We are living in a world where life is unpredictable. Children’s normal routines have been disrupted in ways that are unprecedent. There is great uncertainty regarding their most basic normal routine of waking up and going to school or day care. It appears that each school has a different plan put in place to deal with the COVID-19 crisis we are all facing. Teachers and other educators are doing their best to navigate through a system which is unclear, and this uncertainty has a huge negative impact on children.
Routines are very important. We cannot predict what the next few days or months will look like in our everyday lives. We cannot control many aspects of our lives, but we can control our routines.
Why are routines important for children?
First of all, routines give the child a sense of safety. The child needs to feel safe in order to thrive – feelings of being unsafe leads to behaviours such as lashing out, running away, or hiding. These behaviours are a result of the fight, flight, or freeze response being triggered. From the time this response is triggered to the time of a response from this trigger is less than one second. The cognitive functions become “offline” and the body moves to these automatic responses very quickly when we sense we are unsafe.
Routines help to establish that life is safe – that I am safe – regardless of the chaos that I see around me. Safety is the primary goal for all of us. If we are not feeling safe, then we do all we can to get away from what feels dangerous. We do all we can to resolve this issue of safety. Our brains do not distinguish between what really is dangerous and what feels dangerous.
Secondly, routines establish expectations. The childwill begin to learn what behaviours are appropriate at what time, they will flourish with knowing what the expectations are and they will delight in meeting those expectations. For the family this can mean the difference between having a calm bedtime and a chaotic bedtime. The entire family benefits from establishing routines and expectations.
A world in which one knows what to expect creates feelings of safety – remember, feelings of safety is the backbone of our behaviours, thoughts, and emotions.
Lastly, within these routines there needs to be flexibility. Establishing routines means we know that the world is safe, and we know what is expected of us. However, we also need to be flexible in our routines to establish a sense of creativity and wonder. If we miss watching the blue bird which landed in our bird bath because we are too set in our routines, then we miss out on a great deal of beauty in life. Also, the child will rebel if they feel an overpowering sense of being controlled.
Ultimately the child is looking for a sense of balance – between routines and flexibility – between curious wonder and everyday expectations.
I cheer you on in your journey to establishing routines. Remember, if you need support in establishing or maintaining routines for you, your child, and your family I am only a phone call away.
Mary Stanwood, MA, BCATR, RCC