Playtime. Mealtime. Study time. Gadget time. Bedtime. When you consistently break your child’s day into these little pockets of events, you are essentially establishing a routine for him to follow.
“A routine is defined as a predictable way of doing things,” says Dr. Victoria Ang-Nolasco, a developmental pediatrician at Cardinal Santos Medical Center in San Juan. “For example, for a school-age child, a morning routine can include waking up, having breakfast, brushing teeth, getting dressed, then going to school. A bedtime routine can include a story, prayer time, a hug, then tucking in the child for the night.”
Why routines matter
Even though it may oftentimes seem that your child would rather do things his own way than obey you, it’s important for him to have a daily routine because:
1. Routines are a part of childhood development.
“The American Academy of Pediatrics has developed a program called Early Brain and Child Development (EBCD), focusing on optimizing brain development in the first 1,000 days of life,” says Dr. Ang-Nolasco. “The EBCD teaches the 5 Rs in promoting childhood development – READ together with your child every day; RHYME, play and cuddle with your child every day; develop ROUTINES particularly around meals, sleep, and family fun; REWARD your child with praise for successes; develop a strong and nurturing RELATIONSHIP with your child.”
2. Children feel safe and comforted when they have a routine.
“Parents think that they are making the child happy by letting them do whatever they want, whenever they want, but the opposite is true. Children need reasonable limits to feel safe, and having a routine is part of setting limits,” points out Dr. Ang-Nolasco.
3. Routines help not just the child but also the whole family.
Behavior improves when children know what to expect, and also what is expected of them. “For example, we have many patients who are brought to us for behavior problems. When we ask them about routines at home, we find out that there aren't any,” relates Dr. Ang-Nolasco. “The child eats, plays, and uses gadgets whenever he wants. So we get a child who refuses to eat at mealtimes and is fed while being chased around the house as he plays, or refuses to take a bath or brush his teeth or go to sleep. One of the things we tell the family to do is to agree on and implement a routine, and we really see the improvement when the family works together to have structures and routines in the house.”
4. Having structure fosters independence.
As the child gets older, he will do things on his own, such as study after eating merienda, or pack his toys away after playing.
5. Routines can encourage flexibility and creativity.
Treat routines as limits, rather than something inflexible, and let children be as flexible as possible within those limits. “For example, you can set a routine for a toddler of mealtime, then play time, then bath time. There is routine and structure, but the toddler gets to be as creative as he wants during his play time. I guess we can think of it as building a house. You can be as flexible and creative as you want in designing the house, but the structure and the foundation have to be there first or else the house will collapse,” points out Dr. Ang-Nolasco.
How to set a routine
• For toddlers and pre-schoolers, set a picture schedule. Dr. Ang-Nolasco suggests that parents search for "picture schedule for toddlers" or "picture schedule for a four-year-old" (or the child's age) on the Internet, to see samples of routines or schedules. They can adapt these (or even draw or make their own pictures) depending on what is suitable for the child or family. Paste these photos on where the child can often see them, and use them as reference in guiding the child to do what’s next.
• Older kids can have more leeway in deciding their own routines. “For example, with your teenager, you can agree on acceptable sleep and wake times,” says Dr. Ang-Nolasco.
• Setting routines must be a collaboration between parent and child. No matter the age of the child, you must get his inputs on how things will be done. You can ask him, “When you wake up in the morning, do you want to play a bit before eating breakfast, or eat first and then play?” “Many studies have compared three parenting styles--authoritarian, permissive, and authoritative parenting—in terms of many different outcomes, from achievement, to behavior, self-esteem, and even risk of developing behavioral and psychological disorders. In these studies, those who do best are the children of authoritative parents, or parents who are responsive to their children while at the same time setting reasonable limits,” says Dr. Ang-Nolasco.
• Routines must also be enforced consistently. “It won't help your child if sometimes you allow it and sometimes you don't, or sometimes, the rules change depending on who is the caregiver,” reminds Dr. Ang-Nolasco. “What may end up happening is that the child throws a tantrum to get what he wants.”
• Routines are a necessity. There are many reasons why parents just end up letting their child do whatever he wants: they are too busy, too tired from work, or feel that the child is too “matigas ang ulo.” “But the longer you put off setting limits, the more difficult it will be later on, and there may be a point where it's nearly impossible,” says Dr. Ang-Nolasco. “Many studies have shown that children of permissive parents are at increased risk for psychological and behavioral disorders, aggressive behavior, or even substance abuse.”