Routines, Rituals, and Development
Every morning I start off doing the same thing: wake up, bathroom, coffee, get dressed, breakfast, get boys ready and fed, and walk out the door. This is planned and expected.
We each have our own routines of how we do things throughout the day. Routines have a clear beginning and end and help us regulate our own behavior because we know what to expect. You do not have to set up a complete schedule and follow it verbatim! But there should be a general order or pattern followed throughout the day. For young children, this is particularly important as predictable routines and repetition are thought to enhance development during the first three years of life.
Now, we can’t predict everything and there may be disruption from time to time with holidays, school breaks, daylight savings time, and even a change in eating or diet habits. All of which can impact the way our children will respond when their routines change. These are the small hiccups that occur in between and will typically roll back into their routine once predictability comes into play again.
Rituals are the step-by-steps needed to complete a routine and are done in a certain way.
My oldest used to get dressed by putting on underwear first, then socks, shirt and last shorts. It had to be done in this specific order because it was how he liked to do it. If I would help him and try to put things on out of order, he would become quite upset and frustrated. Rituals can help reduce anxiety and give our children a sense of control over their environment. Think about it, you are being told what to do and how to do it, all day long. So simple things like how they get dressed, brush their teeth, eat their food, etc. are ways they gain control of what is happening to them. Little things like this I give into and let my children complete them the way they want to because it gives them reassurance and control. Unless it could hurt them or someone else, I think it is okay to let me do it their way. As children become more confident, they are likely to become more flexible and may be more willing to complete their rituals differently. It is important to note, that on occasion, their may be some rituals that children could become specific about and not want to change. This could be due to personality or development.
Oh no! We overslept! I’m rushing, have little to no patience, yelling for the boys to get to the table and eat their breakfast for the 4th time, hurrying, yelling some more, getting upset because no one is moving fast enough. This is not planned and therefore my self regulation skills are non-existent at this time because of my stress and anxiety level. My thermostat is running high. Self regulation skills can believed as an emotional thermostat. Self-regulation is clearly not an isolated skill. Children must translate what they experience into information they can use to regulate thoughts, emotions, and behaviors (Blair & Diamond 2008). Self-regulation skills develop gradually, and therefore, as parents of young children, the best way to progress these skills are to model them. Yes, those little brown eyes are always watching me and seeing how I react during times of stress. I do try to be mindful and keep my emotions in check, however, I do not always. I have had my moments where I blew up because of something and realized they were there to witness. The way I have addressed these moments is by apologizing to them when I’ve made a bad choice. Children need to understand that we will all make good and bad choices. But even when we make the bad ones, it also encouraged them that when we do make them, we can turn them around by doing the right thing.
It is important that we as parents need to consider their age, temperament, and developmental levels.
- Have a need for independence
- Need to control what is happening to them
- Live in the moment and have limited understanding of time
- Testing boundaries to see what is allowed
- Have limited communication skills
At four years old, my son was functioning at a two-and-a-half-year-old level socially/emotionally. His communication skills were at a three year old level and he was very much a type A personality kind of boy. All of these factors had to be taken into consideration in order to discipline (to teach) him what was appropriate behavior and continuously model the correct behavior or skill that was being taught. The most important thing we can do as parents, as difficult as it is, is to model desired behaviors and responses for our children.
ESTABLISHING HEALTHY ROUTINES, RITUALS, AND BEHAVIORS
Planning ahead to trouble shoot behavior and provide a consistent routine, is an effective way to making changes that stick. This evidence is used in coaching, diet programs, and educational programs.
- Observe routines, rituals, and behaviors and write down what is happening during this time to pinpoint areas that you would like to change.
- Decide what needs to be changed within your routine.
- Develop a written plan on how you are going to address certain behaviors.
- Plan ahead for obstacles that could occur and make adjustments as needed.
- Build in time to enjoy parenting by using these moments as teaching moments and a way to enjoy watching your children learn the new skills.
- Give clear directions.
- Evaluate and make changes, as needed.
Predictable routines provide our children with a sense of security. Children desire to appease their parents and want to make good choices, but if their sense of safety is compromised, the need for control may override their ability to making good choices.
Did you miss the first edition of this series? Check out Behavior Bites #1: Be Explicit with Your Children
The information above comes from the HOT DOCS instructors manual, second edition and is an overview. It was written by Kathleen Armstrong, Heather Agazzi, Jillian Childres, and Carol Lilly. If you are interested in taking the HOT DOCS course through the Department of Pediatrics, College of Medicine at the University of South Florida, please follow THIS LINK to learn more about the classes offered.