1. Children thrive on predictability. Really who doesn’t? My day always runs more smoothly when I know what will happen that day. When I get to work, and everything has changed, and I have to react, I tend to become grouchy.
2. Routines allow children to focus less or stress less about what is coming next. Consistency will enable them to concentrate on learning, playing, building language, or improving their speech.
3. For children working on developing their language skills, routines allow children to hear and or practice vocabulary and concepts frequently enough that it will help with generalization.
4. Routines, structure, and predictability allow children to safely test boundaries. All children push boundaries; it is a part of growing up and becoming more independent. But we want them to be relatively safe when doing so. We want the consequences of their tries to be successful. They will have pushed a boundary and gained more independence, or they will learn that that boundary is firmly in place.
5. Establishing routines, structure, and consistency at a young age helps children as they grow. In school, children need to function in a classroom. They are in a group of many other children with only one or two adults in the room. They need to be able to follow someone else’s agenda and not have meltdowns because they are no longer in charge or have rarely heard the word “No” and do not know how to handle it. In therapy, it means that they have to know that they are going to follow the directions of the Speech-Language Pathologist and are not going to be upset when they are playing a different game today or, worse yet, not playing a game at all.
So what can we do to help children establish routines?
1. It is crucial to be consistent, which can be challenging if the routine you introduce is unpopular. It sometimes helps to have a game plan and write down what the new routines will look like and how you will react if the child(ren) you are with is not happy with the changes.
2. Use visuals. They really do work, and I’m probably preaching to the choir. Here is a blog post I wrote about why you should use visuals.
3. Keep in mind who and why you are creating the new routine. Especially a the beginning, try to use activities, games, and rewards (if you use them) that the children enjoy. They will be willing to participate if it is fun or they are getting something out of it.
Establishing routines can be complicated, but the effort is well worth it. It will help everyone function better in the classroom, therapy room or at home much better.