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Do kids need routine, or rhythm?

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Do kids need routine, or rhythm?

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We hear a lot form “experts” in parenting and childcare that children thrive in a routine. “Bedtime” routines and “getting ready for school” routines. “Get baby into a routine otherwise you’ll make a rod for your back.” Where are all these rods? If they really existed we could build something awesome!

I hear about routine all the time. My favourite one is at the end of the summer when every other parent I meet tells me they cannot wait to get back to school to get their kids back into their routine.

Well, my kids hate routine and so do I! Seriously! But I’ll tell you what we love and need; it’s rhythm, and here is what I mean by that:

Why kids hate routine but love rhythm

Routine is a time based schedule that, to me, feels unvarying and inflexible. Far from feeling that it adds control and certainty to my life,I feel that it stifles learning and creativity. A rigid routine can leave no room for true connection and meeting the varying, sometimes conflicting, needs of our children. Baby routines and routines for kids are based on doing the same thing at the same time every day, or with little variation between days, especially for features such as meals, naps and bedtime. However, we all know that some days kids are ready for lunch by half ten. The more you try to put off meeting their need to eat the more miserable, angry and frustrated everyone gets. To meet everyone’s needs we often need to flex the schedule.

Life, the universe and everything has a flow to it. The world turns, causing day and night and changing seasons. Cycles and rhythms can be seen naturally occurring throughout nature. There’s a predictability to life that we all want and need to some degree; however, it’s important to note that this isn’t a rigid routine. It is subject to change: the amount of daylight changes throughout the year, the weather cycles are different each year. If this wasn’t the case we would get really bored and start to hate life.

Five awesome ways to use rhythm with your children:

kids routine

1. Kids need predictability, not routine

Children, like the rest of us, do like to feel in control of their lives. So they do need some certainty, some predictability, and this comes from a sense of knowing what is coming next. Now you can tell kids what is going to happen. Many parents forget to do this a lot of the time. In fact, I know some parents, like my husband, tend to withhold information about what is planned from kids to avoid “whinging”. This might be about shopping trips, or outings to see people they aren’t keen on.

This never helps. Children understandably have a need to know. Imagine if you spent your days being taken places with no idea what would happen next, and no way to stop it. How would you feel? Routines seek to make our kids’ world a little more predictable. However, routines offer kids predictability without offering any control.

Making sure a child knows what is coming next can help them to feel generally more calm and respected. This maybe over a week or month, but equally it can be in each moment. For example, if you’re holding your toddler, tell them what you’re going to do before lowering them to the floor. It’s a simple change but it makes so much difference. It takes about 3 seconds yet avoids so much upset and frustration. This is momentary but it works by communicating about the whole day, and for older children in the longer term.

Predictability is really the key to all of this because it is one of the 7 basic psychological needs. We all need it.

2. Routine can stifle your family culture

You may not have ever considered it but every family has a culture; a “way that we do things round here”. Your family rhythm is a big part of that culture. Children, even very small ones, will pick up on the kinds of things that you do as a family. They know the places you tend to go, when certain things happen and how they happen. For instance, my youngest has grown up going to Taekwondo a few times a week and hanging out by the side. From a young age (under two) she would know it was a Tuesday and would get herself a bag of toys to take later. Our children understand that we often eat together in our living room but if we are having a roast dinner or tacos, then we eat at the table. It all follows a rhythm, and this is comforting.

However a routine that has you eating in the same location at the same time every day does not adequately allow for these variations. Likewise, if bedtime were strictly at 7pm my family would have lost out on the connection we had from all attending Taekwondo together. Now my youngest child attends Taekwondo too, it is part of her rhythm of life, and integral to our family culture.

3. Do children need ritual or routine?

When we talk about kids having bedtime routines, we are often actually talking about ritual. When you understand the difference between the two you can the much more freeing ritual to support your baby or child to sleep, and can drop the rigidity of routine. What we’re doing is setting up a series of events or activities that happen the same way each time to cue to a child that the next part is coming. We are using predictability to make difficult moments more comfortable. We are also using the concept psychological concept of behavioural conditioning to create effective sensory cues to support sleep. When you have always fallen asleep after some milk and a story, hearing a particular noise and smelling a particular smell, you will feel sleepy when those things happen together.

