Comfort in routines!
Summer is here and with it comes the challenges of keeping some sort of a routine at home or away. Routines are very important for all children, but particularly important for children with delays and/or special needs.
Why is this?
Tantrums and meltdowns occur more often with frustration and to produce less frustration a familiar routine is key. Routines are also an excellent way to model vocabulary for children with language delays- phrases and words will be used repetitively so kids will get a lot of exposure to them, which will improve their understanding and use of functional words.
While I do not recommend setting completely rigid and unbending schedules for children, I do think having a predictable home routine is very beneficial for the whole family. Some families do well with a loose schedule and some prefer more structured schedules. Either is fine - whatever works for you!
Where to start?
A great place to start implementing a routine is having a set bedtime. Sleep is so important for children (and adults too). It is recommended that children ages 3-5 should get 10-13 hours of sleep a day (including naps), and children ages 6-12 should get 9-12 hours of sleep each night. So if your school aged child needs to wake up at 6 in the morning, they need to be asleep by 9 pm to get the minimum amount of sleep recommended. However, all too often parents report their child does not want to go to sleep so they stay up until midnight watching cartoons or playing on their iPad. A bedtime routine can help to guide you and your child away from this nocturnal behavior.
The benefits of getting enough sleep are numerous and include mental and physical health, attention, memory, learning, behavior and more.
Setting up a bedtime routine:
Bedtime routines can be anything you want them to be, as long as they are familiar and predictable, no screen time 30 minutes prior to bed and no electronics in children’s bedrooms. The ‘Brush, Book, Bed’ program which talks about setting a routine and has lots of links to research here is great!
During term time my children have set time one hour before their bedtime for shower or bath, brush teeth and then book time - we read 2 short books with our 3 year old, our 8 year old is sometimes read to and sometimes reads to us and the 11 year old reads to himself (or us on occasion). Then it is lights out. In the summer this changes slightly, as bath may not be every night but it is basically the same (if a little later sometimes). Your child might need a longer or shorter routine and that’s ok too! The key here is not to offer electronics- or anything really stimulating - during this time. We can’t force our kids go to sleep, but we can give them the best possible chance to feel sleepy earlier.
Another routine that might be helpful for your child and family is a morning routine. We have different weekday and weekend/holiday morning routines, but other children may need to have one routine that stays the same regardless of the day. They don’t need to be complicated just consistent to help give a feeling of security and (try to!) avoid the meltdown as we are going out the door. It is also a lovely time to give some great, repetitive vocabulary e.g brush teeth, feed dog, eat breakfast, making tea, get dressed, shoes on, etc.
Breaking bread together.
A “must have” routine is a mealtime routine. It doesn’t need to be every mealtime but one per day is a good start. Most people do the evening meal but for example, many Spanish families tend to have lunch together more often. Setting this routine is easier to do if you start off when your child is still young. An easy place to start is to try to have meals around the same time each day. I know this isn’t always possible (especially on holiday) so just try your best. A big thing for us is that everyone sits at the table together as a family until everyone is finished with no electronics.
We sometimes get lots of complaining from the older boys, and whining from the toddler, and attempts to break the no electronics rule from one of the adults, but overall it works well. We don’t always talk about our day but it’s an important part of our family bonding time. We still have plenty of times where someone sits and sulks about whatever, or the three year old screeches and fusses which takes away from family talk time - it’s not perfect but it is comforting and needed. We also include rules into our routine for example you have to eat the vegetables/fruit given to you, and repetition of general manners and vocabulary, e.g. set the table, knife, fork, sit up, etc.
Other routines such as bath time, naptime, snack time, and monitoring/limiting screen would also be useful to implement. If the current routine that you would like to change is driven by your child (eats/sleeps/plays when they want), I would expect these changes to be difficult for them and would recommend you prepare for tantrums or complaining. Stay strong. You CAN do this! Do not give in to these battles from your kids, and continue to implement your routine and explain and use visuals to show your child this is how things will be from now on because they will get used to it and accept it once they know what to expect.
Pictures, pictures, pictures!!!
A social story or visual timetable will be beneficial to make and review with your child before implementing these changes- this would particularly be helpful for a child who struggles with transition and/or has ASD.
Once you have a predictable routine in place, it’s time to add lots of repetitive and functional language into your routines!