How To Establish a Family Routine and Why They Work

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The traffic is noisy, the video games are over-stimulating, and the snacks are full of sugar and preservatives…is it any wonder that our kids are struggling to pay attention, self-regulate, and feel secure? Family routines can help to create boundaries within your home, which in turn provide security and structure for children to feel safe. 

Benefits of a Family Routine

There are many benefits to creating a family routine, and doctors and researchers stress the importance of doing so to help raise happier, more confident children. Psychologist Dani Kaufman explains, “In what some researchers have described as an ‘epidemic of anxiety’, the predictability and familiarity that comes with routine offers the perfect ‘safe space’ that kids need.”

Creates feelings of security

By having consistent routines in place at home, children know what is expected of them and what will be happening throughout their day. This helps them to feel more secure and confident. While their school days are filled with routines, there are often many unpredictable events that take place. Home is their calm space, where they should feel relaxed and safe, and family routines help them to achieve this.

Develops good habits

When you develop a consistent family routine, your children grow up with good habits already in place. Having a regular sit-down meal time where the whole family gathers, helps you to create good eating habits for your children. When you incorporate reading and homework as part of the after-school routine, you are demonstrating the importance of education and setting them up for academic success.

Helps young children to understand time

Little kids do not know how to tell time yet, so their sense of security comes in the form of predictable events in their lives. They order their lives by the events that routinely take place each day. When those events happen in the same order each day, children thrive on that sort of predictability, and they can better understand concepts of before and after as well. 

Helps to prevent meltdowns during challenging times of the day

In our house, we affectionately refer to the hour before dinner time as “arsenic hour”, as it’s the time of day when everything falls apart; tempers flare, arguments happen, and tears flow. The kids are getting tired and hungry, and they have had a full day of regulating their emotions and are simply running out of steam. The one thing that helps us immensely is the incorporation of our family routine. The kids know what to expect, they know dinner will be on the table soon, and they know what happens after dinner. This helps a lot with this difficult time of day. If you have certain times of the day that are challenging, that would be the best time to incorporate a routine, to help your children feel secure in the predictable events that will take place.

girl doing homework

How to Establish a Family Routine

Start small

If you currently do not have any routines in place, start small and keep it simple. Jumping into a strict routine from nothing will only enhance stress in your household and create an opportunity for upset and arguments. Instead, take a look at your daily life, and choose a time of day when you and your child would benefit from having a routine to help keep things running smoothly. Perhaps it is bedtime that could do with a consistent routine, or homework time to get your older kids used to the idea of doing homework each day. Choose one and start with that. Then, you can always start another routine at home, once you feel that the first one is well under way and being executed without too much support (read: nagging) from you.

Keep the routine simple

Don’t have too many “steps” to your routine, especially at the beginning, or it will get frustrating and confusing for everyone involved. Keep the steps to about 4 or 5 in total, in order for it to be manageable. Choose what those steps will be, and make sure all family members are included and informed. Write it out and put it up somewhere in your home where everyone will see it. 

Involve older children in creating the routine

If you’re working on creating a homework routine, for example, get your older kids involved in the process. By asking for their input, you’re reminding them of the important role they play in the family, and you’re helping help them to feel included and valued. Hold a family meeting to discuss what this new routine should look like and what it should include. Then, create the routine together and agree to revisit it after a week or two to see how it worked out. 

Revisit and reassess

Things change, and we sometimes need to adapt and change with them. Be open to reviewing your routine regularly and tweaking it to best suit your family’s needs. Perhaps you do this through a weekly family meeting, as suggested previously, or perhaps you and your spouse revisit the routine together to discuss what is and isn’t working. But, keeping your finger on the “family pulse” is important in making sure that all family members are benefitting from the routines put in place.


Sample Family Routines

Since it can sometimes feel overwhelming trying to start something new, here are a few sample routines that we put together here at Smart Parent Advice. Take what pieces work well for you and your family, and tweak them to make a routine that’s perfect for your household.

Morning Routine

6:30 – 7:00 am: Wake up, shower, get yourself ready (in peace and quiet!)

7:00 am: Wake up the children

7:00 – 7:20 am: Kids are getting dressed and making their bed

7:20 – 7:40 am: Eat breakfast

7:40 – 7:45 am: Back upstairs to brush teeth

7:45 – 7:55 am: Pack school bags and get coats/boots on

8:00 am: Everyone is out the door to school/work

After-School Routine

3:30 pm: Kids arrive home from school

3:30 – 4:30 pm: Free Time – snack, relax, play outside, iPad, etc.

4:30 – 5:00 pm: Responsibilities/Chores – dishes, tidy up, pet care, etc.

5:00 – 5:30 pm: Homework – reading, math, etc.

5:00 – 6:00 pm: Homework for older kids – reading, math, assignments, etc. 

6:00 – 6:30 pm: Supper

*A note about homework: This is merely meant as a guide to help you create your own after-school routine. Your children may benefit from more or less homework time than mine do. As a school teacher myself, however, I see firsthand how hard kids work all day long at school, so I choose to limit how much homework time they have to do when they get home. I find that 20 – 30 minutes is a good amount of time for children between 5 and 9 years old, and an hour for children between 9 and 14 years old. Typically, high school students will require more time than that. Again though, do what works best for you and your family. 

Bedtime Routine

This one has always been one of my favorites! I love ending the day with this routine, as it creates predictability, so my kids know what to expect when I say that it is bedtime. It reduces the arguments when it’s time to get ready for bed, and it finishes the day on a positive, loving note, with my kids feeling happy, safe, secure, and loved.

7:00 – 7:30 pm: Bath/shower time (I usually let mine play in the tub for a while!)

7:30 – 7:45 pm: Get pajamas on and brush teeth

7:45 – 8:00 pm: Read stories to the little one, sing her a song, have a cuddle

(older one gets a few minutes of quiet free time in his room during this time)

8:00 pm: Lights out for little one (she’s 5 years old)

8:00 – 8:15 pm: Read stories to the oldest one, chat, have a cuddle

8:15 – 8:30 pm: He is allowed to read quietly in bed for 15 minutes

8:30 pm Lights out for oldest one (he’s 8 years old)

These are just meant as a starting point for you, in hopes that they help you to find a way to create your own routine in your home. Whether you are adding a morning routine to help ease those stressful starts to the day, or you are adding a bedtime routine to end the day on a more positive and peaceful note, routines will help to add structure and predictability to your child’s day. They will also help to ease your own stress load, as they will remove the uncertainty, and everyone will know what is expected of them and what event will be coming next. This is the best way to help your child feel safe and secure, and we all know that home is the best place for them to feel that way! 

Sarah Poirier is an elementary school teacher, freelance writer, and busy mom who is seeking a simpler lifestyle away from the everyday "rat race". Having recently completed a cross-country move, she now lives on her rural oceanfront paradise with her husband and two beautiful, energetic children. As a writer, she is passionate about finding ways to live a healthier and more holistic lifestyle, and she loves sharing helpful tips and tricks she's learned along the way on this parenting adventure!