Settling in at School: Building a Routine

As the first week back at school passes by and uniforms, lunchboxes, timetables, extra-curricular activities and homework emerge as regular features in family life, most parents will be trying to build a solid routine around the needs of our children’s education.
Settling in at School: Building a Routine
By Jenny Mollon
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How on earth do we do we build a healthy family routine with that complex and ever changing variable that is our children themselves?  Is a routine really important and just how rigid should it be?  Our Early Years Editor, Jenny Mollon, both a parent and former teacher, has some advice.

Why build a routine?

Having a routine is a step towards creating stability and security in your child’s life.  A routine should (in theory!) create harmony in the home by avoiding and anticipating stressful times or moments of conflict.  Parents with a good household routine are likely to have more time for themselves and for each other.  The sanity saver that is ‘me time’ should be considered an element of every family's routine!

For younger children, a routine means that making the transition from home into school or nursery becomes predictable and less nerve racking, hopefully avoiding some of the intense tears and tantrums of separation anxiety.  For the very youngest of children a routine creates gentle rules and behaviour boundaries, which in turn should help develop the beginnings of self-discipline.

When it comes to older children, a routine can empower and build self-confidence:  if a child is able to anticipate and proactively manage the next step in their day with some degree of independence, they will feel they have an element of control and choice in their own lives.  A routine that works well gives older children the chance to contribute to the running of their own day and, more importantly, to contribute to family life.  Feeling that their input is helpful and valuable to adults is a powerful element of good self-esteem.

Ok, so we need a routine – how do we get started?

Like any aspect of parenting, slow and steady wins the race!  Rather than implanting a rigid routine all in one go, we suggest taking a few weeks to build a routine that works and is both and consistent and somewhat flexible – some spontaneity is always important, and allows for unplanned FUN! 

We suggest aiming to have a well planned and workable routine in place by mid-October, half way into the first term.  You will probably need to review and revise things week by week – seeing what works and what doesn’t.  Don’t be afraid to scratch your first routine and start again!  It will be worth the effort in the end.

Start by tackling the area of the day that is the main flashpoint for stress.  For many families this will be mornings – shaking off the last of the holiday jet lag or the super relaxed day to day life of the summer holidays can be tricky. 

Being prepared is key to a smooth morning – get as much as possible ready and laid out the night before (uniforms, lunchboxes, bags, pencil cases – really anything at all you can think of at all – every early morning minute counts!) and do double check your child’s timetable for things such as PE kits or other special requirements.  Then, once the preparation is done, keep to the same order every morning – whatever works for your family – but we do suggest breakfast eaten and teeth brushed before the uniform – save splodges of jam and toothpaste down that smart school shirt! 

Build in time for things to go awry – one cannot over emphasise how many variables young children can create – think lost hair bobbles, lost shoes, lost toys, lost bags (losing things is a theme!), sudden aversions to school, constant aversions to their siblings, still hungry, not hungry….you get the idea!

Many nurseries and preschools use visual timetables to guide young children through their day and these can work equally well pinned to the fridge at home.  It’s also reassuring for children to understand where their parents will be during the day – especially if one parent travels for work, so consider creating a timetable for the whole family.

Getting sleep right is fundamental for every member of the family.  For teenagers, it’s probably hard for parents to continue to set a set bedtime – but role modelling good sleep habits as adults should go some way to help to create a healthy sleep pattern.  Vitally, we recommend switching of the wifi at 10pm and no screens in bedrooms – that way you can bore your teen to sleep!

Children age 3-6 need around 10-12 hours of sleep and children between 7-12 need 10-11 hours.  Work backwards from the time you need to be up in the morning and allow an extra half an hour for procrastination and cries of ‘one more story’! 

Switch off the screens well in advance of bedtime to enable your children to unwind mentally before trying to sleep.  Many experts suggest allowing children around 20 minutes outside around twilight/sunset can begin the production of sleep hormones, so try an evening walk or play in the garden as the first part of your bedtime schedule.  Again – stick to the same order of events as much as possible – the importance of predictability cannot be over-emphasised. 

Try to find out how your child’s teacher manages transitions during the day.  Do children wash their hands immediately before snack, do they tidy up before reading, what happens at the end of the school day?  Mirroring school at home can be very helpful in building solid habits. 

Lastly, we are keen to point out that although adults are the keepers or managers of a family routine, everyone – even the very youngest member of the family, should have a role to play.  Not only does giving children a routine and daily tasks ease the stress of family life, it build important life skills that your child will reap the benefits of as an adult.

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