The Power of Routine

Clinical psychologist Dr Sonya Tsancheva writes about the importance of routine for children.

Children thrive on playing games, exploring their environment and sharing their world with their peers. Alas, not so during the pandemic. More worryingly, the message “stay apart to keep safe” is too quickly becoming the norm. This can have devastating effects on the development of children, especially as relationships are key to learning about themselves and the world. Looking after childrens’ physical health and mental wellbeing is always a top prioroty and this should be no different at times of national hardship. But where do you start in the midst of a pandemic that has gone on too long for our liking and still has no end in sight?!

Routine – one of the many things we lost 7 months ago, but is much needed to keep us ticking! Children like routine too, as it creates a predictable environment that helps them feel safe. Here are some tips to build a healthy base for your child to support their development:

Sleep

Zzzzzzzzz….Sleep is essential for physical growth and mental health development. Top 3 sleep hygiene tips to consider: i) go to bed and get up at the same time everyday, but be careful, children and teenagers have different circadian rhythms (sleep clocks) to adults so be responsive to this ii) no screens at least 30mins before bed, help your child relax instead with a gentle activity like stretching or reading a book… having a tidy uncluttered bedroom also helps iii) avoid sugar before bed or having a big meal – these interfere with getting a good quality sleep.

Eating

🍴Regular eating patterns and wholesome balanced meals are equally important ways of providing nutrition for growing bodies and minds. Keep an eye on the snacks and drinks that your child has during the day. Do they contain calories with no nutritional value? Is food used as something to chase away the boredom? If so, do something about it – helping your child learn the signals of physical hunger will serve them well all their life.

Fun

🤸‍♀️🤾‍♂️And let’s not forget play and fun, including spending time outdoors in nature. Encourage physical activity and play. A good physical activity work out, whether it’s star jumps in the flat or garden, or a Tarzan style tree climbing and cheeta racing will do wonders for your child.

Some final thoughts

Don’t get caught up with becoming a “routine guard”, especially if you have an older child. Working out aspects of the daily activities collaboratively with your child and setting clear and fair expectations will help them learn autonomy, a sense of efficacy and develop good self-esteem.

The rule of thumb is to build the day around three types of activities: routine (getting out of bed, making bed, brushing teeth, having breakfast), necessary (attending school, doing homework, cleaning room) and pleasurable (play, read, draw, paint).

Allowing some room for flexibility and negotiation can be a tricky balance to strike but the effort is worth it. Don’t use rewards as a motivation to do difficult tasks such as “you can watch Peppa Pig if/when you put away your toys”. These types of conditional rewards get in the way of developing autonomous action and behaviour. It also sends the message that having a tidy room is not important in itself, and over-values watching tv/playing games.

If you promise to do something make sure you have the time to do it. This will help your child learn to trust. And remember, things are always better when they are fun. We learn through play so don’t be frightened to get messy.

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