That being said, creating new routines and sticking to them is hard work! Conflict in the home is what makes many parents shy away from enforcing specific routines and structure. I encourage you to remain calm and logical, take lots of deep breaths in these challenging moments and model the behavior that you hope to see. Remind the child that you have faith in his or her ability and reassure him or her that you will help.
The best way to establish routines is to start with something really simple and easy to understand, such as taking off shoes and leaving them at the door on a mat or in a cubby. Putting a backpack in an assigned spot as Mom puts her purse in an assigned spot is another easy one. Offer to help the child if the task appears difficult, and try not to assume that any given task will be easy. Ask for help yourself as you work on developing each individual routine. Nothing else happens until the task is done. No snack, no iPad, no nothing until this is done by both parent and child. Gradual, simple changes in routine can serve to reduce anxiety and irritability and give each family member a sense of ownership and control.
If you establish routines using tiny, tiny steps, you are less likely to get pushback in the form of tantrums or meltdowns. Other examples include taking a bath at the same time each day, setting the table at the same time, reading a favorite book as soon as the child is in bed. Sitting together at the table every night is a well-recognized, and valuable routine that provides a good opportunity for families to discuss needed changes in routines. For some families, this means doing homework, for others, eating dinner. With reduced demands, children are frequently eager to make suggestions that can be beneficial to the whole family. My son once suggested that we buy silly alarm clocks that he had seen at a dollar store, and that all alarm clocks be set to the same time. Between Charlie Chaplin, Betty Boop and a loud Dinosaur, everyone was up, checking their individual charts and on the move in plenty of time for a family breakfast. Even though the novelty wore off in a few weeks, the addition of an incentive (putting a poker chip in the Friday night pizza and game night jar) helped establish the routine well enough so that mornings were easier for all.
Most kids will respond to a reward and this can help to reinforce the development of each routine. It may vary for each child. At my house, a marble in a jar worked for my son, a check on a list of tasks worked for my daughter. Both served as a simple reward that resulted in a preferred shared family activity. If a reward helps, don’t hesitate to reward children for their new positive habits.
It takes time for a behavior to become a habit. Even bad habits do not happen overnight. Research has shown that if we carry over a simple routine for a week consistently, habits are formed. Take your time and feel out the types of routines that might be missing in your own home. Maybe you need a better morning routine? Or maybe you need a better bedtime routine? Sit down and think about what behaviors or habits could make your life less stressful. I promise, the struggle is worth the end result.