A new school year has arrived – plenty of anticipation and anxiety as families run around to get ready. It’s essential to get off to a good start, and a sure-fire way to do that is by establishing routines.

The kids will quickly fall into the routines at school. They should do the same at home. Routine provides structure and stability. That’s why children like it. Knowing that, there are three main opportunities for parents to provide it.

First off is in the morning. Determine a regular time for your children to wake up. Following this wake up time should be a routine for making their bed, getting dressed, washing up, and brushing their teeth. Breakfast should also be a part of this. It doesn’t have to be anything special. Toast, cereal, yoghurt, muesli all will keep children’s stomachs busy and get them healthily on their way. On the flip-side, electronics and TV should be avoided during the morning. They add stress and cloud the brain. It’s a great deal to expect at the start of the day, but by doing it the kids will get off to school with a sense of focus, organization, and calm.

Getting ready for bed provides another opportunity for routine. Having an established time for this is essential. There is putting on pyjamas, brushing teeth, and washing up. Having kids get their clothes and school stuff ready for the next day is helpful too, so that they will not be rushed or forgetful in the morning.  Needless to say, children should go to bed at the same time each night. They typically require 9 to 11 hours of sleep nightly. That might sound like a lot, but they are continually processing new information and the only time for the brain to organize all that information is during sleep. And just like in the morning, there should be no playing with cell phones or computer game or listening to headphones while trying to fall asleep.

The family meal

Sandwiched between the wake-up and bedtime ritual is dinner. Study after study reveals that children who grow up in families where evening meals are eaten together benefit academically, socially, and emotionally. Yet, it is not the act of eating with one another that matters. Most important is the conversation and bonding that takes place. Sitting down together gives children a sense of belonging. They can listen and share the events of their day. Furthermore, families that eat together tend to eat more healthily. Once again, this should be done without the presence of electronic gadgetry, the kind of distraction that interferes with meaningful interaction.

Alongside these three routines, another thing children like is responsibility. One way to make kids responsible is to give them chores. In reality, chores are a different type of routine. While they do not have to be difficult or time consuming, they do have to be done on a regular basis. Some basic chores to assign children are making their bed, putting dirty clothes in the laundry, setting the table, cleaning the table, taking out the garbage, unloading the dishwasher, tidying up their mess in common areas such as the living room, putting away their folded clothes, and cleaning their rooms. All that might seem a lot, but most are manageable in a relatively short amount of time. Plus, doing such chores fills children with a sense of accomplishment.

American psychologist Abraham Maslow noted that children desire “some kind of routine or rhythm” in their life, a way to establish “a predictable, orderly world for themselves.” Add to that some responsibilities such as chores, and kids begin to feel like productive contributors, part of something beyond themselves. Thus, the sooner parents establish routine and responsibilities this school year, the better chance for their children to thrive in and out of the classroom.

By Dan Franch, September 2013.