By Christine Murray, HRI Director

Did you know that the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that families develop routines to help support children’s development? Routines are especially important for younger children, but they’re helpful for children (and adults!) of all ages because they offer a sense of predictability and stability. Although it’s important to keep some flexibility in family routines, a sense of predictability and stability provides a solid foundation on which children and teens can face new challenges and try new things.

For many families, summer is a time to loosen up routines, so the back-to-school season can feel like a shock to the system. Early morning wake-up times to get out the door on time, along with homework and extracurricular activities in the afternoons and evenings, thrust families into figuring out new routines as the school year begins. This can lead to fights and frustrations.

Getting your family back on a routine as this new school year is starting doesn’t have to lead to stress and conflict! Consider the five tips below to help ease your family’s transition into your new school year routine:

  1. Ease into the new routine. Give yourselves some time to ease into the new school year routine, rather than trying to force every change at one time. It can take time for a new routine to come to feel “normal,” especially if you’ve been on a break from routines over the summer. Identify a few key routines to start with (e.g., a consistent bedtime and morning wake up time), and put others on hold until the most important ones are embedded into your family.
  2. Decide which routines will be flexible, and which will be consistent. As you’re considering your family’s routines for this coming school year, think carefully about what sort of routines are realistic for your family. Identify the ones that are crucial to be as consistent as possible. For example, a consistent wake up time in the morning may be needed to ensure that everyone is dress, fed, and organized to get out the door on time for school. However, other routines may need to be kept flexible. In your ideal world, your family may have a routine to eat dinner together every night. However, in the real world, your family may be lucky to have everyone around the table just one or two nights a week. As important as it is to try and establish consistent routines in your family, allow yourself the flexibility to adapt those routines to your ever-changing schedules and time commitments.
  3. Take a big-picture view of how your family manages time. Time management plays an important role in how well families are able to implement consistent routines. As this school year gets underway, take time to consider if the way your family spends time is consistent with your values and priorities. Check out our HRI Tip Sheet on Having Family Quality Time for some other great suggestions on how to implement time management strategies within your family.
  4. Reduce excessive time commitments. Many families today are overscheduled, which can lead to stress and inconsistent routines. When schedules are overly tight, routines can fall by the wayside when family members struggle to keep up with the many demands they face. Spend some time talking as a family about which, if any, of your current commitments could be scaled back or eliminated altogether. Make an agreement to discuss any potential new commitments with your family members before taking them on. Learning to say “no” can be very challenging, but remember that when you say “no” to unnecessary commitments, you leave room for saying “yes” to the people and things that are most important to you.
  5. Leave time for spontaneity and fun. As important as routines are for children and families, it’s important to maintain some flexibility in your routines to allow for spontaneous adventures and fun. Families who have overly rigid routines can lose their ability to laugh, play, and enjoy one another. So, build your family’s routines with the freedom to experience fun and joy as the school year begins.

Getting back into a routine can be one of the biggest challenges that families face when a new school year begins. Take time to ease into your routines, think carefully about what you want those routines to look like, and consider how you can leave time for fun in the context of your routines. With these points in time, you’ll be back in the swing of things in no time!



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