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Routines with predictable mealtimes, homework schedules and bedtime rituals can help your entire family thrive. Military living is full of change and uncertainty, and maintaining routines can help children and teens feel grounded and secure. Children crave the sense of control that comes from knowing what to expect, especially with regard to sleeping and eating. Routines are especially important during unsettling change and for children who have difficulty with transitions.
As you explore establishing routines, consider the basics. Try to establish regular meal and homework times and set aside time each day for physical activity. Schedules and routines help establish expectations and create a calmer household by reducing the stress and anxiety associated with unpredictability.
Establishing routines for your family doesn’t mean scheduling every hour of the day in 10-minute blocks or adding to your already busy life. It means establishing more order around things you already do, like feeding your children or putting them to bed. Here are some suggestions to help you create achievable routines:
- Keep routines simple. Start with the basics — a predictable mealtime, homework routine and bedtime ritual. Sesame Street for Military Families offers support for morning separation, long waits, bedtime preparation and other experiences your young child may face each day.
- Be realistic. If you get home from work at 6 p.m., a 7 p.m. bedtime probably isn’t achievable. Think carefully about your family’s schedule to guide your timing to determine what is best for meals, bath time and reading together before bedtime.
- Be patient. Routines require practice and time for your child to get used to them. Adjust expectations and be patient.
- Try to have meals together as a family whenever possible. When doable, aim to have everyone eat at the same time. Get your child involved. Make mealtime run more smoothly by having your child set the table or help with another pre-meal task.
- Ease into nap time and bedtime. There’s no on-off switch for children. Gradually wind down by doing a diaper change, bathroom trip, bath or stories to help them slow down. Older children also benefit from quiet routine before bedtime. Put your devices to sleep as well. Studies show that eliminating blue light exposure a couple of hours before bedtime aids in a restful night’s sleep.
- Keep the same general structure. Use the same sequence of events at nighttime — for example, bath-pajamas-stories-sleep — to avoid delay tactics and other games. Try to keep the weekend routine similar to the weekday as far as snacks and naps.
Sticking to your routine may take a bit of discipline on your part. Use these tips to help you stay the course:
- Remind yourself that your child looks forward to certain routines. Whether you have young children or teenagers, children rely on predictability for a feeling of security.
- Well-established routines can help your child adjust during challenging times. It will be easier for your child to manage deployments, moves or a new sibling if there is comfort and security with respect to schedules.
- Keep your routines simple. The more complex the routine, the harder it will be to maintain. It’s better for your child to have a few expectations that are met than several things that are not consistently achieved.
- It’s okay to shake up the elements of the routine. Let your partner or someone else run the bedtime routine once in a while so your child gets used to others handling the duty. This will come in handy if you’re deployed or if you use a babysitter.
- Be flexible. Your routine may need to be adjusted occasionally because of things outside of your control, like holidays, vacations and daylight saving time.
- Don’t be afraid to adjust your routines. As your child grows, you will need to adjust elements of the routine to fit with your child’s changes. You might be able to ditch the nap, for instance, but you’ll need to create a new routine for homework. Make small adjustments that best fit your family’s changing schedule.
- Understand that deployments will shift family routines. You and your family will need to make adjustments when you or your spouse deploy. Get tips to help your family transition before, during and after deployment.
In addition to establishing routines, check out other ways to give your child a happy, healthy start. Children and youth counseling services are also available to help your children and teens develop healthy habits. Military OneSource is your source for parenting-related information, tips and guidance to help your children and family build resilience. Call 800-342-9647, view international calling options or schedule a live chat to speak with one of our consultants.