Those of you who know me know that I am not an all-or-nothing kind of gal when it comes to parenting; I just really enjoy sharing what I know and making suggestions that up the likelihood for inviting cooperation from your kids. One of my favorite tools for making this happen is creating routines.
Routines offer structure and consistency around times of day that are leaving you feeling stressed or frantic. You know what I’m talking about, right? When you notice that you go to Crazy Town? Yeah, I don’t like being that person either.
The lovely thing about creating routines with your kids is that it gives them ownership over how it all goes down. You are working on creating relationship (increasing their sense of belonging), sharing control with your child (decreasing power struggles), and letting them know that their contribution matters (increasing their sense of significance), when you create routines together.
Just like all the tools I write about, tone matters. The attitude that you bring to the routine conversation can either create buy-in from your kids or leave them suspicions of your motives, especially if you are at the beginning of trying to break a controlling style. A friendly, curious, and encouraging vibe will hold the space in a way that lets your kids know that you really are interested in their ideas, and are open to working out a solution that works for you both.
Here are three routines to consider as we move towards the start of the school year:
After School Routine
Whenever the school year starts, I notice that it is after school that feels the most frantic to me. And when things begin to feel frantic to me, my style becomes really rigid. The kids have one foot in the free days of summer and one foot in the start of the school year, and this is a tough transition. Not only that, many of our kids also are picking up those extracurricular activities, and the scheduling can begin to get crazy.
Before beginning the process, think a bit about what is going on with your child during this time of day. They have spent all day at school, learning and socializing, and doing their best to keep it together. Coming home is like a huge release for them. They are with the adult who loves them unconditionally. They are tired. They are hungry. They are carrying with them the stress from their day.
Think a bit about what you want during this time. You want to connect with your child, right? You want them to move into the direction of snacks and unpacking (literally and figuratively) from the day. You know there is homework to do…
Get some ideas from your child. Talk about how it can feel after school; remind them of past experiences or of what happens when you feel stressed and get bossy. Then ask for their ideas. Make a list of the things that need to happen. Our list includes unpacking and repacking lunches, having a snack, doing homework and reading for a set amount of time. We have also added one job (chore) of their choice.
Then ask your kids what ideas they have to get these things done. Make some offers and counter offers until you are both satisfied. Then, give it a week and have another conversation about how it’s going. This is an ongoing process that can and should be tweaked as you and your child’s needs evolve.
The routine itself brings consistency and a structure to this time of day. The process is an opportunity for your child to practice negotiating, sharing ideas, problem solving and finding mutually respectful solutions, among other important skills that are learned over time and with experience.
Bedtime routine is not only for our littlest kids. School aged kids need consistent bedtime routines that allow them to wind down from their day, feel connected to you and move them in the direction of peaceful sleep.
Begin to look at the hour before you want to be saying goodnight and walking away from your child. What are the tasks they need to take care of before they can get into bed? They know; ask them. Let your child make the list. How are you connecting before bedtime? Do you play games or read together? Are there things they can do at night to make morning time smoother, like picking out clothes for the next day?
Write down what you decide together. Make a visual to remind your child (and you) what they’ve agreed to do each night. Make sure you allow plenty of time (we give a whole hour) for all the tasks to be completed. Allow the routine to be the boss, “What is left on your bedtime routine chart?”
When it stops being helpful, revisit, and ask you kids how it can be tweaked to continue to work for everyone.
You may have noticed that there are a few things we do that help make morning smoother. When we create afternoon routines at our house, we ask, “When are you going to pack tomorrow’s lunch?” Even our kinders can help with this task. When it is done the day before, it’s not something to stress about in the morning.
Also, picking out clothes the night before can make for a smoother out-of-bed-and-towards-breakfast transition. Do your kids need to be dressed before they eat? What are their ideas about this? Again, a visual reminder will help everyone stay positive during this short period of time before heading off in different directions.
One final tip that has made a really big difference for me: It is easy to get caught up in the stress and get overwhelmed during these times of day, even when routines are in place. There are lots of other things that distract us and pull our attention away from our kids. These times of day are crucial for connection, which is what every kid is craving.
To help myself, because I am an emotional human being, I have taken advantage of technology. At 8 a.m., when it is time to head out to the bus, I have an alarm on my phone set with the label, “Leave them with love.” At 3:45 p.m., when the school bus is due to arrive in the neighborhood, I have an alarm set with the label, “Do your eyes light up?” And as we move closer to those school days and away from summer, I am going to set a 7:30 p.m. alarm, an hour before I am hoping to be saying goodnight, and label it, “Connection is love.”
I invite you to play with these ideas. Make them work for your kids. Breathe deep and soften your shoulders when you begin to notice the need for control show up… Let it go and really believe in your kids’ ability to problem-solve with you. And remember, trust the process.
Casey O’Roarty, M.Ed, is a certified Positive Discipline Trainer, certified life coach, wife and mother of two living in Monroe, Washington. To find more of her writing and offers, check her out at www.joyfulcourage.com or like Joyful Courage on Facebook.