Children Need Routine—Especially During Uncertain Times


Routines build a strong foundation for children of all ages, and it’s important that, as parents, we try to provide a routine for the family, even when times are tough.

Why routines matters

We all do better when we have some structure around us. Routines provide a predictable pattern to our days that helps everyone know what to expect. Without some kind of routine to our day, we can feel out-of-focus, forgetful, and low on brainpower. The more we can do through routine patterns, the more secure and safe we feel. This is true for the whole family.

Human brains are constantly scanning the environment for safety.  Routine patterns give us information about the world and it’s safety and predictability. Before we can learn or understand anything, our brains need to feel safe. A child’s brain is hard-wired to seek out safety first. Patterns help them feel safe and secure, so they can use their thinking brain to explore, learn and make good decisions throughout their day.

Children thrive on predictability, and routines have been shown to help with:

  • Concentration
  • Memory
  • Emotional regulation
  • Self-control

How to create a routine that works for your family

A routine is different from a schedule—a routine doesn’t necessarily say “It’s 2:00 pm so it’s time to do this!” Having a routine, doesn’t mean we need to plan every minute of every day or panic when plans change. It’s possible to create a routine that isn’t rigid.

For a routine to work, it needs to be doable for you and your family. Think of it as a “loose flow” to the day that ensures that each family member’s basic needs are met. These include time to eat, rest, and connect with each other. It might also include time to work, or time to be alone. Identify when those things are going to happen. For our children (and for us) knowing that our basic needs will be met and having a sense of when that happens in the flow of the day goes a long way to helping us feel secure and freeing up our brains to do other great things. For example, if you are a two year old, and you know that after snack it will be time to go play outside, it is less of a struggle to sit at the table and finish your cheese and crackers.

Second, it helps to have a few rituals or touchstones during the day—these are the anchor points that keep us grounded in the midst of everything that can happen during the day. It can be especially helpful to have them at the start and the end of the day. Some examples, include:

  • During breakfast, talk about your plans or goals for the day.
  • Read books before bedtime.
  • End your day with some snuggles and talk about your favorite moments of the day.
  • Take a walk around the neighborhood after dinner.

During COVID-19, you may need to introduce new routines to your family, such as washing your hands more often; practicing social distancing; wearing a mask when in public; managing a situation where you are working from home while your child is also at home. Whenever possible, involve your children in the development of these new routines. During stressful times like we are experiencing now, it works best to simplify routines. It might take a little time for the family to adjust to the new routines—be as kind and patient with both yourself and your child as you can.

Perfectly imperfect routines

There are a lot of sample routines floating around the Internet for planning your child’s day. Your daily routine is not always going to go as planned—and that’s OK. It’s all about providing some structure and outline for the day. Don’t worry too much about keeping up with the “sample routines” you see online, or your best friend’s daily schedule for her kids. Pay attention to what’s working best for your family— chances are, you are already “routinely” doing some great things for your child!

This article is brought to you by Parenting Now Parenting Educators and authors Amanda Bedortha, Claire Davis and Lynne Swartz and consultant Jay Thompson ( 


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