4. Routine sets the pace, and not to your kids’ pace

Most of the time parents dictate the routine of their baby or kids. We decide what we do, when and in what order. We decide when we will vary this, and we expect children to co-operate. Sometimes this is important and helps to make life work for everyone involved in the family. However, if we remember that babies and children learn through modelling; watching our behaviour and copying it; we can see how important it is that sometimes we let them dictate the rhythm, the flow or the pace of life. This will help them learn independence, leadership, cooperation, compromise and many other very desirable qualities for their future.

I would highly recommend thinking often about whether you really need to rush, whether you need to go at adult pace during your day and if the answer is “not really”, taking some time out of the routine of life to let your child dictate the pace of an activity (even if it’s going round the supermarket). babies, toddlers and young children are very sensory beings and need a lot more time to process the world around them. So, allowing a slow pace will aid their learning and development whilst developing those qualities listed above, and ensuring they are better regulated.

routine make time to go at kids pace

Out of the routine: live at kids’ pace

In addition, take the time sometimes to purposefully let your toddler lead you completely. They decide the activity, they decide how long it takes (within what you can achieve) and they guide how it happens. My most recent adventure into toddler pace was a trip to IKEA. I was trying to kill time whilst my older children were at acting school so I decided to go to IKEA and let my 20 month old lead me round.

I had the most enjoyable 2 and a half hours for ages. Sure, I looked at a lot of things I would never ever buy, we tried a lot of light switches and waiting for 20 minutes at the bottom of the travellator to just watch the people step off. That was pretty awkward but she was in heaven and it was super lovely to see her exploring. Furthermore she was much more cooperative for the rest of the day having had her fill of control over her life. I highly recommend it.

5. Limits and boundaries

You’re probably expecting me to say ‘keep your limits and boundaries consistent’. Well, not exactly. Honestly, this is the same balance as the balance between routine and rhythm. When you, as a parent, set limits and boundaries, the temptation can be to become so consistent that you become inflexible. These limits and boundaries then do not reflect the changing nature of life. For example, when children are very young we may have a limit that they cannot cross the road by themselves, but this changes as they age and depending on the environment. We may have limits at grandma’s house that we do not have at home, that are not consistent with our usual. We may also set limits and boundaries that we change our minds about. Sometimes we changes, adapt or flex our boundaries to our situation.

I am not saying that we don’t need boundaries and limits, we definitely do. Boundaries also support our need for predictability, and our understanding of how things work wherever we are. An absence of boundaries can make humans feel very unsafe, anxious and actually can lead to them feeling a lack of respect. I know it sounds unlikely but when humans aren’t clear of the boundaries around them, it removes their ability to make decisions or advocate for themselves. When parents are “permissive” children can lose the sense of connection, the feeling of safety, and the mutual respect of an equal relationship.

Last thought

In short, what I am trying to say is, we, adults, babies, children, do need structure, predictability, rituals and culture in our lives, but that’s not the same as routine. When these become rigid routines that are, set without consideration of our children’s individuality, and they can get in the way of our ability to meet our fluctuating needs and connect with each other, they are not helpful. What we really need, is to be super clear in ourselves as parents of what rhythm we are creating, what our boundaries are, and when these might flex, who sets the pace in family life, how how we use rituals, and where flexibility meets predictability.

Love this?

The concept of family life having a rhythm in this way is taken here from the CRUCIAL concept. This concept supports humans of all ages to feel respected and calm, and therefore enables calmer relationships. This is discussed in depth in ToddlerCalm workshops and courses. If you want to know more about rhythm and about the other CRUCIAL elements that can help you parent in a way that sets limits whilst optimising your toddler’s development and having actual fun, book a session with your local consultant or better yet, get this amazing parenting message out to the parents in your community by training with us.

Written by Emily Wilding Fackrell: A CalmFamily Director

Recommend0 recommendationsPublished in Baby development, Calming & nurturing toddlers, Calming babies, Child relationships, Children, Infant care, Toddler behaviour, Toddlers
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