenges in this area as well.

Without routines and structure, life is chaotic.  From infancy to old age, we all feel better and function better when there are consistency and predictability in our day.

I am a four-percenter.  That’s world language teacher code for the small number of us who actually enjoy grammar.  Weird, right?  So what it is about the grammar?  It’s orderly and predictable, with a set of clear rules and boundaries.  I sometimes struggle with consistency, so there is comfort in finding it here. Routines have not come easily to me, and I’m not one of those ‘born organized’ people.  Sometimes I can be impulsive, avoiding the tasks I don’t want to do.  This can backfire, causing bouts of chaos. 

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  • “Where did I leave that paper?  It was here just a few minutes ago.”
  • “What do you mean, someone is stopping by?  Time for a quick clean up.”
  • “Is it Sunday already?  I haven’t even brainstormed a topic for my Tuesday article.”

Of course, this chaos spills over into the rest of my life and my psyche.  Procrastination eats up time.  My brain becomes cluttered with what I’ve avoided, and there is less room and energy for creative thinking.

I’ve also heard it called SOS (Shiny Object Syndrome):  there’s something more interesting than what you’re doing, so you drift off (or run) to that more exciting thing.  Whatever you call it, it eats away at your productivity and sense of calm.   “It’s easy to dismiss routines and habits as boring,” says USC social psychologist and professor, Wendy Wood.   “But give some of them credit for keeping you on track amid the uncertainties of daily life, as well as freeing up brain space to dream, to create fresh ideas, to solve problems.  Habits help us get through the day with minimal stress.”

Wood adds this about maximizing habits and routines:  “Think of habits as a way of meeting your goals.  As you reassess your goals, reassessing your habits has to be part of the process, or you’re going to be in conflict.  Turn the less enjoyable parts of your day (your afternoon jog, cleaning out your email inbox) or the ones that you are afraid may be failures (avoiding ice cream) into habits.  It leaves you time and energy to focus on the decisions that are fun to make.”

Now think about your kids. How many times have you heard “It’s boring” from them?  They are impulsive, always exploring their world, and at the mercy of their emotions.  Of course, they’d rather be playing than sitting at a desk, or with their friends instead of doing chores.  The fact is that children need routines and thrive with structure. You know it’s true because you see what happens when they are missing.

There is one more critical purpose for routines:  they help children (and all humans) adjust to change.

We humans cling to the familiar.  The human brain is programmed to stay with what it knows and resists change. The unknown is frightening… especially for children, who lack the knowledge and real-world experience to anticipate what that change really means.

New people and experiences come into their life on a regular, and sometimes unexpected, basis:  changing friends, illness, divorce, failure in school or on the playing field, births, deaths.  Their bodies are changing, along with the intensity of their emotions.  As Dr. Laura Markham says, “Routines give them a sense of security and help them develop self-discipline.”  Here are some highlights from Dr. Markham’s article about why kids needs routines:

- Children’s fear of the unknown includes everything from a suspicious new vegetable to a major change in their life.

- Children, like the rest of us, handle change best if it’s expected and occurs in the context of a familiar routine.

- Unpredictable changes erode this sense of safety and mastery and leave the child feeling anxious and less able to cope with the vicissitudes of life.

- Structure and routines teach kids how to constructively control themselves and their environments.

- Seven benefits of using routines with kids:
    1.  Routines eliminate power struggles, because you aren’t bossing them around.
    2.  Routines help kids cooperate.  We all know what comes next and get fair warning for transitions.
    3.  Routines help kids learn to take charge of their own activities.
    4.  Kids learn the concept of ‘looking forward” to things they enjoy.
    5.  Regular routines help kids get on a schedule.
    6.  Routines help parents build in those precious connection moments.
    7.  Schedules help parents maintain consistency in expectations.  If everything is a fight, parents end up settling and changing rules and expectations.

Structure doesn’t have to be rigid.  These routines become the support that makes life easier, providing security and confidence to handle the known and the unexpected. 

Additional Resources:

Ages 1-6:  Ages and Stages: Helping Children Adjust to Rules and Routines
Designing a new routine:  When do you need one, what makes a good one?