5 Key Ideas: How Routines Can Help Parents Build Stronger Families

On March 8th, SCAN’s Allies in Prevention Coalition hosted its quarterly meeting with a focus on the Importance of Routines for Children. Dr. Amy Parks from The Wise Family and Dr. Kelly Henderson from Formed Families Forward joined us to lead a fantastic discussion about why routines are important, how they affect children, and how parents—no matter where they are on the parenting journey—can use routines to support their children and strengthen their families.

Here are 5 keys ideas we took away from the discussion:

1. There are 3 key ingredients to building routines in the home:

• Consistency – doing the same thing every time
• Predictability – expecting or knowing what will happen
• Follow-through – following through with consequences

2. Creating new habits can take a long time – 66 days on average!

Plan on 8 weeks of consistent repetition and active learning for the brain to “myelinate” (when brain neurons connect and actions become habit.) Remember that the brain is “neutral” so this happens with both good ­and bad habits. This is especially important for parents to understand:

“The brain of a child has no filter for good and bad,” noted Dr. Parks. “As the adult you have to be their filter, helping children make meaning and build habits through explicit instruction.”

3. Different kids (and adults!) learn in different ways.

For some, positive reinforcement is a good way to encourage repetition of new habits. For others, visual reminders like a chart or auditory reminders like a song are more helpful. If a child has a disability or other challenge, it often requires more support, encouragement and tools to build a routine.

4. Every family is different, too.

If a family is in crisis, even the smallest routine—like getting everyone ready to leave the house on time—can be a huge challenge. Many Coalition members are working with families where children are living in poverty, where parents work shift hours with constantly changing schedules, or where a parent is deployed in the military. Even the most high-functioning family can find it nearly impossible to have a family meal together every night. That’s okay! It can be helpful to take a step back and figure out what current routines are in place, good or bad. Then the first step might be “extinguishing” unhealthy routines before adding new routines, or replacing them with simple, healthier steps.

5. Routines can do so much to address a child’s stress levels!

“When things outside of a child’s immediate world raise concerns, a routine can provide security and comfort,” noted Dr. Henderson.

Stress is really a physiological function of the body. Every child and adult has a reaction to stress–fight, flight, freeze, or appease. When our brain has to handle stress, it “turns off” the thinking part of our brain. If our children’s brains can rely on healthy routines and habits they’ve learned, then they can continue to take care of themselves (eat, sleep, communicate) even when they are under stress. The same goes for adults and our routines!

Explore SCAN’s resources on “The Importance of Routines” on the Parent Resource Center here. You can also check out some of the videos Dr. Parks and Dr. Henderson shared during their presentation: