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Parents Corner

Routine Matters

From infancy on, your children count on rituals and routines for comfort and security. Especially now, as we move into summer where this can be more difficult. The days are longer and warmer and we want to take advantage of them. A balance between your child's basic need for routine and your desire to enjoy the season will make everyone happier and more comfortable.

Scholastic Parent & Child, August/September 1998
By Carla Poole

Cries and Cuddles - 0 to 2

In almost no time at all babies discover-and embrace- their first routine. When an infant cries with persistent, rhythmic wails, her mom gently picks her up, saying AOh, you're so [email protected] The baby quiets as she latches onto the breast or bottle and eagerly sucks. In just a few weeks she's learned her first routine-she feels hungry, she cries, and wonderful warm food is offered while she's cradled in gentle arms.''''

Babies feel secure and confident within the framework of loving rituals. The world is a responsive, predictable place, and life is good!

Follow the leader

Each newborn develops her own special daily rhythms and patterns for eating, sleeping, and alert wakefulness. Some babies leisurely suck and take short catnaps during an extended feeding. Others quickly digest a generous feeding and then fall into a deep sleep. Routines develop naturally when we follow the baby's lead.

By six months, most babies begin to develop a more predictable schedule for sleeping, feeding, and playing. You can help your baby solidify his patterns by offering some simple routines.

Some babies, for example, love bath time. After the excitement of laughing and splashing in the water, they're ready for food and sleep. With a bath at the same time each evening, they'll begin to learn to regulate themselves and create their own comfortable routine.'

Dealing with delays

Daily rituals are very important as toddlers become more independent and struggle to manage their strong impulses. Tommy, an energetic 20-month-old toddler, wants to go out to the playground as soon as he gets home from child care. "Side! Side!" he yells, pointing to the door. Since his mother always offers quiet indoor time while she unpacks the groceries, Tommy will gradually learn to wait a short while before he can play outdoors. The routine helps him learn to tolerate some frustration - an important task for toddlers.

Routine reassurance

Rituals help toddlers adjust to new situations - and are especially helpful during the transition into a new child-care setting. Daily routines also help toddlers say good-bye to you and feel safe and secure within a nurturing network of family members and caregivers.

Always reading the same book together in the same cozy corner of the toddler room, for example, can help a toddler prepare for the difficult separation from her mom. This predictable, intimate time gives her the comfort and the courage to let Mom leave.

What you can do

Here are some ways to incorporate routines into your day:

Create routines for difficult transitions. Playing peekaboo and singing nursery rhymes make diaper changes more fun - and help your busy toddler cooperate. Sharing a soothing storybook or quiet song before bedtime can help your baby ease into sleep.
Create routines for drop-off and pickup time at child care. Your child might bring a toy from home, such as a beloved teddy bear, to kiss good-bye. Or she might enjoy putting your picture in her cubby, developing a special way to wave good-bye to you - or even rubbing noses!

Carla Poole is an advisor in the infant-parent development program at Bank Street College of Education in New York and a child development specialist at Bellevue Hospital.

Susan A. Miller, ED.D.

I know what's next - 3 to 4

Routines become very important to three-year-olds. Little rituals help them focus on the various parts of the day, providing closure for one experience and preparing them to move on to the next. As you drop her off at child care, for example, your child might put a puzzle together with you and then give you two hugs and your special handshake to say good-bye. These beloved rituals help to reassure your child that you will return.

Gentle guidance

Routines are not only comforting for threes, they also serves cues as to what is expected of them. Hearing your familiar call that dinner is in five minutes tells your child that he should start putting away his toys.

Routine transitions and rituals help your three-year-old feel a sense of control over his environment. When your child knows what will happen next and what is expected of him, he will be better able to participate and to act independently - an important developmental step.

Planning ahead

Fours also respond to continuity and need to know that they can count on what's going to happen next. Participating in regular rituals helps them gain a sense of order. Routines also help fours to plan ahead and think about what they want to do next.

What you can do

Rituals and smooth transitions help threes and fours focus on what they're doing. Here are some ways to set up dependable routines.

Create a morning good-bye ritual. Developing a unique way to say good-bye to your child sends a reassuring sign that each day will follow the same routine as the day before-and that you'll be back soon.'
Develop a special pickup routine. For example, you can look at what your child did that day, read a favorite book together, or select a book to take home overnight.
Simplify difficult transitions with fun rituals. You can form a choo-choo train with your child and chug-chug out of the house in the morning.

Susan A. Miller, Ed.D., is the author of six books, the coordinator of the England Study Abroad Program, and a professor of early childhood education at Kutztown University

Ellen Booth Church

I can do that! - 5 to 6

It's the beginning of kindergarten and Brianna is lingering outside the classroom door with her dad. She peers inside, interested in the goings-on of the class but hesitant to take the first step. Her dad reaches out his hand for their special handshake, and her teacher gives her a warm welcome and invites her to Asign [email protected] Brianna bravely steps over the threshold and into the comfort of the daily routine.''

Loving reassurance

The unfamiliar look of a new classroom can make the most mature and experienced five-year-old feel a bit insecure. Even if your child conquered separation issues in preschool, she may still experience similar feelings this year. Larger class size, new children, even riding the bus can cause an increased need for comfort and security. Routines and rituals can give your five or six-year-old the safety she needs to feel secure.

Great expectations

Five-and six-year-olds can learn new routines and move through separation issues quickly. Their keenly developed cognitive skills - coupled with a stronger sense of self - help them not only master routines but also understand their purpose.

At this developmental stage, your child needs to know what is expected of her. Although she may demonstrate a great need and desire for independence, she first wants to know what she's supposed to do. Emotional outbursts during transitions are greatly reduced when your child knows what you expect of her.

What you can do

Develop rituals that help your child know what's expected of her - and involve her in these routines as much as possible.

Review your afternoon and weekend plans together. Talk to your child abut what she'll be doing - and invite her to make suggestions too.'
Develop routines that encourage creativity. You can engage your child's creative mind while stating clear behavioral objectives. When directing your child to help clean up the table, for example, invite her to pretend that the floor is covered with fresh eggs and that she has to get from the table to the sink without cracking any!'
Invite your child to create her own routines. Work together to develop new rituals with your child around your regular daily routine.

Ellen Booth Church is an early childhood consultant for the New York State Department of Education and for programs across the country.

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Last modified: January 26, 2013