It's widely known that routines are good for children. However, it’s easy to get off track during the holiday season. Whether you have a little one or a school-age child, sticking to their routine as much as possible during the winter break is a good idea. Let’s discuss why that routines are so beneficial and how to use them during the holidays.
Why Do Routines Matter?
Research indicates routines help children develop healthy self-regulation skills. As kids learn to regulate their emotions and behaviors, they also gain the ability to identify their feelings and the skills to manage those feelings. Kids who learn to regulate and manage their feelings are better able to adapt to daily challenges and stressors.
Children don’t learn to manage their emotions and behaviors all at once. It is very normal for them to have feelings of being overwhelmed by new expectations or unexpected challenges. Learning to self-regulate takes time. How can you help your child learn to self-regulate?
- Talk about feelings with your child.
- Gently suggest some practical options for your child regarding how they can respond to their feelings. Do they need to take some deep breaths? Count to ten? Do they need a hug?
- Provide structure through routines for your children. Make it a priority for them to live in an organized and predictable environment.
What is the difference between a routine and a schedule?
A routine isn’t simply a set schedule, although the two have certain similarities. To be considered developmentally supportive, a routine needs to include two specific factors: predictability and accessibility. Children flourish in relationships and environments that are predictable to them. Predictability includes caregivers who behave in predictable ways. It also includes events and activities that occur at predictable times.
Two great examples of routines that benefit children are dinnertime routines and bedtime routines. Not only are children able to mentally “anchor” their day with these two set activities, but they will also have access to their caregivers and predictably expect to be given meals. They may even be able to be active participants in these activities, such as helping to set the table, or selecting a book to read at bedtime.
How Parents Can Adapt Routines During the Holidays
Many parents and children struggle with adjustments to their children’s routines during the holidays. Though they may not have school and some of their regular activities may be discontinued temporarily, children still need structure and routine. You can help your child adjust by letting them know what to expect each day at home.
While creating a schedule can be helpful, for some children, overly defined schedules may increase anxiety. This is especially true if the transitions between activities feel forced or unnatural. If a very defined schedule doesn’t work well for your family, you may want to try discussing in the morning what priorities exist for that day and explain the general timeframes for your activities. This will help keep the events of the day predictable for your child.
Anchoring routines like dinnertime and bedtime helps wrap the day up in a predictable manner as well. During the holidays, parents are often tempted to relax rules and expectations, including ones regarding how children eat and what time they go to bed. However, be firm with the rules and expectations that could affect your child after the holidays are over.
Children need predictable caregivers. While you may be spending lots of time at home with your children during the holidays, be mindful of how predictable your focused attention is. It is better for their development to have fewer but more focused moments of positive interaction, rather than unpredictable moments of distracted attention throughout the day.
Best Routine Tips for Children
Stick to the same bedtime
It’s best not to let your children sleep in too much during the holidays and winter school break. Waking up around the same time every day and going to bed at the same time will help them get enough sleep and supports their development. Predictable schedules help children fall asleep more easily at night. Predictability promotes relaxation. In addition, kids who know their schedules whine less and aren’t as prone to resisting bedtime. Naptimes should also follow the routine.
Practice Good Eating Habits
Eating at the same time every day reduces the potential for children to become “hangry,” or have hunger-related irritability. Make sure that your children are eating a healthy breakfast every day, as it will support their ability to concentrate and their energy level throughout the day. During dinnertime meals, put small portions on your child’s plate and encourage them to stop eating when full even if there is food left. While many of us grew up being told to “clean our plate,” it’s not the healthiest eating habit! The holidays come with many opportunities to overeat, as well as indulge in sugary treats. Do your best to exercise moderation and encourage your children to do the same.
Holiday Travel with Kids
Traveling always has the potential to be stressful. However, traveling with young children can be a nightmare if your child doesn’t react to changes in environment well. Many children react to travel better in the mornings, so it may be best to plan to travel then and spend evenings recovering from the day. You can bring a favorite stuffed animal, a blanket, or another item that makes your child feel safe to ease any discomfort they may feel about being in an unfamiliar environment.
If it is impossible to stick to your established routine when traveling and/or spending time with family, you may want to create a new routine to help your kids feel more at ease. If your child’s regular bedtime is 8 p.m. in Texas, then put them to bed at 8 p.m. when in California, even if it is 10 p.m. here. Communicating with your child regarding the new routine will help them adjust to the temporary circumstances.
During the holiday break, your children may feel restless or irritable being cooped up all day instead of being at school, interacting with their teachers and classmates. Planning some activities to keep your kids active mentally and physically will help. Visit one of Frisco’s beautiful parks or an outdoor shopping venue like Legacy West or the Star to get them out of the house and out in the fresh air. For indoor fun, ice skating at the StarCenter, home of the Dallas Stars hockey team, is a great option. You can also take them walking around Stonebriar Mall or visit the Frisco Public Library for some of their events. You may find some new bedtime story options while you are there! To keep them engaged at home while you may be working or entertaining family, you may want to get a variety of games, crafts, puzzles, and such to have on hand.
Screen Time Limits
Sometimes kids can get in the habit of watching TV and movies all day during winter break, especially if parents are busy working or entertaining family. Setting up parental controls on your TVs, smartphones, and other electronic devices will limit the amount of time your child spends staring at a screen during the break. A good rule of thumb is to limit screen time to 2 hours a day. Even if your kids complain about boredom, they can either enjoy some of the games and activities discussed above or find a way to entertain themselves, which is good for them!
Back to School Routines
As the return to school looms, start preparing your kids to return to their regular routine. Ease back into regular bedtimes if the time changed during the break. If your mealtime schedules changed, start transitioning back to your previous schedule as well.
Families who are on a regular schedule have lower levels of anxiety in general. Your child knows what to expect and what is expected of them if their routine is consistent. By communicating changes and supporting your child with new routines during the holiday break, you can help reduce opportunities for anxiety and stress in your home. If you have questions about how routines can benefit your child, please contact Entirely Kids Pediatrics for an appointment today.
Jamie Spence | Content Manager
Seota Digital Marketing 972.737.2830